Regions of Winter Weather
When you live in a region where winter temperatures drop significantly below normal, staying warm and safe can become a challenge. Extremely cold temperatures often accompany a winter storm, so you may have to cope with power failures and icy roads.
Familiarize yourself with the weather patterns in the country to know what you should be prepared for.
From the Mid-Atlantic Coast to New England
The classic storm is called a Nor’easter. A low pressure area off the Carolina coast strengthens and moves north. Wind-driven waves batter the coast from Virginia to Maine, causing flooding and severe beach erosion. The storm taps the Atlantic’s moisture-supply and dumps heavy snow over a densely populated region. The snow and wind may combine into blizzard conditions and form deep drifts paralyzing the region. Ice storms are also a problem. Mountains, such as the Appalachians, act as a barrier to cold air trapping it in the valleys and adjacent low elevations. Warm air and moisture moves over the cold, trapped air. Rain falls from the warm layer onto a cold surface below becoming ice.
Along the Gulf Coast and Southeast
This region is generally unaccustomed to snow, ice, and freezing temperatures. Once in a while, cold air penetrates south across Texas and Florida, into the Gulf of Mexico. Temperatures fall below freezing killing tender vegetation, such as flowering plants and the citrus fruit crop. Wet snow and ice rapidly accumulate on trees with leaves, causing the branches to snap under the load. Motorists are generally unaccustomed to driving on slick roads and traffic accidents increase. Some buildings are poorly insulated or lack heat altogether. Local municipalities may not have available snow removal equipment or treatments, such as sand or salt, for icy roads.
In the Midwest and Plains
Storms tend to develop over southeast Colorado in the lee of the Rockies. These storms move east or northeast and use both the southward plunge of cold air from Canada and the northward flow of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico to produce heavy snow and sometimes blizzard conditions. Other storms affecting the Midwest and Plains intensify in the lee of the Canadian Rockies and move southeast. Arctic air is drawn from the north and moves south across the Plains and Great Lakes. Wind and cold sometimes combine to cause wind chill temperatures as low as 70F below zero. The wind crosses the lakes, tapping its moisture and forming snow squalls and narrow heavy snow bands. This is called “lake-effect snow.”
From the Rockies to the West Coast
Strong storms crossing the North Pacific sometimes slam into the coast from California to Washington. The vast Pacific provides an unlimited source of moisture for the storm. If cold enough, snow falls over Washington and Oregon and sometimes even in California. As the moisture rises into the mountains, heavy snow closes the mountain passes and can cause avalanches. The cold air from the north has to filter through mountain canyons into the basins and valleys to the south. If the cold air is deep enough, it can spill over the mountain ridge. As the air funnels through canyons and over ridges, wind speeds can reach 100 mph, damaging roofs and taking down power and telephone lines. Combining these winds with snow results in a blizzard.
Wind-driven waves from intense storms crossing the Bering Sea produce coastal flooding and can drive large chunks of sea ice inland destroying buildings near the shore. High winds, especially across Alaska’s Arctic coast, can combine with loose snow to produce a blinding blizzard and wind chill temperatures to 90F below zero! Extreme cold (-40F to -60F) and ice fog may last a week at a time. Heavy snow can impact the interior and is common along the southern coast. With only brief glimpses of the winter sun across the southern horizon, the snow accumulates through the winter months. In the mountains, it builds glaciers, but the heavy snow accumulations can also cause avalanches or collapse roofs of buildings. A quick thaw means certain flooding. Ice jams on rivers can also cause substantial flooding.