Historic Blockbuster Snow Storm
Sunday-Early Tuesday Morning December 1-3, 2019
The “Unremarkable and yet Obviously Remarkable Storm”

Moderate snow falling in Catskill, NY - Greene County Sunday night December 1, 2019
Photograph Credit: WeatherNet 6 weather watcher Steve Meicht

Snow falling in  Catskill, NY Greene County Sunday night December 1, 2019 

Snow Storm Breakdown for Albany

Storm Statistics for Albany 

So, how can a storm be both unremarkable yet remarkable at the same time?  Well, it all hinges on perspective and context.  There’s no question that the 22.6” of snow that fell on Albany, (2.00 to 2.50” of liquid equivalent on average - 2.09" specifically at Albany) the epicenter of a wide zone of 20”-26" accumulations through the heart of the Capital Region, was remarkable and historic.  This to date is the 4th heaviest December single storm snowfall at Albany, pushing the previous position holder, the 2002 Christmas Nor’easter with 21.0” of snow, to position #5.  This storm also landed as 8th all-time largest at Albany.  Obviously these stats. are nothing to sneeze at as snowfalls of this magnitude, at least in the heart of the Capital Region, are historically pretty rare overall, although not so much of course in the surrounding higher elevation communities where big numbers like this are more common.

But, aside from the heavy snow the other elements that we typically use to characterize how severe or impactful a winter storm is in our area were modest at best.  For example, the snow with this storm accumulated over approximately a forty-hour period, a marathon. In fact Albany reported continuous snowfall for 39 consecutive hours and 14 minutes. Long duration events, however, are less severely impactful because snowfall rates on average are much lighter than what occurs with intense storms. And, that was the case here. Outside of a few periods where the snow came down at rates of 1’-2”/hour, largely on December 1, and again late in the storm, snowfall rates over long periods were light and even quite intermittent at times.  Road crews were able to effectively keep up with the accumulations allowing for reasonable travel during those periods of lighter snow.  Compare this to the Christmas Day 2002 Nor’easter which dumped 21” of snow in approximately 10-12 hours (a sprint) with snowfall rates at times ranging from 4”-6”/hour making travel impossible, an exponentially more severe impact. 

Further, the surface storm centers along and south of the New England coast, and there were several areas of low pressure rotating around a large upper low, which originated over Asia more than a week prior, were not particularly intense, nor did they rapidly intensify, as many of the big snow storms in the Northeast do.  So, no tight pressure gradients meant very little wind, a big plus compared to some storms that produce blizzard conditions with frequent periods of zero visibility making travel all but impossible.

And finally, the storm was not particularly cold, but just cold enough to produce a light fluffy snow (roughly the standard water to snow ratio of 10:1) which made it reasonably easy to move, vs. many past storms that have produced heavy wet damaging snow. So, there was no damage to infrastructure or vegetation making cleanup somewhat easier.  Therefore,  in many aspects, outside of the heavy snow accumulation, it was an unremarkable storm.  Just my take based on my many years of experience. Of course the magnitude of snow did, as one would expect, result in school cancellations and delays for two consecutive days and sent urban areas into snow clean-up overdrive with side roads in especially Albany, Schenectady, and Troy still a mess several days after the snow had stopped.

Deep snow in Clifton Park Tue. morning December 3, 2019 - 23.7" measured Near Grooms and Vischer Ferry Rd.

Deep snow in Clifton Park Tuesday morning December 3, 2019

Storm Character and TimeLine

Sunday December 1
Snow developed from west to east across the region from the late morning through the early afternoon, initially light and spotty for the first hour or two as a layer of dry air was in the process of being moistened.  Small scale heavier snow banding then quickly developed, in what was a strong warm advection pattern, the result of the circulation around a large surface storm across the Midwest and developing circulation along the mid Atlantic coast.  A quasi-stationary zone of heavier snow, with rates of 1” to at times 2” per hour set up right over the immediate Capital Region during the afternoon and continued through midnight.  Outside of this zone, snowfall rates and amounts dropped off significantly to north.  To the south, warming air aloft due caused mostly a light snow/sleet mixture to fall throughout Otsego, Delaware, parts of Ulster, Dutchess and Litchfield counties where snow accumulations by midnight were far less than in the Capital Region where snowfall was maximized.  Some precipitation mixing in the mid Hudson valley and Berkshires coupled with strong upward vertical velocities due to the warm advection pattern created an environment favorable, due to the mixing of different precipitation types, to allow for a few lightning strikes and thunder snow/sleet in the mid Hudson valley up to North Adams, MA.

By 10pm a zone of heavy snow accumulation, ranging from 10"-15", had piled up from the eastern Mohawk valley through the Capital Region and into southern Vermont and the northern Berkshires with amounts far less to the north and to the south. This distribution was due to the quasi-stationary behavior of the heavy snow band which was likely the result of this narrow zone being under a strong pocket of diffluence aloft due to a coupled jet streak structure, which was then intersected by the rich moist southwest low level jet transporting the moisture north into the region. Typically these types of set-ups are more progressive, which means they move along, limiting the duration of very heavy snow. This was not the case, however, in this event. 13.3" of snow had accumulated at Albany by midnight, which was a record snowfall for the date. Travel conditions in and around the Capital Region were at there most difficult during this first phase of the storm from Sunday afternoon through midnight due to the reduced visibility in heavy snow and the rapid accumulations.

Approximate Snowfall By 10pm Sunday December 1, 2019

Approximation of snowfall amounts by 10pm Sunday December 1, 2019

Monday December 2
Phase II of the storm spanned from about midnight to 6-7am on the 2nd when the strong warm advection pattern that produced the initial surge of snowfall moved off to the northeast. This left the region in somewhat of a lull with very light intermittent snow or snow grains with some sleet and freezing rain/drizzle throughout the Catskills, mid Hudson valley and Berkshires. Additional accumulations between midnight and 7am were light, generally 2" or less.

The, the main upper level low pressure system, moved to a position along the mid Atlantic coast which helped to strengthen the near stationary surface low centers off the New England coast. This did two things, 1st, it locked in an easterly flow of rich moisture coming in over the top of the circulation to the region's south. And second, it put central and eastern New York and western New England in a deformation zone (favorable region for precipitation development) which lasted into early Tuesday morning. In this final phase of the storm from mid morning Monday through early Tuesday, numerous transient bands and bandlets of moderate to heavy snowfall occurred throughout the region with some particularly enhanced bands later Monday night through through 2-3am Tuesday which produced snowfall rates again up to 1" and briefly two inches per hour in especially the Hudson valley and across western New England. By midnight, another 6.8" of snow had piled up at Albany, another 24 hour record for the date.

The following two distribution maps show a good approximation of the snow on the ground by both noon and 5pm across the region. You'll note the steady increase in amounts as the snow continued through the day.

Approximate Snowfall By 12pm Monday December 2, 2019

Approximation of snowfall amounts by 12pm Monday December 2, 2019 

Approximate Snowfall By 5pm Monday December 2, 2019

Approximation of snowfall amounts by 5pm Monday December 2, 2019 

Tuesday December 3

Bands of moderate to heavy snow continued, mainly over the Hudson valley and western New England between midnight and 3-4am with the snow rapidly tapering off and ending as a few snow showers over the Berkshires between 7-8am. This marked the end of the marathon storm as the slow moving upper low driving the whole system finally shifted far enough east to pull the deformation zone east of the local area. An additional 2.5" of snow accumulated at Albany after midnight to round out the epic accumulation of 22.6." Snow did, however, continue across eastern New England, especially Maine, through the remainder of the day before the system completely cleared the Northeast. Sunshine and a gusty breeze quickly developed locally with dry weather the remainder of the day across the local area.

WeatherNet 6 Snowfall Amount and Distribution Storm Total Analysis of the December 1-3, 2019 Storm

WeatherNet 6 Observed Storm Total Snowfall Distribution for the December 1-3, 2019 Storm 

WeatherNet Storm Total Snowfall Reports Sunday-Tuesday Dec 1-3, 2019

(Note: Reports with an * notation are NWS relayed and not WxNet 6 spotter observations)

Town County Snowfall Report Town County Snowfall Report
Savoy, MA Berkshire 24.2" Canaan, CT Litchfield 13.0"
Becket, MA Berkshire 22.0" Pittsfield, MA Berkshire 19.0"
Great Barrington, MA Berkshire 18.3" Hancock MA Berkshire 16.5"
Clarksburg, MA Berkshire 19.8"      
Albany (ASOS)* Albany 22.6* Colonie Albany 21.0"
Delmar Albany 22.0" Glenmont Albany 23.0"
Cohoes Albany 24.5" Rensselaerville Albany 25.0"
Knox Albany 25.0" South Berne Albany 21.0"
Livingston Columbia 17.0" Taghkanic Columbia 16.3"
Ancramdale Columbia 12.1" Austerlitz Columbia 20.50"
Spencertown Columbia 22.5" Germantown Columbia 14.0"
Chatham* Columbia 15.4" Valatie* Columbia 18.2"
Denver Delaware 13.5" Arkville Delaware 12.3"
Roxbury Delaware 12.8"      
Poughkeepsie Dutchess 13.0" Red Hook Dutchess 16.0"
Staatsburg Dutchess 13.0"      
Broadalbin Fulton 19.0" Stratford Fulton 17.0"
Johnstown Fulton 16.0" Perth Fulton 16.0"
Catskill Greene 17.0" Halcott Center Greene 14.5"
West Kill Greene 17.5" Cairo Greene 23.0" to 24.0"
Greenville Greene 20.50" East Jewett* Greene 25.5"
Tannersville* Greene 17.0" Tribes Hill Montgomery 14.3"
Freehold Greene 22.0" Halcott Greene 13.0"
Fonda Montgomery 18.5" Amsterdam Montgomery 19.9" to 22.1"
Palatine Bridge Montgomery 14.0" Milford* Otsego 12.0"
Wells Hamilton 7.5" Piseco Hamilton 8.0"
Indian Lake* Hamilton 7.5"      
East Worcester Otsego 14.5" Cherry Valley Otsego 18.0"
Oneonta Otsego 11.0"      
Castleton Rensselaer 25.9" Center Brunswick Rensselaer 20.3"
Wynantskill Rensselaer 20.0" Speigletown Rensselaer 26.0"
Averill Park* Rensselaer 26.8" Troy* Rensselaer 24.9"
East Greenbush* Rensselaer 24.5" Berlin* Rensselaer 21.0"
Clifton Park (Oaks) Saratoga 23.7" Charlton Saratoga 22.5"
Malta Saratoga 25.0" Galway Saratoga 19.8"
Saratoga Springs Saratoga 15.7" Round Lake* Saratoga 24.0"
Ballston Lake* Saratoga 23.3"      
Rotterdam Schenectady 23.5" Glenville Schenectady 26.0"
Delanson Schenectady 23.5" Rotterdam Jct. Schenectady 21.0"
Niskayuna* Schenectady 22.3" Scotia* Schenectady 20.0"
Jefferson Schoharie 13.0" Huntersland Schoharie 23.9"
Richmondville Schoharie 18.0" Gilboa Schoharie 24.0"
Middleburgh Schoharie 23.9" Schoharie Schoharie 23.0"
Cobleskill* Schoharie 18.0" Warnerville Schoharie 23.5"
Olivebridge Ulster 12.0" West Shokan Ulster 15.3"
Ulster Park Ulster 12.2" Kingston Ulster 12.0"
Phoenicia Ulster 16.0" Whiteport Ulster 13.0"
Saugerties Ulster 14.0"      
Lake Luzerne Warren 11.0" Warrensburg Warren 8.5"
Lake George* Warren 6.5" North Creek* Warren 7.0"
Greenwich Washington 11.5" Hebron Washington 13.0"
Hartford Washington 9.5" Cambridge* Washington 15.5"
Salem Washington 10.0" Argyle* Washington 5.3"
Woodford, VT Bennington 26.0" West Arlington, VT Bennington 12.3"
Wilmington, VT Windham 22.0" Danby, VT Rutland 5.5"

Albany NWS Snowfall Analysis December 1-3, 2019

Albany National Weather Service Snowfall Analysis December 1-3, 2019 

Heavy snow accumulation in Clifton Park, Tuesday morning December 3, 2019

Deep snow in Clifton Park Tuesday morning December 3, 2019 

Deep snow in Clifton Park Tuesday morning December 3, 2019