If there is any question whether we are all in this winter together, just check out the snow piles around the country.
And they’re only going to grow.
Just as Winter Storm Nika’s two-day sprint through the eastern half of the country left heavy snow, a blanket of thick ice or heavy rains behind her from the heartland to New England, a new storm system was already brewing behind it Wednesday.
It’s expected to arrive in Buffalo Niagara this weekend.
“The second storm is actually going to come in later Saturday,” said David Thomas, meteorologist at the National Weather Service. “At this point, the storm looks to be not as intense as this one.”
Forecasters late Wednesday were still counting Nika’s more than 8-inch record-breaking contribution to a season that’s already approaching the average snowfall for the year in the Queen City – about 95 inches. Adding the 8.5 inches that had been recorded at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport as of 8 p.m. Wednesday, the city crested above 90 inches for the winter season.
We’re hardly alone. East of the Continental Divide, the Winter of 2013-14 has been a doozy.
“We’ve had a ridge of high pressure that has been dominant over the West Coast,” Thomas said. “That has allowed a trough – a northerly flow – for just about everywhere else east of the Rockies.”
Take, for instance, New York City. Adding Nika’s totals there pushed the Big Apple past 40 inches for the season. That’s more than triple the 13.8 inches it usually gets by this date.
Other places, like Philadelphia, measured 40.6 inches of snow as of late Wednesday. The City of Brotherly Love usually only gets a foot by now. Same story in Boston, where more than 35 inches of snow has been recorded so far, more than a foot above normal.
Further to the west, the situation’s the same. Chicago moved above 53 inches for the season and St. Louis has recorded more than two feet of snow, both more than double their usual by this time of the year. Even in Minneapolis-St. Paul, known more for frigid tundra-like winters than snowfall, is more than four inches above normal – approaching 40 inches for the season.
Nika packed a wallop, knocking out power and imperiling travel on the air and ground.
At least nine deaths were attributed to the storm nationally, including a 51-year-old Chicago-area woman who was hit early Wednesday by a truck driver during heavy snow, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune.
As of about 5 p.m. Wednesday, AccuWeather reported that some 3,270 flights had been cancelled across the country with more than 3,500 delays. The national travel woes also included Buffalo, where several carriers reported delays or cancellations on arrivals and departures at Buffalo Niagara International Airport Wednesday, according to flight travel boards.
Thomas said all the wintry weather this season is just the way the weather pattern has set up.
Cold polar air surging southward from the arctic region into the Plains states mixes with moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and tends to set up the type of weather pattern that has gripped much of the eastern half of the country.
Nika’s path followed the pattern.
“As the low trekked across the southern plains and across the Ohio Valley toward New England, it was picking up moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and bringing it northward,” Thomas explained. “For storms that stay to our south, we’ll stay on the cold side of it.”
For us, that usually means more snow.
The 8.5 inches that fell Wednesday set a record for the date at the Buffalo airport, breaking a mark of 5.2 inches set back in 1916.
Snowfall totals from around Buffalo Niagara, including Langford in North Collins and Hartland in Niagara County, topped out at about a foot, according to weather service spotters. Totals from other areas, as of shortly after 6 p.m., usually fell in the forecast range of 6 to 12 inches, including Perrysburg, 10.3 inches; Forestville, 10; East Aurora, 8; Williamsville, 7.3; Blasdell, 6.5; Lockport, 10; Youngstown, 6; and Arcade, 6.
Today, partly sunny conditions are expected with a chance of afternoon snow showers and highs in the upper teens with breezy west winds. Wind chill values as low as minus-15 degrees are expected tonight under mostly cloudy skies. Air temperatures will be in the single digits but winds up to 22 mph will fuel the harsh wind chills.
The pattern continues Friday and Friday night, according to the forecast, before a partly sunny 21-degree Saturday gives way to the next storm system overnight into Sunday, according to forecasters.
An “all-snow event,” the storm is not expected to pick up as much moisture or energy from the Gulf of Mexico as Wednesday’s storm, Thomas said.
“This one’s going to be traveling from Colorado through Iowa and across the central Great Lakes,” he said. “It tracks a little farther to the north [than Nika] and it’s going to weaken as it gets to our area.”
Earlier lake-effect snows helped Buffalo surge well into the lead in the state for this year’s Golden Snowball Award. On Wednesday, Buffalo was about 13 inches ahead of second-place Syracuse and more than two feet deeper than Rochester. Binghamton and Albany were even further behind.
Thanks to the frozen lake, Buffalo Niagara’s lake-effect snows have been suspended.
A ripe wind off of a wide open Lake Ontario could keep the competition alive for traditional leader Syracuse, which still could collect significant lake-effect snows if a cold wind blows in just the right direction.