Thursday, February 13, 2014

Word for Today: NOR'EASTER?

WHAT’S IN A WORD?

The word for the day is “nor’easter.” According to Wikipedia:

A nor’easter is a macro-scale storm along the upper East Coast of the United States and Atlantic Canada; it gets its name from the direction the wind is coming. A nor’easter is a low pressure area that often passes just off the New England and southeast Canada Atlantic coastline. Nor’easters can cause severe coastal flooding, coastal erosion, hurricane force winds or blizzard conditions; these conditions are usually accompanied with very heavy rain or snow, depending on when the storm occurs. Nor'easters thrive on the converging air masses; that is, the polar cold air mass and the warmer oceanic air over the Gulf Stream.

While weather prognosticators have been reluctant to label the storm we’re in the midst of right now, on February 13, 2014, it seems to me to bear some resemblance to a nor’easter. For many days, maybe more than a week, the weather forecasters have tried to guess what this storm was going to do. In a recent e-mail to a friend in California I likened a nor’easter to a pouty teenager who doesn’t know what she wants. In reality, the only way to know which “path” the storm is going to take is to look at the storm as it moves away and say, well, yes, this computer model was right; that one was wrong. And yes indeed, it was a nor’easter. Or maybe it wasn’t.

It seems that locally, we may be spared the worst a nor’easter has to offer this time around. I can remember storms of this kind that hit us with exactly that: a long stretch of heavy snow; a sudden warm-up in the atmosphere accompanied by high winds and heavy rain, with consequential melting of snow combined with the rain causing flooding of streets and basements; then a drop in temperature freezing the water on the roads, followed by more snow. If you’ve never experienced a nor’easter, trust me, they can leave you reeling. Boston might get hammered.

Since we’ve had quite a bit of snow already this winter it’s a little hard to tell how much we’re currently getting with this storm. Right at the moment we have a steady snow, but it looks like light, fluffy snow; not the large, full flakes that indicate heavier snow with more moisture content. That could change later today. It’s pretty, and there doesn’t seem to be much wind, but most people in our area haven’t ventured out today. Local school closings for today were announced yesterday evening.

That last sentence in the Wikipedia article tells the story: “Nor’easters thrive on the converging air masses, that is, the polar cold air mass and the warmer oceanic air over the Gulf Stream.” The southeastern states were hit yesterday and last night with a “winter storm.” And now the weather service has begun naming winter storms: this one is called Pax. The Weather Channel continues to refer to this as “winter storm Pax.”  I think it’s laughing at all of us as it shuts down major highways and airports, closes down the Federal Government and schools all over the eastern part of the United States, strands motorists and possibly leaves fatalities in its wake.

The only good thing about Pax is that it won’t last more than twenty-four hours or so. But another one will come along ... if not this winter, then next.