By Bob Henson
A ferocious, long-lasting winter storm took its parting swipes at the Eastern Seaboard on Saturday night, leaving in its wake a pile of snowbound cities and shattered records. Millions of people in the nation's most densely populated urban corridor saw snowfall amounts that matched or exceeded the largest amounts observed in more than a hundred years of recordkeeping. It's surprisingly difficult to measure snow in an accurate and consistent way, so you should keep a mental asterisk pinned to the statistics you'll be seeing. Nevertheless, there is no question that this nor'easter, dubbed Winter Storm Jonas by the Weather Channel, was one for the ages—among the most powerful and far-reaching in regional history.
A Sheaf of 24-Hour and Storm-Total Records
Even as the last flakes were flying on Saturday night, a number of sites with century-plus weather histories had already notched the most snowfall ever recorded for a single storm and/or the most ever measured in a 24-hour period. Here's a sample of preliminary data through Sunday morning. (Thanks to Alex Lamers, National Weather Service (NWS)/Tallahassee, for digging up some hard-to-find data on previous record storm totals in the New York City area). Note that the readings below generally pertain to snowfall measurements taken during the storm and added together, with a snow measuring board (snowboard) cleared off between each reading. The final snow depth or the amount you'd measure by sticking a ruler (or yardstick) in the snow at the end of the storm, would normally be a bit less than the amounts shown below, because of the more recent snow on top compressing the lower, earlier layers. Decades ago, snowboards were used less frequently or were cleared less often when used, which means that some past storms would yield higher snow totals if measured with today's standard techniques.
New York, New York (Central Park)
- Calendar-day total: 26.6" (old record 24.1" on Feb. 12, 2006)
- Storm total through Sunday a.m.: 26.8" (record 26.9" on Feb. 11-12, 2006)
New York, New York (LaGuardia)
- Calendar-day total: 27.9" (old record 23.3" on Feb. 12, 2006)
- Storm total through Sunday a.m.: 27.9" (old record 25.4" on Feb. 11-12, 2006)
New York, New York (Kennedy):
- Calendar-day total: 30.3" (old record 24.1" on Feb. 12, 2006)
- Storm total through Sunday a.m.: 30.5" (old record 26.8" on Feb. 16-18 2003)
Newark, New Jersey:
- Calendar-day total: 27.5" (old record 25.9" on Dec. 26, 1947)
- Storm total through Sunday a.m.: 27.9" (old record 27.8" on Jan. 7-8, 1996)
- Calendar-day total: 30.2" (old record 24.0" on Feb. 11, 1983)
- Storm total through Sunday a.m.: 31.9" (old record 25.6" on Jan. 7-8, 1996)
- Calendar-day total: 26.4" (old record 24.0" on Feb. 11, 1983)
- Storm total through Sunday a.m.: 30.2" (old record 25.0" on Feb. 12-13, 1983)
- Calendar-day total: 19.4" (record 27.6 on Jan. 7, 1996)
- Storm total through Sunday a.m.: 22.4" (record 31.0" on Jan. 6-8, 1996)
Baltimore, Maryland (Baltimore-Washington Airport and earlier sites):
- Calendar-day total: 25.5" (old record 23.3" on Jan. 28, 1922)
- Storm total through Sunday a.m.: 29.2" (old record 26.8" on Feb. 16-18, 2003)
Washington, DC (Dulles)
- Calendar-day total: 22.1" (record 22.5" on Feb. 11, 1983)
- Storm total through Sunday a.m.: 29.3" (record 32.4" on Feb. 5-6, 2010)
Washington, DC (National Airport and earlier sites):
- Calendar-day total: 11.3" (record 21.0" on Jan. 28, 1922)
- Storm total through Sunday a.m.: 17.8" (record 28.0" on Jan. 27-29, 1922)
How Widespread Was the Snow?
- This was the first storm on record to dump at least 24" of snow in both Baltimore and New York City, according to weather.com.
- At least one location in all 21 New Jersey counties received at least 12" of snow.
- Snowflakes fell as far south as the Florida Panhandle on Friday night and more than a foot of snow fell as far north as Massachusetts, giving this remarkable storm a north-to-south reach reminiscent of the even-more-sprawling Storm of the Century in March 1993.
Controversy in Washington, Snowfall-Style
As noted by Capital Weather Gang's Angela Fritz, the readings at Washington National through Saturday evening struck many as being oddly low compared to neighboring reports, especially toward the north and west. The NWS plans to review the DCA snow reports, which were gathered by contractors for the Federal Aviation Administration, a common practice at many airport locations. In a follow-up story on Sunday, Capital Weather Gang reported that the contractors at DCA had improvised and interpolated from snow-depth measurements after the on-site snowboard could not be found beneath the snow.
The Weather Underground almanac for Saturday at DCA shows that at 4:52 p.m. ET, Washington National reported 18" of snow on ground (rounded to the nearest inch), with 1" having fallen in the previous hour. Snow continued at DCA through midnight; however, the visibility jumped from just 1/16 mile at 4:52 p.m. to much higher values after that point (1/2 mile at 5:39 p.m. and 1.75 mile at 6:49 p.m.), which is consistent with snowfall becoming much lighter.
On Sunday morning, CoCoRaHS reports of snowfall on the ground were all 20" or greater in the District and the adjoining western and northern suburban counties of Fairfax County, Virginia and Montgomery County, Maryland. In the District itself, a snow depth of 22" was reported at the White House CoCoRaHS station, about 4 miles north of the airport and the closest station to DCA that filed a report on Sunday morning. Amounts were substantially lower just east and south of the District, in Prince George's County, Maryland and beyond, although very few of these were close to DCA. A snow-depth report of 16" came in from the vicinity of Fort Washington, about 8 miles south of DCA. To me, the CoCoRaHS data on snow depth imply that the DCA observations of total snowfall could be slightly on the low side but not too far out of line. It will be fascinating to see what the NWS concludes. Perhaps the bigger question is whether reports from DCA should be considered representative of the District, given that snowfalls are often significantly heavier as you go north and west.
Record Storm Tides Along the Southern New Jersey and Northern Delaware Coast
While most eyes were peeled on the big cities of the Northeast, coastal residents on either side of the Delaware Bay had to deal with major coastal flooding, especially during Saturday morning's high tide. Storm-related surges of 4 to 5 feet were common across northern Delaware and southern New Jersey. These are close to the highest values one would expect in any nor'easter. To make matters worse, the full moon added about a foot to the normal morning high tide. The resulting storm tide (the amount over the typical low tide or mean low low water, including both astronomical and storm-related effects) hit a record 9.27 feet at Lewes, Delaware, beating the 9.20 feet observed in the nor'easter of March 6, 1962. Cape May and Stone Harbor, New Jersey, both saw record storm tides that exceeded the values observed during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Floodwaters poured into Stone Harbor in dramatic fashion on Saturday morning.
Radar loop of this historic blizzard from start to finish. Compiled by @BMcNoldy here: https://t.co/D5jaiGY8dD https://t.co/IMSi5iJGKT— Anthony Sagliani (@Anthony Sagliani)1453615697.0
North of Atlantic City, the storm surge fell far short of the values observed during Sandy. The circulation around Sandy (which made landfall near Atlantic City) drove far larger storm surges of 10 feet or more into the coasts and bays of northern New Jersey and New York, resulting in storm tides as high as 15 feet. Moreover, Sandy's huge waves—much bigger than those from Jonas—added greatly to the impact of the storm surge throughout the region. “Waves can contribute 50 percent or more to the coastal flooding along the open coastline and these are not included in storm tide measurements," Michael Lowry (The Weather Channel), said.
Widespread Power Outages
As of Saturday, more than 200,000 homes and businesses had lost power due to Jonas, although outages in the blizzard-socked areas were not nearly as widespread as had been feared. North Carolina was especially hard-hit by power losses due to a glaze of freezing rain that fell early in the storm, topped by a coating of snow.
Hats Off to the Computer Models and NWS Forecasts
One can't help but be impressed by the persistence and accuracy of the leading forecast models in predicting near-record snowfall amounts for days on end ahead of the arrival of Jonas. Early in the week, the GFS and ECMWF models correctly zeroed in on Maryland, including Washington, DC, as a focal point for heavy snow around Friday/Saturday. This gave local forecasters the confidence to issue a blizzard watch on Wednesday morning, two full days ahead of the storm's arrival. (The massive traffic tie-ups in the DC area on Wednesday evening were the result of a mere half-inch of snow from a separate storm that preceded Jonas, a vivid reminder that even minor-seeming winter weather events need to be taken seriously in urban areas.)
New York was a tougher forecast nut to crack. Models agreed that there would be a sharp cut-off to the northern edge of heavy snow, a feature common in nor'easters, but they disagreed on where that northern edge would fall. As early as Wednesday, the NAM model was projecting huge weekend snowfall amounts in the New York area, while the GFS and ECMWF models tended to hold the heavy snow just south of New York, projecting only a few inches at best for the Big Apple. Forecasters at the National Weather Service's local office in Upton, New York, wisely issued a prediction of 8-12" of snowfall and a blizzard watch on Thursday, just as blizzard warnings were being hoisted from Washington, DC to Philadelphia. In New York, this was the perfect situation for a watch, which is intended to alert the public that a particular outcome is possible but not guaranteed. As other models joined the NAM bandwagon on Friday, the blizzard watch for New York City was upgraded to a warning, which provided enough advance notice for city dwellers to stock up on provisions and city planners to prepare for the worst.
The storm ended up occluding in classic fashion, meaning that its main coastal surface low hung back while jet-stream energy carved out an occluded front extending northeastward just off the East Coast (see Figure 7). This evolution led to prime snowmaking conditions in a region of frontal formation aloft called a deformation zone that set up inland from the surface front, putting the heavy snow along and just northwest of the urban corridor. (Here's an NWS explanation of deformation zones.)
Weather Underground blogger Steve Gregory, like many others, saw the classic nature of this setup emerging in the NAM and GFS models on Friday, although even then he wasn't totally convinced. “Whenever a storm occludes out, it slows down and is pulled closer to the upper low (500 mb) and the storm track. Most importantly the deformation zone was then able to spiral further outward (northward) by 100-150 nautical miles, which brought very heavy snow bands into the New York City/Long Island/Cape Cod region," Steve told me in an email. “This should not have been a surprise to me."
The Outer Edge Strikes Again
Many New Yorkers remember the storm of late January 2015, when forecasters called for as much as 3 feet of snow in New York City, far more than actually fell there. Though that forecast might seem like a bust, the prediction of huge snows over much larger areas of eastern Long Island and southern New England actually proved correct. Again, the problem was a sharp cutoff to the heavy snow on the storm's outer edge, with models disagreeing on whether that edge would end up west or east of New York City. NWS forecasters went big, then held off on dialing back the forecasts until it was abundantly clear that New York City would escape the worst.
It's crucial that residents, businesses and local government understand that some storms have a wider range of uncertainty than others at a given location. The experimental probabilistic guidance for snowfall that was posted on the home page of the NWS/New York office (see Figure 6) helped provide that sense. On Friday, it showed a low-end outcome of just an inch, but a high-end outcome of around two feet. I look forward to seeing this valuable tool become operational across the nation as soon as possible.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Mark Hertsgaard
What follows are not candidate endorsements. Rather, this nonpartisan guide aims to inform voters' choices, help journalists decide what races to follow, and explore what the 2020 elections could portend for climate action in the United States in 2021 and beyond.
Will the White House Turn Green?<p>Whether the White House changes hands is the most important climate question of the 2020 elections. President Donald Trump rejects climate science, is withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, and has accelerated fossil fuel development. His climate policy seems to be, as he tweeted in January when rejecting a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposal to protect New York City from storm surges, "Get your mops and buckets ready."</p><p>Joe Biden, who started the 2020 campaign with a climate position so weak that activists gave it an "F," called Trump a "climate arsonist" during California's recent wildfires. Biden backs a $2 trillion plan to create millions of jobs while slashing emissions—a Green New Deal in all but name. Equally striking, his running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris, has endorsed phasing out fossil fuel production—a politically explosive scientific imperative.</p><p>The race will be decided in a handful of battleground states, five of which already face grave climate dangers: Florida (hurricanes and sea-level rise), North Carolina (ditto), Texas (storms and drought), Michigan (floods), and Arizona (heat waves and drought). <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/visualizations-data/ycom-us/" target="_blank">Public concern is rising</a> in these states, but will that concern translate into votes?</p>
Will Democrats Flip the Senate, and by Enough to Pass a Green New Deal?<p>With Democrats all but certain to maintain their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate will determine whether a potential Biden administration can actually deliver climate progress. Democrats need to pick up three seats to flip the Senate if Biden wins, four if he doesn't. But since aggressive climate policy is shunned by some Democrats, notably Joe Manchin of coal-dependent West Virginia, Democrats probably need to gain five or six Senate seats to pass a Green New Deal.</p><p>Environmentalists, including the League of Conservation Voters, are targeting six Republicans who polls suggest are vulnerable.</p><ul><li>Steve Daines of Montana, who denies climate science</li><li>Martha McSally of Arizona</li><li>Thom Tillis of North Carolina</li><li>Susan Collins of Maine</li><li>Joni Ernst of Iowa (bankrolled by Charles Koch)</li><li>John James of Michigan (also a Koch beneficiary)</li></ul><p>Republican Senators are even at risk in conservative Kansas and Alaska. In both states, the Democratic candidates are physicians—not a bad credential amid a pandemic—who support climate action. In Kansas, Barbara Bollier faces an incumbent funded by Charles Koch. In Alaska, Al Gross urges a transition away from oil, though his openness to limited drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve dims his appeal to green groups. He faces incumbent Republican Dan Sullivan, who receives an 8 percent lifetime voting record from the League of Conservation Voters.</p>
Will Local and State Races Advance Climate Progress?<h4>THE CLIMATE HAWKS</h4><p>Under Democratic and Republican leadership alike, Washington has long been a graveyard for strong climate action. But governors can boost or block renewable energy; the Vermont and New Hampshire races are worth watching. Attorneys general can sue fossil fuel companies for lying about climate change; climate hawks are running for the top law enforcement seats in Montana and North Carolina. State legislatures can accelerate or delay climate progress, as the new Democratic majorities in Virginia have shown. Here, races to watch include Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Colorado.</p><h4>THE CLIMATE POLICY MAKERS</h4><p>Perhaps the most powerful, and most overlooked, climate policy makers are public utility commissions. They control whether pipelines and other energy infrastructure gets built; they regulate whether electric utilities expand solar and energy efficiency or stick with the carbon-heavy status quo. Regulatory capture and outright corruption are not uncommon.</p><p>A prime example is Arizona, where a former two-term commissioner known as the godfather of solar in the state is seeking a comeback. Bill Mundell argues that since Arizona law permits utilities to contribute to commissioners' electoral campaigns, the companies can buy their own regulators. Which may explain why super-sunny Arizona has so little installed solar capacity.</p><p>In South Dakota, Remi Bald Eagle, a Native American U.S. Army veteran, seeks a seat on the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, which rules on the Standing Rock oil pipeline. And in what <em>HuffPost</em> called "the most important environmental race in the country," Democrat Chrysta Castaneda, who favors phasing out oil production, is running for the Texas Railroad Commission, which despite its name decides what oil, gas, and electric companies in America's leading petro-state can build.</p>
Will the Influencers Usher in a Green New Era?<h4>THE UNCOUNTED</h4><p>The story that goes largely under-reported in every U.S. election is how few Americans vote. In 2016, some 90 million, <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2018/08/09/an-examination-of-the-2016-electorate-based-on-validated-voters/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly four out of every 10 eligible voters</a>, did not cast a ballot. Attorney Nathaniel Stinnett claims that 10 million of these nonvoters nevertheless identify as environmentalists: They support green policies, even donate to activist groups; they just don't vote. Stinnett's <a href="https://www.environmentalvoter.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Environmental Voter Project</a> works to awaken this sleeping giant.</p><h4>THE SUNRISE MOVEMENT</h4><p>Meanwhile, the young climate activists of the <a href="http://www.sunrisemovement.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sunrise Movement</a> are already winning elections with an unabashedly Green New Deal message. More than any other group, Sunrise pushed the Green New Deal into the national political conversation, helping Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey draft the eponymous congressional resolution. In 2020, Sunrise has helped Green New Deal champions defeat centrists in Democratic primaries, with Markey dealing Representative Joe Kennedy Jr. the first defeat a Kennedy has ever suffered in a Massachusetts election. But can Sunrise also be successful against Republicans in the general elections this fall?</p><h4>THE STARPOWER</h4><p>And an intriguing wild card: celebrity firepower, grassroots activism, and big-bucks marketing have converged behind a campaign to get Latina mothers to vote climate in 2020. Latinos have long been the U.S. demographic most concerned about climate change. Now, <a href="https://votelikeamadre.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Vote Like A Madre</a> aims to get 5 million Latina mothers in Florida, Texas, and Arizona to the polls. Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayak, and Lin-Manuel Miranda are urging mothers to make a "pinky promise" to vote for their kids' climate future in November. Turning out even a quarter of those 5 million voters, though no easy task, could swing the results in three states Trump must win to remain president, which brings us back to the first category, "Will the White House Turn Green?"</p>
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By Tony Carnie
South Africa is home to around 1,300 of the world's roughly 7,100 remaining cheetahs. It's also the only country in the world with significant cheetah population growth, thanks largely to a nongovernmental conservation project that depends on careful and intensive human management of small, fenced-in cheetah populations. Because most of the reserves are privately funded and properly fenced, the animals benefit from higher levels of security than in the increasingly thinly funded state reserves.
Vincent van der Merwe at a cheetah translocation. Endangered Wildlife Trust
Under Pressure<p>Cheetah populations elsewhere in Southern Africa have not prospered over the past 50 years. In Zimbabwe, cheetah numbers have crashed from 1,500 in 1975, to just 170 today. Botswana's cheetah population has held steady at around 1,500 over the same period, but illegal capture for captive breeding and conflicts with farmers and the growing human population are increasing. In Namibia, there were an estimated 3,000 cheetah in in 1975; roughly 1,400 remain today.</p><p>In contrast, South Africa's cheetah numbers have grown from about 500 in 1975 to nearly 1,300 today. Van der Merwe, who is also a Ph.D. student at the University of Cape Town's Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa (iCWild), says he's confident that South Africa will soon overtake Namibia and Botswana, largely because the majority of South African cheetahs are protected and managed behind fences, whereas most of the animals in the neighboring countries remain more vulnerable on mainly unfenced lands.</p><p>Wildlife researchers Florian Weise and colleagues have reported that private stock owners in Namibia still trap cheetahs mainly for translocation, but there are few public or private reserves large enough to contain them. Weise says that conservation efforts need to focus on improving tolerance toward cheetahs in commercial livestock and game farming areas to reduce indiscriminate trapping.</p><p>Van der Merwe says fences can be both a blessing and a curse. While these barriers prevent cheetahs and other wild animals from migrating naturally to breed and feed, they also protect cheetahs from the growing tide of threats from humanity and agriculture.</p><p>To simulate natural dispersion patterns that guard against inbreeding, the trust helps landowners swap their animals with other cheetah reserves elsewhere in the country. The South African metapopulation project has been so successful in boosting numbers that the trust is having to look beyond national boundaries to secure new translocation areas in Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique.</p><p>Cheetah translocations have been going on in South Africa since the mid-1960s, when the first unsuccessful attempts were made to move scores of these animals from Namibia. These relocations were mostly unsuccessful.</p>
Charli de Vos uses a VHF antenna to locate cheetahs in Phinda Game Reserve. Tony Carnie for Mongabay
Swinging for the Fences<p>But other wildlife conservation leaders have a different perspective on cheetah conservation strategy.</p><p>Gus Mills, a senior carnivore researcher retired in 2006 from SANParks, the agency that manages South Africa's national parks, after a career of more than 30 years in Kalahari and Kruger national parks. He says the focus should be on quality of living spaces rather than the quantity of cheetahs.</p><p>Mills, who was the founder of the Endangered Wildlife Trust's Carnivore Conservation Group in 1995, and who also spent six years after retirement studying cheetahs in the Kalahari, says it's more important to properly protect and, where possible, expand the size of existing protected areas.</p><p>He also advocates a triage approach to cheetah conservation, in which scarce funds and resources are focused on protecting cheetahs in formally protected areas, rather than diluting scarce resources in an attempt to try and save every single remaining cheetah population.</p><p>"People have an obsession with numbers. But I believe that it is more important to protect large landscape and habitats properly," Mills said.</p><p>He suggests that cheetahs enclosed within small reserves live in artificial conditions: "It's almost like glorified farming."</p><p>"In the long run we have to focus on consolidating formally protected areas," he added. "Africa's human population will double by 2050, so cheetah populations in unfenced areas will become unsustainable if they are eating people's livestock."</p>
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