[Skip to page content]
< Back
NMSI Blog

Snowblogalypse: The Science Behind Jonas

In January, Winter Storm Jonas slammed the East Coast, and now many locals are dealing with the aftermath of the storm. NMSI breaks down the lasting effects of the storm through the different states of water.
 
When Winter Storm Jonas finally passed, some East Coast residents decided to make the most of the snow days by snowshoeing, building snowmen, and even snowboarding, but everyone had to manage the catastrophic aftermath. The reason Jonas occurred, why it was so bad and much of the damage that the storm left in its wake can be explained by simply examining the states of water, and the effects they had, and continue to have on the East Coast.
 
 
 
Gas
 
The cause of Jonas was not unlike any other winter storm.
 
“Any climate events are generally caused when two meteorological conditions intersect, most often fronts of varying temperature and humidity,” NMSI Science Content Editor, Paul Hightower explained. “A winter storm would be caused when dry cold air from northern latitudes is blown into warmer humid air from the middle latitudes and tropics, with colder temps condensing the air-borne water into precipitation like snow or sleet.”
 
 In the case of Jonas, cold air from the Arctic descended upon the mid-Atlantic Ocean and combined with moist air from an unseasonably warm Gulf Stream. As the cold air sank and the warm, humid air rose it created a churning action, which produced energy in the atmosphere. A very large reason Jonas was as bad as it was is due to the fact that it had such an expansive reservoir of humid air to draw from. As the mix made its way up the coast, it collided with a layer of subfreezing air, which is generally the cause of freezing precipitation.
 
Liquid
 
In New Jersey and Delaware, many residents were forced to deal with flooding, or water in its liquid form, in addition to the solid snow and ice. This flooding can be attributed to the storm surge caused by Jonas in addition to high winds and tides. The water that slammed the coast line produced flooding that rivaled the amount which was produced by Hurricane Sandy. Jonas hit the cost during a full-moon high tide, meaning that the water was already about a foot higher than normal, and lasted for two additional high tide cycles. The water was already coming into the shore further than usual and combined with the strong storm winds to cause large-scale flooding.
 
Solid
 
In the aftermath of Jonas many residents are now dealing with the piles of snow left in its wake. Snow, in the simplest of terms, is solidified water. The snow that blanketed the eastern seaboard last weekend is considered to be “wet snow,” which tends to be much heavier and harder to move than its drier counterpart. Some areas of the region received up to 42 inches of snow over the weekend, which equates to about 17 pounds of weight on rooftops and trees. This has resulted in many hazards for local residents, including caved in roofs and downed power lines.
 
In addition to dealing with the copious amounts of snow left behind by Jonas, residents on the East Coast also have to deal with one of the more dangerous effects of any winter storm – ice. One of the most common results of rising and falling temperatures, paired with melted snow, can be frozen “slush.” Slush, common with melting snow, is a mixture of ice crystals and water. When temperatures drop below freezing, it causes the ice and liquid mixture to refreeze. This blocks the drainage of liquid water, and as a result it often takes several freezing and thawing cycles for the snow and ice to completely disappear. It will take quite some time, perhaps months, for all of the snow brought by Jonas to completely melt and either flow back to rivers and lakes.