Massive winter storm threatens snow from Florida to Canada

With frigid temperatures blanketing most of the country, a pedestrian in Lake Eola Park bundles up against the chill in Orlando, Florida on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018.


By BRIAN K. SULLIVAN | Bloomberg | Published: January 3, 2018

The worst winter storm of the season has already knocked out power and canceled some flights across the South and threatens to bring snow, ice and cold from Florida from Nova Scotia, including a foot or more in Boston and a few inches in Manhattan.

Winter storm warnings and advisories stretch from Massachusetts to Florida, the National Weather Service said. Blizzard warnings cover the coast of New England and even parts of North Carolina, and Virginia by Chesapeake Bay, including Norfolk and Virginia Beach.

It was snowing in Tallahassee, Florida's capital, early Wednesday, according to Rob Carolan, a meteorologist with Hometown Forecast Services in Nashua, New Hampshire. Snow was reported in Savannah, Georgia, while freezing rain and ice covered wide areas of the southern states.

The storm will strengthen as it moves north, dropping as much as 12 inches in Boston, and 4 inches in Manhattan, as well as 5 in Brooklyn and Queens on Thursday, the National Weather Service said.

"We are going to get a decent snowfall out of this," said Carolan, referring to New England. "The bad news is it will ruin tomorrow morning's commute."

The weather stands to wreak havoc on markets for longer, as electricity prices have already surged to the highest level in years and natural gas demand hit a record high. As of noon on the East Coast, about 35,000 customers were without power from Florida to North Carolina, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from utility outage maps.

Delta Air Lines stopped a number of flights in the South, including to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The carrier expects more trips will be canceled as the storm moves up the coast, the company said in a statement.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has declared a state of emergency for 28 counties.

The storm's focus and track will shift north throughout the day until it brings its worst to Boston and coastal New England Thursday. Wind gusts along the coast from Maine to Massachusetts could reach 70 miles per hour in places Thursday with heavy snow.

"The real apex, the peak of the storm, will be Cape Cod to Nova Scotia," said Gregg Gallina, a forecaster at the U.S. Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

This storm may end up being worse than your average nor'easter. It could turn into a bomb, short for bombogenesis, a phenomenon that occurs when a system's central pressure drops steeply -- 24 millibars or more -- in 24 hours.

The lifeblood of a bombing storm is a harsh gradient between cold and warm temperatures. This sharp divide was on display early Wednesday as temperatures in Charleston, South Carolina, hovered around 29 degrees, while a buoy offshore recorded readings of 51.4 for the air and 71.1 for the ocean.

"That is a key driver, the cold air mass and the warm Gulf Stream," Gallina said. "Cold air battling warm air."

The atmosphere doesn't like imbalance, Carolan said. When it happens the results can be ferocious.

If current computer models hold, that'll start to happen somewhere off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and continue as the storm moves north. Hurricane-force wind warnings have been posted off the coast where ships could encounter winds of 80 miles an hour and waves as high as 26 feet on Thursday.

"It is certainly going to be a bomb," Carolan said. "It could drop 40 to 50 millibars in 36 hours."

Environment Canada has issued its own warnings for New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, including Halifax, which handles about 1,500 vessels per year.

There's a silver lining: The storm will offer some respite from the bone-rattling cold that triggered wind chill advisories and freeze warnings.

But the relief will only be temporary as the Arctic chill is set to make a comeback by the end of the week. Temperatures will rise out of the teens and single digits from Philadelphia to Boston before slipping back again by Friday and Saturday.

"This is only the appetizer -- the main meal comes over the weekend," said Judah Cohen, director of seasonal forecasting for Atmospheric and Environmental Research, a Verisk Analytics Inc. business in Lexington, Massachusetts. "This is about as intense a cold as I can remember."

Gallina said as the storm pulls off into the Atlantic, another blast of very cold air is going roar down from the north behind it and spread out across the central and eastern U.S.

"There is a lot of potential for records being broken Friday and Saturday," Gallina said.

Bloomberg's Mary Schlangenstein and Jim Polson contributed.

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