Winter storms and weather range from blizzards, ice storms, heavy snow, sleet, freezing rain and extreme cold. Most deaths from winter storms result from traffic accidents on icy roads and hypothermia from prolonged exposure to cold. Damage to trees and tree limbs and the resultant downing of utility cables are a common effect of these types of events. Secondary effects include loss of power and heat.
The possible weather events that can impact the region are:
- Blizzard: The main characteristic of a blizzard is that it has conditions of sustained winds or frequent gusts of 35 mph or more. The high winds cause blowing and drifting of snow and reduction of visibility. By definition, visibility is reduced to less than one quarter mile for three or more hours. Extremely cold temperatures are often associated with blizzard conditions.
- Winter Storm: A heavy snow event results in a snow accumulation of more than six inches in twelve hours, or more than twelve inches in twenty-four hours. Unlike a blizzard, a heavy snow event does not have the high, sustained winds that can cause reduced visibility and down trees and power lines.
- Freezing Rain: Temperatures at higher levels are warm enough for rain to form but surface temperatures are below 32 degrees. The rain freezes on contact and coats objects such as trees, cars or roads, forming a glaze of ice. When a substantial amount of freezing rain occurs and at least one-quarter inch of ice accumulates, it is referred to as an “Ice Strom.” The freezing rain from an ice storm can create hazardous walking and driving conditions, and cause trees and branches to break from the weight of built-up ice. Power lines are susceptible to spanning from the weight of ice build-up.
- Nor’easter: The classic winter storm in New England is the nor’easter. Strong northeast winds are created and wind driven waves can batter the coastline, causing flooding and severe beach erosion. Coupled with a high tide, the low pressure of a nor’easter can have an effect similar to a storm surge from a hurricane. During the winter months and if the temperatures are right, heavy snow totals are possible.
- Sleet: Unlike freezing rain, sleet is formed by water droplets that freeze into ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet usually bounces when hitting a surface and does not stick to objects. However, it can accumulate like snow and cause a hazard to motorists. It typically falls as a mix of snow and freezing rain.