NWS: Intense storm likened to a Cat.1 hurricane
The howling winds, swirling snow and plummeting visibility that drove plow drivers off the highways today are being driven by an intensifying offshore low-pressure system that meteorologists are likening to a Cat. 1 hurricane.
Winds topped 58 mph over part of the Chesapeake Bay, and 40 mph gusts were common across the region as the storm's center deepened and drifted slowly along the mid-Atlantic coast, forecasters said.
"They have hurricane-force wind warnings up for that sector of the ocean, so for all intents and purposes, it's a ... Category 1 hurricane," said meteorologist Bryan Jackson, at the National Weather Services's forecast office in Sterling, Va.
Barometric pressure readings from an offshore buoy in the area sank to 28.93 inches, Jackson said. That deep low, along with the relative warmth of the offshore ocean waters, provided the energy that intensified the storm and drove the day's winds.
"We had some tropical storm-force winds for the southern part of the bay, off Solomons Island," Jackson said. Winds in Manassas, Va., gusted to 57 mph during a morning squall. An elementary school in Frederick County recorded a 52-mph gust, and a Reisterstown station reported a gust to 44 mph during the morning.
At BWI, winds gusted as high as 40 mph. Such winds and low visibilities created blizzard conditions, Jackson said, but until meteorologists can determine how long those conditions were sustained, they won't be able to put a "blizzard" label on the storm.
Asked to compare this storm with the 24.8-inch blizzard on Friday and Saturday, Jackson said the weekend storm carried more moisture. "That's why places will hit two feet [of snow] with this one, where they were getting two-and-a-half to close to three feet" over the weekend.
But "this one was certainly windier," he said, and for that reason "this has been more hazardous. They're reporting that plows were being pulled off the roads with snow squalls going through. It's just too dangerous having people on the roads."
"These are the most hazardous conditions of the winter, and it's been a very hazardous winter," he said.