Winter Storm Athena Heading for East Coast

First Hurricane Sandy, now Winter Storm Athena for the Eastern U.S.

Published: 2:57 PM GMT on November 07, 2012

Winter Storm Warnings are up for Southwest New Jersey, Northern Delaware, and Southeast Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia, PA, where Winter Storm Athena is expected to drop 3 – 5″ of snow today through Thursday morning. Slushy accumulations of up to 1″ are likely in Baltimore, and non-accumulating snow will fall as far south as Washington, DC. Athena, the season’s first Nor’easter and first winter storm to get a name under The Weather Channel’s new naming system, is spreading rain and high winds into Southern New Jersey and Eastern Long Island, NY this morning. Winds at buoy 44025, about 40 miles offshore from the coast of Central New Jersey, reached 40 mph, gusting to 49 mph, with a significant wave height of 14′, at noon EST. Winds at Nantucket, MA have gusted as high as 54 mph this morning. Athena is building a storm surge that has already reached 2.2′ at Atlantic City and 1.8′ at New York City as of noon EST. A storm surge of 2 – 3.5′ is likely along the section of coast most heavily damaged by Sandy’s storm surge, and battering waves up to 20′ high will cause moderate beach erosion along much of the New Jersey and New York shoreline. The storm surge will cause minor to moderate flooding during this afternoon’s high tide cycle near 1 pm EST, and again at the next high tide, near 1 am EST Thursday morning. Fortunately, the high tides this week will be some of the lowest of the month, since we are midway between the new moon and full moon. Wind gusts from Athena will likely reach 50 mph along the coasts of New Jersey and Southern Long Island, NY, and could hit 60 mph on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I expect that Athena’s winds, rains, and wet, heavy snows will cause up to 50,000 new power outages today. As of early Wednesday morning, 676,000 customers were still without power in the wake of Hurricane Sandy (down from a peak of 8.5 million customers.)

Figure 1. Winter Storm Athena as seen at 9:01 am EST November 7, 2012. Image credit: NOAA/GSFC.

Figure 2. Predicted storm surge at Sandy Hook, NJ, for Winter Storm Athena, from the experimental Extratropical Storm Surge model, run by NOAA’s Meteorological Development Laboratory. This model used winds from this morning’s 6Z (1 am EDT) run of the GFS model. The peak storm surge (yellowish-brown line) is predicted to be 3.4′, occurring Wednesday evening. High tide (green line) occurs near 1 pm Wednesday afternoon, resulting in a peak storm tide of approximately 7.2′ around 1 pm Wednesday (black line). For comparison, Sandy delivered a 8.6′ storm surge to Sandy Hook before their tide gauge failed, with the storm tide reaching 13.2′ above MLLW (Mean Lower Low Water.)

The decision to name Athena
The Weather Channel announced in October that they would begin naming winter storms this year, in an effort to aid in raising awareness and reduce the risks the public faces. One of the main criteria for naming a storm is its impact on populated areas; the meteorology of the storm may not get it named, if the storm doesn’t affect a populated area. If Hurricane Sandy had not devastated the region of coast being affected by today’s Winter Storm Athena, it may not have gotten a name. With so many people still under recovery efforts even well inland, the combination of heavy, wet snow and wind prompted the decision to name Athena. The models have been trending towards more cold air getting pulled into this system, so it is possible Athena could drop heavier snows than currently advertised. The National Weather Service will not be referring to today’s Nor’easter as “Athena”. They put out this internal directive: “The NWS does not use named winter storms in our products. Please refrain from using the term Athena in any of our products.”

Here are the peak wind gusts from Athena as of 11 am EST on Wednesday, November 7, 2012:

Jeff Masters