On February 7th, a low pressure system was moving east across Illinois while another was moving northeast across
Georgia. National Weather Service computer models predicted these two weather systems would merge off the Mid-Atlantic
coast and then move northeast as one large, intense storm. The main forecast challenge was figuring out how quickly the
merger would take place. If the merger took place later, then New England would be spared the worst of the storm as it
headed out to sea. A quicker merger meant a much better chance for New England to experience blizzard conditions (winds
35+ mph, visibility a quarter mile in falling/blowing snow for 3+ hours).
The coastline’s impressive snowfall totals were aided by a prolonged period of ocean-enhanced snowfall owing mainly to a
strong coastal front that set up just offshore during the morning of the 8th. The coastal front is a fairly common
occurrence on the coast of New England during the winter months and often enhances snow totals during a storm. It develops
due to changes in temperature and wind direction between the land and the ocean. In essence, it acts as a small-scale warm
front with warm air over the water meeting the cold air on land. Portland received about 10” of snow from this feature
even before the brunt of the blizzard arrived. While the precipitation shield did not look overly impressive on radar
early in the morning on the 8th, the snow was extremely fluffy with snow to liquid ratios approaching 80 to 1, and therefore piled up quickly.
The full brunt of the blizzard arrived just after midnight on the 9th. As this occurred winds gusting to 50 mph coincided
with intense snow banding that moved onto the coastal plain (Figure 3). Often intense snow banding will form on the western
edge of rapidly intensifying low pressure systems. These snow bands have the potential to produce snowfall rates of 1 to 4
inches per hour or more and sometimes allows for snowstorm records to be challenged if the band stalls. In the case of the
February 9th blizzard, the snow band remained over much of the coastal plain for at least 4 hours before weakening and
moving back east and out to sea. Many locations within this band picked up over a foot of snow during this relatively
short period of time. Thereafter, the snow decreased in coverage and intensity as the daylight hours of the 9th progressed
and the storm moved out to sea. However, blowing and drifting snow remained an issue for several hours after the snowfall
ended as strong winds continued.
Both Portland, ME and Concord, NH had the 3rd snowiest February on record, with 49.6” and 43.6”, respectively.