Significant storm aims for NJ: Rain, snow, wind, coastal flooding
Weather conditions will begin to deteriorate Thursday afternoon, with the storm's peak expected on Friday.
ROAR! You know that cliche that compares the beginning of March to a certain feline king of the jungle? It certainly applies this year, as Mother Nature is set to deliver a wide variety of nasty weather to the Garden State over the next two to three days.
It's a stormy setup so significant and so complicated that I have stepped away from my paternity leave and back into the weather center. (Rest-assured, both Baby Griffin and Big Brother Jackson are helping me with this forecast.)
First raindrops are expected to arrive in western New Jersey sometime Thursday afternoon, as early as 2 p.m. It should be raining everywhere in the state by Thursday evening, around 7 p.m. Rainfall and wind intensity will pick up early Friday morning. As temperatures crash during the day Friday, we'll likely see a transition to wintry mix or snow (especially in the highest elevations of NW NJ). The storm system will depart and precipitation will end Saturday morning, by around 8 a.m.
Yup, it's going to rain. And that rain will be heavy at times, particularly Thursday night through early Friday morning. Widespread rainfall totals are forecast to end up in the 1 to 2 inch range, with the highest totals to the north. Low visibility will be a problem throughout the storm, and you may find yourself hydroplaning over large puddles too. Localized flash flooding is possible, but I don't anticipate huge issues from just a couple of inches of rain.
Model consensus is pretty poor regarding snow potential, making this an exceptionally tough forecast to pinpoint. As temperatures nosedive through the 30s by midday Friday, it looks like we'll see at least a partial transition from all rain to mix/snow. The NAM model paints all snow throughout the Garden State by late afternoon Friday, with a heavy thumping of accumulation (especially to the north). Meanwhile, the GFS has consistently shown a warmer, less snowy solution, with little to no accumulation. The almighty Euro has a middle-ground solution, limiting significant accumulations to NW NJ — that's the solution that seems to make the most sense.
My snow forecast paints a swath of 4 to 8 inches of snow across the colder higher elevations of northwestern New Jersey, confined to the area north of Interstate 78 and west of Interstate 287. Lesser accumulations are expected further east and further south, as a result of the storm's track, expected temperatures, and the warm/wet nature of the ground.
I do think everyone in the state should be prepared for wintry driving conditions late-day Friday. (If that NAM forecast somehow verifies, we're in for a real thumping of snow.) As we've seen several times this Winter, it really doesn't take much ice, slush, and snow on the roadways to make things very sloppy and dangerous.
This is going to be a strong, deep low pressure system, driving some fierce winds through New Jersey too. It will become breezy Thursday night, with sustained winds in the 10 to 20 mph range. On Friday, winds will become northerly and sustained wind speeds will increase to about 20 to 30 mph, with gusts to around 50 mph. Those gusts will slowly subside over time, to about 40 mph by Saturday morning and 30 mph by Saturday afternoon.
Downed trees and power outages are possible, if not likely. Driving high-profile vehicles (trucks, vans, etc.) may be very difficult during the peak of the storm, especially on east-west oriented roads. Wind chills will become quite bitter Friday night, dipping into the teens and 20s.
Any time there is a strong storm system off the Jersey Shore, we have to raise an eyebrow toward rough surf and coastal flooding. Additionally, there will be a brief period of winds from the east-northeast Thursday night through early Friday. Two eyebrows raised — that on-shore flow will drive additional surge toward the coast.
Tidal water levels are expected to be unusually high for five high tide cycles in a row — Friday morning, Friday afternoon, Saturday morning (the highest peak), Saturday evening, and Sunday morning.
Peak storm surge estimates at all three major NJ tidal gauges (Sandy Hook, Atlantic City, and Cape May) seems to be in the 3 to 4 foot range for Saturday. In other words, look at at the water level during a "typical" high tide this time of year and add 3 to 4 feet to it, to get a sense of the worst-case scenario. That puts the flooding potential in the "minor to moderate" category. Vulnerable roads along tidal waterways will flood, and some property damage is possible.
Additionally, big waves will batter the beaches — 5 to 8 feet on Friday, building to 9 to 12 feet on Saturday. (Way off-shore, those waves will be 20 to 30 feet!) Moderate beach erosion (at least) is anticipated.
Warnings & Advisories
Here's a comprehensive look at New Jersey's warnings, watches, and advisories from the National Weather Service, as of Thursday morning.
--Flood Watch from 1 a.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Saturday for Burlington, Camden, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Somerset, and Warren counties
--Coastal Flood Watch from 3 a.m. Friday to 2 a.m. Sunday for Atlantic, southeastern Burlington, Cape May, Cumberland, Middlesex, Monmouth, and Ocean counties
--Coastal Flood Advisory from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. Friday for Essex, Hudson, and Union counties
--Winter Storm Watch from 6 a.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Saturday for western Passaic and Sussex counties
--Flood Watch from 6 a.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Saturday for Bergen, Essex, Hudson, eastern Passaic, and Union counties
--High Wind Watch from 7 a.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Saturday for Bergen, Essex, Hudson, eastern Passaic, and Union counties
--High Wind Watch from 7 a.m. Friday to 7 a.m. Saturday for Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Salem, Somerset, and Warren counties
The Bottom Line
Even though snow accumulation will be limited and the flooding threat will stay out of the "major" category, we're facing a pretty nasty stretch of weather over the next 48 hours or so. Due to the change of seasons and fluctuating warm/cool air masses, March is notorious for big storms here in the northeastern United States. And this one definitely fits the mold.
Whether you live along the coast or in the mountains, it's important to take this storm seriously and recognize that we only raise such "nasty weather" alarm bells a few times a year. The combination of wind-driven rain, snow and ice, and tidewater inundation may make travel very difficult or even impossible in areas. A bit of common sense will go a long way in keeping you, your family, and your property safe, dry, and warm.
Our news, weather, and traffic teams are on-the-job to keep you informed before, during, and after the storm. And again, I'm back on-duty for the duration too. Next weather blog update is planned for early Friday morning.
Be smart, be safe.