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Tuesday, December 29, 2020

'Miserable' weather to mark beginning of 2021 in Northeast

By Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist

An even bigger storm system is on the way for New Year's Eve in the region.

New Year's festivities were already going to look and feel dramatically different this year due to precautionary restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But if that was not enough, meteorologists say a storm with rain, ice and some snow is forecast to throw a wrench into small gatherings and travel in the northeastern United States during the latter part of this week.

The upcoming storm is forecast to take a track well inland with only a minimal amount of cold air at the onset. However, just enough of a wedge of cold air may hold on in the lowest part of the atmosphere to cause icy trouble.

"An icy mix of sleet and freezing rain will break out over a large part of the central Appalachians and Northeast as the storm gets underway spanning Thursday night to Friday," AccuWeather Meteorologist Jake Sojda said.

"Fortunately, for a large part of the area, warmer air from the south and east will quickly win out and the icy precipitation will change to plain rain, but not before several hours of difficult travel occur," Sojda said.


Even a brief, thin coating of ice that is difficult to see can make driving and walking hazardous.

"Closer to the coast in southern New England, and farther south in the mid-Atlantic, it may never get cold enough to be anything but a chilly, plain rain," Sojda said.

"Still residents along the I-95 corridor should be prepared for the possibility of an icy mix for a time Thursday night and New Year's Day," he added.

Where the cold air is the most stubborn, the icy mix could last for several hours. Generally, when ice accrues to a thickness of 0.25 of an inch or greater, the risk of tree limbs breaking and power outages increases significantly.

The area most likely to have several hours or more of freezing rain and a 0.25-of-an-inch buildup of ice is expected to extend from central Pennsylvania, northeastward to interior New England.

The storm may pack enough punch to bring another round of flooding problems to the region.

A general 1-3 inches of rain is projected to fall from western and northern Virginia to central New York state and central New England with the storm. Most small streams have receded in the wake of the Christmas meltdown and that storm wiped out a large amount of the existing snow cover, but water levels on the major rivers remain high.

Rain is not expected to reach Boston during New Year’s Eve, and may hold off until early New Years' day in New York City as the same wedge of cold air poised to contribute to ice may also hold dry air a bit longer in the Northeast. In both New York City and Boston, the storm can begin as a period of snow and/or ice.

Another surge of runoff from the late-week storm will bring quick rises on small streams and likely another surge on the major rivers. It may not take as much rain as the last storm to produce a similar response on the rivers. Regardless, enough rain will fall in urban areas to trigger some street and highway flooding and make walking or spending time outdoors miserable, AccuWeather meteorologists say.

Fog is another potential problem for motorists with the upcoming storm. As mild, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean flows across the region with the storm, the cold ground and patches of snow can create patchy fog just about anywhere and that fog can be especially dense over the higher elevations.

Snow with the storm is likely to be brief in portions of the central Appalachians and southern New England, but a moderate snowfall is possible over parts of northern New York state and northern New England.

Compared to the storm that just prior to Christmas, forecasters say the storm slated to roll through the Northeast spanning Thursday and Friday is likely to bring much less-intense wind in coastal areas with few incidents of wind-related power outages and falling trees. Still, gusts may approach 40 mph along the coast and more of a breeze is likely to evolve across interior locations.

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