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Scale Measures Impacts of Northeast Snowstorms

January 29, 2011

By WeatherBug Meteorologist, Chad Merrill


Hurricanes and tornadoes are categorized based on intensity, but winter hurricanes, also called Nor`easters, can create the same amount of havoc. So how can we determine their severity? A new tool designed in the middle of the last decade now helps rank these storms based on how much they impact the normal day-to-day life in the big Northeast cities.

The Enhanced Fujita Scale measures tornado intensity based on damage and the Saffir-Simpson Scale delineates a hurricane`s strength by its maximum winds, but the newly devised Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale not only takes into account the meteorological aspects of the storm, but also gives an indication of a storm`s societal and economical impacts.

There are a number of factors that are used to rank storms, including the area affected by the snowstorm, the amount of snow and the number of people living in the storm`s path. Once this information is combined into an equation, a NESIS (Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale) score is calculated. It ranges from 1 to more than 10. The value is then grouped into various categories ranging from notable to extreme impact (reference the image above).

Past major storms have already been rated on this scale. The March 1993 Blizzard was given a category 5; extreme, while in more recent memory the President`s Day Blizzard in mid February 2003 has been ranked a crippling storm. And, who can forget the back-to-back blizzards in early February 2010 that are considered major storms.

Going forward, any major East Coast snowstorm that creates a severe wrinkle in the economy and transportation will be ranked. For instance, the January 26-27 storm that just walloped the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast major cities is being evaluated for its impact.

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