So How Much Snow Is New York Going to Get?

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Snowstorm Hits New York
Are you ready for this?Photo: Benjamin Lowy/2015 Benjamin Lowy

Winter has come, and the first big snowfall of the year is heading toward the East Coast. Right now, the storm is pushing toward the nation’s capital, which means Washington, D.C., could be in for a repeat of “Snowmaggeddon” with up to two feet of snow and even more political snowbragging. But, enough about them — what about the New York area? 

It’s still a bit too early to know for sure, says New York Metro Weather meteorologist John Homenuk. “We’re right on this boundary where any slight shift, even as the storm is occurring, can change the forecast dramatically, so it’s highly uncertain where it stands right now,” he says. That means there’s a possibility we could get pummeled — or just log a couple of inches of snow, if that. Still, it’s likely that we could see heavy winds and some coastal flooding, and since it never hurts to get to the grocery store before they run out of all the good snacks, Daily Intelligencer asked Homenuk to give us a breakdown of what to expect as the storm gets closer, and why we’re even getting snow with el Niño hanging around.

What are you seeing for the storm’s path right now?
The setup for Washington, D.C., is prolific and I think they’re very likely to see a tremendous snowstorm, probably a blizzard down there. I think the question of the storm becomes how far north does it go.

So what about New York City and the surrounding area?
There’s a very strong high pressure to the north of the storm, so you have all this moisture coming up with this storm system and a strong high pressure battling for control; what you end up getting is a very sharp gradient, over an area of 50 or 100 miles or less, where the snow totals go from over a foot or more to just a couple of inches. I think New York City is going to fall very close to that gradient and [that’s] what we’re trying to figure out over the next 24 hours or so.

And your prediction for the amount of snowfall around the NYC area?
The best way to do it without throwing out an actual number would be to say that the chances of getting six inches or more have definitely increased in the last day. Yesterday, a good majority of models were further south, and today they’re starting to nudge north a little bit so that New York City is more in the area where significant snow falls. I think six inches is a good marker right now, but it could potentially be higher if the storm continues to tick northward.

We haven’t really gotten any snow, and it was a pretty mild December. How do you see winter shaping up — or in other words, are a lot more snowstorms on the way?
We kind of pegged the middle of January for a pattern change. The big thing that we think going forward into late January and February, unlike December, is there’s going to be potential for storms. I don’t think we’re necessarily going to get into a brutally cold and snowy pattern. But the atmosphere works in funny ways.

Does El Niño have any effect on these weather patterns? 
It definitely has a huge impact, and it will continue to have an impact through the end of the winter. People get El Niño wrong, and they think it’s going to be warm and there’s going to be no snow — it’s not so much that. But it does definitely change the pattern to make it more variant and the potential for warmer periods and then colder periods — kind of like that roller coaster. The one thing El Niño does usually bring is a lot more moisture into the picture, so these storms can have a lot more moisture involved in them because of the subtropical jet that comes from the El Niño region.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.