Forecast: Some coastal areas are seeing tide levels never seen since the Blizzard of 78

Here is our full story on the storm. Below are weather reports from WBUR meteorologist David Epstein as the storm progressed Thursday. It will have more updates as Massachusetts residents dig in early Friday morning.

Noon Storm Update: High Tides and Flooding

I wrote earlier this week that this was not a storm we wanted to hit hard on, and although it is hundreds of miles from the coast, the tides in Boston Harbor have reached levels not seen in nearly 40 years.

The tides will become the big story of this powerful storm, and while a foot or more of snow is still likely in many areas, the extremely high water along the coast is the part of the storm that has been underestimated. .

High tide in Boston could exceed levels reached during the 1978 blizzard (NOAA courtesy)

The table below (Click to enlarge) shows the highest tides reached in Boston Harbor since the 1920s. The storm is advancing very quickly. So, unlike the blizzard of 40 years ago, we will not see successive high tides with flooding.

The 1978 blizzard brought the highest tide on record in Boston Harbor.  (Courtesy of NOAA)
The 1978 blizzard brought the highest tide on record in Boston Harbor. (Courtesy of NOAA)

More morning predictions from David Epstein

This morning you might be wondering if the storm will be as bad as everyone is talking about? It is, after all, January – a time when we have the northeast.

Parts of Cape Cod could experience wind gusts close to hurricane force on Thursday.  (Courtesy of NOAA)
Parts of Cape Cod could experience wind gusts close to hurricane force on Thursday. (Courtesy of NOAA)

From the perspective of the meteorological community, this particular storm is developing exceptionally rapidly with rapidly increasing intensity. So yeah, that’s a big deal.

As storms develop and get stronger, the air actually rises rapidly at the center of the low. This ascending air must be replaced, as we cannot extract the air from the planet and create a vacuum. So when the air rushes in to replace the rising air, it creates a lot of wind. The more the air rises, the more the replacement must be done and the faster the winds blow.

The northeastern fort was located in southern New England on Thursday mid-morning.  (Courtesy of NOAA)
The northeastern fort was located in southern New England on Thursday mid-morning. (Courtesy of NOAA)

What does this mean for today? The storm has already brought hurricane-force winds to Wellfleet and Nantucket. Gusts are expected in Greater Boston at 50-55 miles per hour. It’s strong enough to knock down trees and power lines.

With the possible drop in temperature behind the storm, this creates a situation which is in fact dangerous. That’s why the storm is getting so much attention – because of the wind and cold, not because we’re going to see record snowfall.

Time of the storm

With all of that in mind, let’s break it down. If you have to travel today your best bet is to get there before 9am. Around 4 pm, the snow will be the heaviest; blizzard conditions, particularly along the coast, could occur during this time.

Blizzard warnings include Boston and Providence late Thursday morning.  (Dave Epstein / WBUR)
Blizzard warnings include Boston and Providence late Thursday morning. (Dave Epstein / WBUR)

The snow begins to decrease in intensity at sunset and ends completely between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. The winds will continue to blow snow and create snow drifts.

The high resolution model shows the snowfall this evening before midnight.  (Courtesy of WeatherBell Analytics)
The high resolution model shows the snowfall this evening before midnight. (Courtesy of WeatherBell Analytics)

Coastal flooding

Along the coast, high tide is just before noon at around 2 p.m., depending on where you are. Since there are chunks of ice floating around all the cold weather, some of it could be blown onto some docks or even structures and create damage.

The water will also rise and inundate some coastal roads and possibly other properties that are typically flooded in these situations. All of this will be relatively minor. I do not expect widespread moderate coastal flooding or coastal damage. Here again the wind is going to be the big problem.

The story continues below

Current conditions in Boston

Winds will increase along the coast later this morning and will really increase this afternoon. If you live 15 or 20 miles from the coast, it will take a little longer for the winds to get strong, but again, the winds will be strong enough to create scattered blackouts.

Total snowfall

Snowfall will vary from 8 to 14 inches in a wide swath across the area, with some places seeing a little more and others a little less as these swaths settle in during the day.

On Cape Cod, the snow will start as rain and then change to snow. The snow here will be heavier and wetter and you will definitely want to clean it up as quickly as possible because as the temperatures drop there will be an instant freeze.

Many areas will get a foot of snow during this storm.  (Dave Epstein / WBUR)
Many areas will get a foot of snow during this storm. (Dave Epstein / WBUR)

No more bitter cold

It is very cold behind the storm with Friday highs in the upper single numbers and lower teens and mostly in the Saturday single numbers. Hopefully any loss of power is restored quickly, but if you lose power for an extended period of time and can let your water drain slowly, it can help keep the pipes from freezing.

Temperatures on Friday will be in single digits much of the afternoon.  (Courtesy of Tropical Tidbits)
Temperatures on Friday will be in single digits much of the afternoon. (Courtesy of Tropical Tidbits)

There is some moderation in temperatures Monday and Tuesday, but more cold air comes in later in the week.

You can follow my updates here and on Twitter @great wisdom.


Thusday: Snow. Conditions close to a blizzard are sometimes possible. Rain and snow for Cape Town changing to snow with lightning frost there. Maximums 23-30.

Thursday evening: End of snow. Very windy and cold. Low 3-11.

Friday: Partly sunny, windy and cold. Tops 12-18.

Saturday: Windy and very cold. Vertices 7-13.

Sunday: Very cold at sunrise, then peaks in adolescence with sunshine.

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