Bomb Storm: Ice, Snow, and Wind – Major North Country Power Outage Event
Thursday Night - Friday February 6-7, 2020

Ice and snow laden trees in Latham, Albany County, Friday February 7, 2020 - Photo Credit: Robbie Venditti

Ice and snow laden trees in Latham, Albany County Friday February 7, 2020

Approximately 90,000 north country utility customers lost their lights and heat at the height of the weather induced outage event Friday, February 7 with approximately 12,000 still without power through early Sunday afternoon February 9, with a couple of thousand still out in Warren County into Monday February 10, this according to PowerOutage.US, a site which collects, records, and aggregates power outage information from utilities across the country.  Hamilton, Warren Saratoga and Washington counties were hardest hit with numerous outages also observed in Fulton, Schenectady, and Albany counties.
Trees and limbs coming down on power lines were the chief contributor to the outages which were caused by a combination of heaving icing from a prolonged period of light freezing rain/drizzle that occurred the preceding night and through much of Friday morning, then followed by a solid coating of  wet snow, and finally hit with wind gusts from 40-50 mph Friday afternoon.  Each contributor, the ice, snow, and wind, on their own however, were not of sufficient magnitude to bring down so many branches and trees.  But together they became a formidable force that was more than sufficient to create the mess that occurred.

Observed Icing - February 6-7, 2020
The heaviest icing occurred over portions of Hamilton, Warren, Saratoga and Washington counties as well as in the higher elevations in Vermont and the Berkshires.

Observed Icing for the February 6-7, 2020 Event 

Average ice accumulations of 0.10” to 0.30” with locally up to 0.50” were observed across the southern Adirondacks, Lake George-Saratoga Region, much of central and northern Washington County and across higher elevation locations in Vermont and the Berkshires.  The freezing rain across these counties was due to a steady state period of warm moist air aloft being transported north by a strong southerly jet along the Atlantic seaboard into our area while shallow cold air at or just below freezing remained trapped near the ground from Thursday afternoon through Friday morning.  Surface temperatures across the southern parts of the Capital Region, eastern Catskills, mid Hudson valley and parts of Bennington and Berkshire counties remained just above freezing allowing for a cold rain and limited if any icing during the period.

Town County Icing Report Town County Icing Report
Peru, MA Berkshire 0.25" Sandisfield, MA Berkshire 0.25"
Salisbury Herkimer 0.30" Sycaway Rensselaer 0.13"
Providence Saratoga 0.25" Stillwater Saratoga 0.15"
Malta Saratoga 0.10" Clifton Park (Oaks) Saratoga 0.20"
Glens Falls Warren 0.25" Hartford Washington 0.50"
Readsboro, VT Bennington 0.40"      

For ice alone to cause widespread tree damage and subsequent power infrastructure damage we typically look at amounts to range from threshold values of 0.50” to 0.75” and then higher. Observations with this event, however, showed most spots came in below those thresholds and had the storm ended there, most would have made it through the event in good shape. But then came the snow.

Icing in Clifton Park - Saratoga County - Friday Morning February 7, 2020 - Photo Credit: Steve LaPointe

Icing in Clifton Park - Saratoga County, Friday Morning February 7, 2020

WeatherNet 6 Observed Storm Total Snowfall for Friday February 7, 2020

WeatherNet 6 Observed Snowfall for the February 7, 2020 Event 

WeatherNet Storm Total Snowfall Reports Friday February 7, 2020

Town County Snowfall Report Town County Snowfall Report
Savoy, MA Berkshire 3.1 Becket, MA Berkshire 1"
Pittsfield, MA Berkshire 2"      
Albany (ASOS)* Albany 1.9" Delmar Albany 2"
Glenmont Albany 2.5" Colonie Albany 1.5"
Knox Albany 3.8"      
Ancramdale Columbia Trace      
Roxbury Delaware 2.6" Franklin Delaware 5"
Arkville Delaware 1.5"      
Stratford Fulton 7" Broadalbin Fulton 3"
Perth Fulton 4"      
Greenville Greene 2" West Kill Greene 1.5"
Piseco Hamilton 6.5"      
Glen Montgomery 4.1" Fonda Montgomery 4.3"
Amsterdam Montgomery 4.8" to 5" Palatine Bridge Montgomery 6"
Fort Plain Montgomery 6.3" Hessville Montgomery 3.2"
Tribes Hill Montgomery 3.5"      
Worcester Otsego 5"      
Center Brunswick Rensselaer 2" Castleton Rensselaer 0.8"
Petersburg Rensselaer 3" Schaghticoke Rensselaer 3"
East Greenbush Rensselaer 0.8" Speigletown Rensselaer 2.8"
Clifton Park (Oaks) Saratoga 1.8" Galway Saratoga 3.7"
Charlton Saratoga 3" Ballston Spa Saratoga 3.5"
Lake Desolation Saratoga 5.5"      
Rotterdam Schenectady 2.4" Duanesburg Schenectady 2.5"
Glenville Schenectady 2"      
Conesville Schoharie 5" Jefferson Schoharie 5.8"
Schoharie Schoharie 5.5" Charlotteville Schoharie 4.8"
Jefferson Schoharie 5.5" Huntersland Schoharie 3.1 to 5"
Richmondville Schoharie 5" Warnerville Schoharie 5"
Warrensburg Warren 7" Glens Falls Warren 4"
Lake Luzerne Warren 6.1"      
Granville Washington 4.5" Hartford Washington 6"
Hebron Washington 5.5" Cossayuna Washington 5.5"
Fort Ann Washington 5"      
Landgrove, VT Bennington 5.5" Woodford, VT Bennington 6"
West Arlington, VT Bennington 5" Manchester, VT Bennington 5.1"
Danby, VT Rutland 6.5"      

Snow accumulations generally ranged from light to moderate throughout eastern New York and western New England with the higher totals well west and northwest of the Capital Region which was largely due to a storm track through the mid Hudson valley then through central New England and off the coast of Boston then rapidly out to sea.

The storm itself was a beast, undergoing “Bomb” cyclone intensification where the central pressure dropped a remarkable 24 millibars in approximately ten hours. (For a storm to be defined as a “Bomb” cyclone the pressure must drop at least 24 millibars in 24 hours.)   A record low barometric pressure for February was observed at Hartford, CT (Bradley International Airport) of 970.2 mb (28.65") as the storm moved over the field at 1:40pm.  The pressure at Albany dropped to 976.3 mb (28.83") and is unofficially the 5th lowest barometric pressure on record at Albany in the month of February.

The storm’s rapid deepening drew cold air that had been sitting over western New York into the local area which replaced the relatively mild air that had previously been in place.  Temperatures rapidly dropped through the 20s through the afternoon with a fast change from rain/freezing rain to snow with that rain snow line quickly moving from west to east across the region from mid morning through the early afternoon. The switch to snow in the Capital Region came between noon and 1pm with road surfaces almost instantly becoming treacherous.

Winter Storm Composite Radar around 11am Friday February 20, 2020 Showing Precipitation Type

The storm's rapid intensification also caused a region of strong lift in the atmosphere to develop which caused a zone of heavy snow north and west of the storm track which went through central and northern New York and northern New England where accumulations of a foot or more were observed.

Accumulations were significantly lighter locally due to a combination of the storm track being so close to the Capital Region as well as due to the fast forward motion of the storm.  I’ve never seen a synoptic scale deformation band (Deformation band or zone is a region in the atmosphere where stretching and shearing is maximized creating a region of strong lift and heavy precipitation.) associated with a cyclone go through as fast as this one did in the Capital Region Friday afternoon.  The heaviest snow lasted for only 15-30 minutes with the band acting more like a large snow squall than it did a synoptic scale feature.

Deformation band of snow shown in the radar image below as the dark blue strip running from western Saratoga County through eastern Schenectady and eastern Albany counties at this time. Enhanced snow was also occurring in Washington, Rensselaer, and northeast Columbia counties largely due to upslope flow.

ENX Doppler Base Reflecticity in Winter Storm Composite mode around 2:30pm Friday February 20, 2020 

Approximate position of the intense cyclone around 1pm on Friday February 7, 2020

Approximate position of the cyclone at 1pm Friday February 7, 2020 

Approximate position of the intense cyclone around 4pm on Friday February 7, 2020

Approximate position of the cyclone at 4pm Friday February 7, 2020 

With the storm “Bombing out” through the afternoon and subsequent tightening of the pressure gradient throughout the Northeast, rapid pressure drops in advance of the storm were followed by rapid pressure rises in its wake, generating strong winds.   Hurricane force gusts occurred along the southern New England coast, especially over southeast MA, Cape Cod and the Islands in the storm’s warm sector where temperatures briefly surged well into the 50s.

Across our area, the winds ramped up in gusts from the west to northwest from 40-50 mph during the afternoon and early evening before dropping back prior to midnight.  The strongest gusts locally were observed in the Mohawk valley, Capital Region and Berkshires as the Mohawk valley effectively channels west to northwest flow scenarios which has the net effect of accelerating the wind in that zone.  This lined up well with the wind advisory the Albany National Weather Service Forecast office had issued in advance of the event which was in effect for the period from 1-10pm Friday, February 7. A peak gust of 54 mph was measured at Pittsfield, MA at 3:44pm, 53 mph at the New York State Mesonet site in Voorheesville at 4:15pm, 52 mph at our Freihofer's weather station 100' up on the roof of the MVP building in Schenectady at 2:51pm, and 47 mph at Albany International at 5:03pm.

National Weather Sevice Wind Advisory area, 1-9:30pm Friday February 7, 2020