Winter Storm Xenia: A Storm To Remember

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National Weather Service warnings on March 26 included blizzard, hurricane force wind, and coastal flood

National Weather Service warnings on March 26 included blizzard, hurricane force wind, and coastal flood. Courtesy of NOAA.

Xenia pummeled Cape Cod and Down East Maine with true blizzard conditions, whipped the ocean to a frenzy, cut power to thousands, set temperature records in 18 states, and blew sour good-bye kisses to much of the northeast United States.

The Most Significant Consequence of Winter Storm Xenia Was The Wind

Nor’easters with sustained winds of 40 miles per hour and gusts to near hurricane force over the open ocean are not uncommon in the North Atlantic Ocean near the east coast of the United States. But a storm with winds as powerful as Xenia’s over such a wide area is rare.

Xenia covered all of New England, eastern New York, New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware, and coastal Maryland and Virginia with gales (35 miles per hour or more).

Eastern Massachusetts, Long Island, and Down East Maine recorded storm force winds (60 miles per hour). There were gusts over 70 miles per hour on Cape Cod, and over 80 miles per hour on Nantucket Island.

Out in the Gulf of Maine, a buoy recorded a wind of category three hurricane force (115 miles per hour). The duration of gale force wind was also unusual — over 24 hours in many places.

The Pressure In Xenia And How It Changed

The central pressure in Xenia dropped 45 millibars in 24 hours, one of the steepest declines on record. The lowest central pressure of 955 millibars (28.20 inches of mercury) is also one of the lowest ever seen in a nor’easter and is equivalent to the central pressure in a category three hurricane.

Satellite image of Xenia on March 26. Courtesy of NOAA.

Satellite image of Xenia on March 26. Courtesy of NOAA.

Xenia’s Precipitation Records

Xenia set precipitation records, in the form of both rain and snow, from Maine to Florida.

  • Daily rainfall record in Miami, FL
  • Daily snowfall record in Washington, DC
  • Daily snowfall record in Atlantic City, NJ
  • Daily snowfall record in Islip, NY
  • Daily snowfall record in Lexington, KY

Nearly Lost In The Whirlwind: Xenia Set Temperature Records

Because Xenia was such a remarkable storm pressure- and wind-wise, the cold it brought to the northeast, mid-Atlantic and south were almost overlooked.

  •  Washington, D.C., Blacksburg, VA, St. Simon’s Island, GA, Vero Beach, FL, Myrtle Beach, SC, Bridgeport, CT, Binghamton, NY, and many other locations in 18 states  set records for the lowest high temperature for the date.
  • The National Weather Service issued freeze warnings for much of Georgia and the Carolinas, where spring crops have germinated.
  • Record low temperatures were set in Portland, ME, Jackson, TN, Massena, NY, Morgantown, WV, New York, and other cities.

Where Was The Weather Channel?

Decoded Science designated this system Winter Storm Xenia last Friday. The Weather Channel, which has pioneered the naming of winter storms, apparently didn’t consider Xenia worth naming. How is it possible that a storm that produced life-threatening weather conditions and a myriad of records could be considered so unimportant as to remain nameless?

A storm is not only worthy of recognition because of the damage it does or the depth of the snow it dumps. Weather that departs dramatically from average is highly significant. Winter storms that produce a foot of snow and some freezing rain occur annually; but a storm that is accompanied by category three hurricane winds and temperature records in 18 states is very rare, perhaps unprecedented.

One of the purposes of naming storms is to be able to have easy reference in the future. When all is said and done, even with the large number of significant storms this winter, Xenia will be the one that people, particularly meteorologists, refer to most often.

The Aftermath of Xenia

Xenia is not finished. Power is still out in many areas. The storm is still pounding the Canadian Maritimes with powerful winds and massive amounts of snow, and its effects on the United States are not yet over.

Large swells from the storm are now moving south and will affect the coast of Florida in the next couple of days, causing significant beach erosion. Winds will continue to gust to gale force in Maine and over the offshore waters through Thursday night. When the obituary of Xenia is finally written, it is likely that no one will stand to deliver a eulogy.

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