AIR Worldwide Reports on This Week’s Northeast Blizzard

January 29, 2015

A blizzard in the Northeast this week primarily impacted eastern Long Island in New York, southeastern Connecticut, Rhode Island, eastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod and the islands, New Hampshire, and Maine, with record and near-record snowfall, high winds, and monumental drifts, according to catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide.

AIR Worldwide said New Jersey, the New York City area, and southwestern Connecticut experienced significantly less snow and wind than predicted.

The catastrophe modeling firm said that overall, the insured losses are currently not expected to be high. “Overall, for the impacted areas in New England and New York, AIR is not expecting insured losses to be significant,” an AIR Worldwide spokesman said.

In the lead-up to the storm the night of Monday, Jan. 26, as well as during the storm Tuesday, schools and colleges, workplaces, local mass transit, interstate rail and bus, and airports shut down throughout the affected region.

Also, widespread driving bans were in effect, which both limited the number of people stranded and enabled crews to more effectively respond to the storm, AIR Worldwide noted.

“A low-pressure system brought heavy snow and wind to the Northeast United States the beginning of the week,” said Eric Robinson, a scientist at AIR Worldwide. “The storm hugged the coast, from eastern Long Island, along southeastern Connecticut, Rhode Island, Cape Cod and the offshore islands, eastern Massachusetts, and southern New Hampshire, and then moved across Maine into eastern Canada.”

A state of emergency was declared on Tuesday, Jan. 27, interrupting public transportation and shutting down many airports across the Northeast region, AIR Worldwide noted. Areas from New York through Maine were particularly affected by the storm, with public transportation shutting down and thousands of flight cancellations.

Storm’s Track Shift

“New York City saw significantly less snow than predicted due to a track shift in which the system did not move as far west as projected: New York City snow totals ranged from 6.5 inches to 11.4 inches at LaGuardia airport,” said AIR Worldwide’s Robinson.

Storm snowfall ranged from a few inches to two to three feet. In heavily hit Massachusetts, communities west of Boston received the greatest snowfall, with the National Weather Service reporting 36-inch depths in Auburn, Hudson, and Lunenburg. Nearby Worcester reported 34.5 inches, a record for that municipality, Robinson noted.

An estimated 27 inches fell in Boston — the sixth heaviest snowfall on record — and Boston’s Logan Airport (which closed for the first time since the February 2013 blizzard) came close to a record depth with more than 24 inches.

Many parts of Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Maine received snowfalls of 20 inches or more, with a few communities topping 30 inches, according to AIR Worldwide. The 21.6 inches in Portland, Maine, set a record for Jan. 27.

Rhode Island saw some snow depths above 20 inches, and many in the teens. Temperatures well below freezing throughout the impacted region during the storm kept the snow fluffy and light, easing snow removal.

Coastal New England

Strong winds — with gusts from 50 to over 70 miles per hour — affected areas of coastal New England, and areas of flooding led to structural damage, said Robinson. High tide on Tuesday increased the flooding in areas such as Hull, Massachusetts.

In the coastal community of Marshfield, Massachusetts, a seawall was breached, leading to flooding and evacuation of residents.

Flood waters were reported to be at four feet in parts of Scituate, Massachusetts. Reports indicate that at least six homes along the South Shore of Massachusetts are uninhabitable due to structural damage. Storm-related flooding was also reported in Saco, Maine.

AIR Worldwide’s Robinson said damage reports were mostly along the coast where strong winds and flooding occurred. Power outages reportedly affected more than 10,000 utility customers, with Cape Cod and the offshore islands most heavily affected. Nantucket, one of the hardest-hit areas, lost power early Tuesday morning due to ice buildup and strong wind gusts up to 78 miles per hour.

Risk of Roof Collapse

According to AIR Worldwide, 10 to 20 inches of snow can lead to loads of roughly 15 to 30 pounds per square foot on flat roofs, but that calculation does not account for snow drift, which can significantly increase loads. The risk of roof collapse is particularly acute for light metal, long-span roofs such as on warehouses or hangars.

AIR Worldwide noted that engineered structures must conform to high load tolerances and damage to these structures would be expected to be less. The roofs of marginally-engineered structures (such as small businesses, convenience stores, etc.) can collapse under large accumulations of snow, particularly if their roofs have not been well-maintained.

According to AIR Worldwide, in the Northeast, design snow loads are on the order of 20 to 50 pounds per square foot. However, many old buildings in the Northeast may not meet the current code requirements, which could increase the total damage.

In addition, other building elements — porches, carports, awnings, and gutters — which often do not receive any specific design attention, are vulnerable to heavy snow loading. Heavy snow and strong wind can result in downed trees, causing damage to structures and automobiles, as well as downed power lines and power outages.

Because of the cold temperatures throughout the Northeast, areas with long-duration power outages and lack of heat may experience frozen pipes, according to AIR Worldwide.

Blue skies and temperatures below 20 degrees Fahrenheit greeted much of the region Wednesday morning, with additional snow forecast for some areas. By mid-day Wednesday, all advisories and warnings issued by the the National Weather Service for this weather system had been discontinued.

In the Boston area, most school and college closures continued for a second day Wednesday, although mass transit was trying to get back to speed, and businesses were beginning to reopen. Many courthouses and city halls in the region remained shuttered, however. Power has been restored to most residents, and airports have returned to a normal schedule.

Robinson said snow is expected from a low pressure system moving into the Northeast by the end of the week. A second system could affect the area next week, though strength and precipitation type are still unclear.

Source: AIR Worldwide

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