Record-Breaking Early-Season Snowstorm Paralyzes New York City Area

Thanksgiving may be nearly a week away, but winter storm wreaked havoc on the northeastern United States on Thursday.  The New York City area was hardest hit, as Central Park recorded 6.4 inches of snow in the span of less than six hours.  The storm was the earliest 6-inch snowfall in New York City since records began in 1869, and was the largest single-day snowfall in the month of November since 1882.

Since the snow fell quickly – up to 2 inches per hour at times – and fell at rush hour, transportation arteries in the city as well as in New Jersey and Connecticut were crippled.  A 25-car pileup closed down the George Washington Bridge during rush hour, causing even worse backups on the already severely congested roads throughout the area.  Making matters even worse in New York City was that numerous trees were toppled in the Upper East Side of Manhattan during the snowfall.

Source: ABC7 NY

Source: ABC7 NY

A school bus carrying special needs children was stranded in Manhattan for over 10 hours Thursday night due to the conditions.  The Port Authority Bus Terminal had to close at 5:15 P.M. Thursday evening amid the heavy snow, stranding thousands upon thousands of commuters during the evening rush hour.  Meanwhile, in nearby West Orange, New Jersey, students at Liberty Middle School were forced to spend the night at school due to the region-wide gridlock.

This storm surprised many as more snow fell than expected and cause quite a bit of chaos for the evening rush. For lack of a better phrase, this can be described as a “Perfect Storm”. A number of factors all came together to produce a bad night for many even though this was only a moderate snow event. The arrival of the snow was just prior to the evening commute, the snow came in fast and furious, temperatures were above freezing when the snow began so some melting initially occurred on pavement and allowing for ice to develop under the snow, the loss of incoming solar radiation with sunset allowed for rapid cooling of all surfaces and higher than initially expected snow total occurred. There were reasons to believe this event would not be that bad. The temperature had not been below freezing for any extended time prior to this storm, the snow was expected to change to rain fairly quickly, it is still very early in the season and it was only expected to be a minor event. So many people asked how can a city that gets snow often get crippled by a rather typical storm. In our experience, it’s these types of smaller events can often cause the most havoc. When a major storm is expected, everything is cancelled and people stay home so not many issues occur. With these smaller events, it’s a bit deceptive when only a few inches are expected because it might not be enough to change people’s normal routine on that day. If all of that snow comes in a very short time period, like 4 inches in 2 hours, it will get very bad on roads around that time. Throw in that it happens during the morning or evening commute and a minor event becomes major very quickly.

Fortunately for the beleaguered New York City metro area, quieter weather is expected for at least the next week, and no more snow is in the forecast at this time.