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What Is A Nor’easter & Why Is New England The Prime Target?

January 28, 2017

I grew up in Scituate, Massachusetts, less than a mile from the beautiful – and sometimes turbulent – Atlantic Ocean, so I have seen my share of Nor’easters. This week, the most populated coastline in the US was hit by yet another of these storms.

Amidst the swirling snow, bone-chilling winds and power outages, have you ever stopped to wonder what a Nor’easter really is and what causes it? The following CNN video breaks it down.

Basically they are large-scale cyclones traveling counterclockwise and blowing Northeasterly winds from the ocean ahead of themselves as they make their way up the coast. It is the direction of the airflow that gives the storms their name. Warm air traveling up the coast from Florida clashes with arctic winds from the North, creating the “perfect storm” and resulting in massive wind fields.

There are an average of three Nor’easters each year, usually between September and April, with New England and Canada taking the brunt of the force. A storm does not have to include snow in order to be considered a true Nor’easter, but they often go hand in hand.

So why are we New Englanders the perfect target for these storms? A Nor’easter can form anywhere along the coastline from Georgia to New Jersey, and once the cyclone begins to churn and head up the coast, it builds in strength, leaving us directly in its powerful path.

Nor’easters are often confused with hurricanes, but in reality they can actually be more powerful with greater potential for damage. AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Brian Edwards described the difference:

“Hurricanes have a narrow field of strong winds with a concentration around the center, whereas a Nor’easter’s winds are spread out,”

So while a hurricane may have a wind field of 30 miles, with the majority of the power concentrated in the center, a Nor’easter is more likely to carry a wind field of 100 miles, with the force of the winds spread throughout it.

Every time one of these storms come through, New England is at risk for coastal flooding, erosion, powerful winds and blizzard conditions. As big of a bummer as a Nor’easter can be, I guess that’s the price we pay to live in the greatest part of the country!


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