Violent storms that possess particular, identifiable characteristics are sometimes known by specific names. This is true of tornadoes, hurricanes, and Nor’easters. The name Nor’easter denotes a storm originating from strong northeasterly winds.
Nor’easters usually develop as a storm system in the Midwest or southern Gulf States that moves east to the Atlantic coastline. As the cool air in the system intersects with the warm Atlantic waters, the storm intensifies with strong winds and heavy precipitation in the form of rain or snow. The storm can gain strength, relative to a cyclone, forcing the system to move northward up the eastern coastline.
Though Nor’easters are generally associated with rain during the summer, in the cool, fall months, if the air is at a very low temperature, the storm can also produce snow and freezing rain resulting in extremely dangerous, drifting conditions. Storm surges can also produce damaging waves to coastal structures.
According to NASA, Nor’easters are difficult to predict. In the motion picture, The Perfect Storm, as the storm developed meteorologists scurried to announce the impending danger to those in the vicinity of the storm. Canadian winds circulated around a high pressure system; then, proceeded southward to meet the warmer air of the Gulf. As these two pressure systems intersected, rogue waves, blinding rain, and horrendous winds made it impossible to avoid or escape.
Images transmitted from weather satellites, along with other data, supply meteorologists with the information necessary to predict a Nor’easter. An eye in the middle of the storm is one of the first pieces of evidence. The area of origination, along with the cooler temperatures, will distinguish a potential Nor’easter from a hurricane.
Meteorologists basically check the incoming data of Gulf Stream low pressure moving northeast and high pressure originating in Arctic regions moving in a southerly direction to make these storm predictions. Many times these storms do not intersect until the storm front is well out to sea; however, coastal damage is always a concern.
A less frequent Nor’easter begins as far west as the Rocky Mountains and Alberta, Canada. The term, Alberta Clipper, represents a storm system that is generated in the northern Rockies; then, continues southward moving toward the east coastline. If the system encounters warm, humid air from the south, the storm will often graduate to a Nor’easter.
Nor’easters can also generate tornadoes on land and massive water spouts at sea. According to the National Weather Service, the well-publicized storm of 1993 spewed snow, rain, tornadoes, and caused severe flooding up and down the entire east coast. Though the tornadoes produced by these storms are relatively short lived, the Nor’easter itself can maintain storm strength for several days, basically closing down all activity in affected cities.
As weather technology advances, these storms will become easier to predict, eventually saving many lives of coastal occupants, fishermen, and water sport enthusiasts.