- It’s rare for blizzards and hurricanes to strike at the same time and even rarer for the storms to be unrelated.
- The north-central United States braced itself on Thursday for strong wind gusts, whiteout conditions and snowfall of up to 18 inches.
- The three most active months for hurricanes – August, September and October – are usually too early for significant snowfall in the U.S.
In a rarity for November, people in individual regions of the United States battled both tropical storm and snow storms on Thursday.
As Nicole made landfall over south Florida as a Category 1 hurricane early Thursday, the north-central United States braced itself for strong gusts, whiteout conditions and snowfall of up to 18 inches as the first winter storm of the 2022-season 23 blew through the region.
“In some cases, there can be wind gusts of 50 or 60 mph, resulting in snowstorms particularly in North Dakota, northwestern Minnesota and into parts of southern Canada,” said AccuWeather chief meteorologist Jon Porter.
Nicole left more than 300,000 homes and businesses without electricity and dangerous storm surges and flooding threatened Florida’s east coast on Thursday. The National Hurricane Center downgraded Nicole to a tropical storm after it hit land.
The weakened storm would still cause significant flooding to the southern Appalachian Mountains through the northeastern United States on Thursday and Friday to North Carolina, West Virginia, West Virginia, eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, according to AccuWeather.
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Experts said hurricanes have occurred at the same time as winter storms, but not often.
“(It happens when) the end of the hurricane season in October and November overlaps with a usual time for early-season winter storms, particularly in the western United States, the Plains, the Upper Midwest, the Great Lakes, and the northeast of the interior,” said Alex Lamers, an alert coordination meteorologist at NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center.
According to Porter, the three most active hurricanes — August, September and October — are typically too early for significant snowfall in most parts of the United States.
“So you see that disconnect in why this event is somewhat unusual, to have this simultaneous significant snowstorm across the northern plains and a severe impact hurricane landfall all the way to the east coast,” Porter said.
Here’s a look at occasions where hurricanes and winter storms happened simultaneously:
Sandy, the 18th named storm of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, was an example of a hurricane that made landfall, moved inland and crossed cold air, resulting in heavy rainfall that turned into heavy snow, Porter said.
“You had all the damage along the coast, especially in New Jersey and New York, and all the storm surge effects,” Porter said. “Then, not far away in the mountains of West Virginia, there was a raging blizzard with over 40 inches of snow accumulating.”
As the center of Sandy approached the New Jersey coast, the storm lost its tropical characteristics as it moved over much cooler waters and began interacting with a cold air mass over the eastern United States, Lamers said.
“It’s exceptionally rare to see snow directly associated with a tropical cyclone or a cyclone that has just lost tropical features,” he said.
Hurricanes Zeta and Eta
Hurricane Zeta made landfall over Louisiana in late October 2020 before moving into the southeastern United States, Lamers said. Meanwhile, a significant winter storm hit the Southern Plains.
“Freezing rain and ice accumulation in Oklahoma led to widespread power outages and significant damage,” Lamers said.
The following month, in early November 2020, heavy rain from Hurricane Eta hit Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. During the same period, several winter storms hit parts of the western US and the Upper Midwest, according to Lamers.
1804 New England hurricane
Before hurricane naming began, a similar intersection of winter and tropical weather occurred in October 1804, when a hurricane hitting New England crossed paths with cold air, turning rain into several inches of snow over the region.
Windsor, Vermont, saw 48 inches of snowfall, according to AccuWeather.
LIVE UPDATES:Powerful Nicole Beats Stormy Florida With High Winds, Heavy Rains, Power Outages
The incident also happened to Ginny in 1963, another hurricane in October influence on New England, Porter said.
“We ended up with cold air rushing in behind the storm, and there was snow as far south as parts of northern Massachusetts,” Porter said. “Snow eventually accumulated several feet in the highest parts of Northern Maine.”
AccuWeather experts said there weren’t many examples of situations like the one with Nicole and the season’s first blizzard, where the two storms aren’t associated.
“It’s quite unusual to have a significant snow storm and a hurricane making landfall at the same time,” Porter said.
One such case was Hurricane Lili, which made landfall in Cuba on October 18, 1996. At the same time, a storm with rain and later heavy snow fell on the mountains of Virginia.
Contributing: Doyle Rice, USA TODAY