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Nor’easter meaning: What is a nor’easter? NWS explains barrelling cyclone phenomenon

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A winter nor’easter is on track to affect parts of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast US on Wednesday and Thursday. The National Weather Service forecast states “confidence is high that this winter storm will result in significant impacts including travel disruptions and power outages across much of the Mid-Atlantic and southern New England.” Read on to find out more about nor’easters and how the storms occur.

What is a nor’easter?

A nor’easter is a type of storm which occurs along the East Coast of North America.

The systems are generally called nor’easters because the winds over the coastal area are typically from the north-east.

Nor’easters are a form of macro-scale, extratropical cyclone in the western North Atlantic Ocean.

The US’ National Weather Service explains: “Nor’easters usually develop in the latitudes between Georgia and New Jersey, within 100 miles east or west of the East Coast.

“These storms progress generally northeastward and typically attain maximum intensity near New England and the Maritime Provinces of Canada.

“They nearly always bring precipitation in the form of heavy rain or snow, as well as winds of gale force, rough seas, and, occasionally, coastal flooding to the affected regions.

“The heavily populated region between Washington D.C., Philadelphia, New York and Boston, the ‘I-95 Corridor,’ is especially impacted by Nor’easters.”

The storms can form any time during the course of a year, but they are at their most common and most severe between the months of September to April.

What causes nor’easters?

The NWS explains nor’easters are prevalent on the US East Coast due to weather patterns in the region.

Over the winter period the polar jet stream “transports cold Arctic air southward across the plains of Canada and the United States”.

The cold arctic air is then transported eastward towards the Atlantic Ocean, “where warm air from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic tries to move northward.”

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The NWS add: “The warm waters of the Gulf Stream help keep the coastal waters relatively mild during the winter, which in turn helps warm the cold winter air over the water.

“This difference in temperature between the warm air over the water and cold Arctic air over the land is the fuel that feeds Nor’easters.”

Nor’easters often bring heavy snow, strong winds and other dangerous weather conditions to parts of North America.

While nor’easters refer to any large storm which brings northeasterly winds across the coast of North America along the Atlantic, storms are usually referred to as nor’easters by forecasters when significant impacts to lives and buildings are predicted.

Nor’easters have been known to bring heavy snow, rainfall and blizzard conditions, along with flooding, rough seas and strong winds.

Nor’easters can also intensify to become bomb cyclones.

AccuWeather explain: “It is possible for a nor’easter to intensify dramatically enough to become a bomb cyclone, which is a storm that strengthens so fast that the central barometric pressure falls by 0.71 of an inch of mercury (24 millibars) within 24 hours.”

Previous nor’easters have caused billions of dollars worth of damage, along with spells of significant disruption.

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