After record-tying cold, a snowstorm is on the way

Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

Fishing boats were surrounded by ice off the Wellfleet Town Pier.

By Martin Finucane and David Epstein Globe Staff and Globe Correspondent 

Fresh from a record-tying streak of cold, Massachusetts faces more weather misery Thursday: a storm that could bring high winds, near-blizzard conditions, and up to a foot of snow before giving way to another blast of intense cold on the first half of the weekend.

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm watch, effective from late Wednesday night through late Thursday night, warning that damage to trees and power lines is possible. Forecasters say the possibility of power outages is especially worrisome, given the expected return to bitter cold at week’s end.


It’s hard to believe that it’s early January and the area has already experienced a depth of cold this winter not seen in a century.

Tuesday marked the end of a seven-day stretch when temperatures didn’t make it over 20 in Boston, a feat achieved only one other time since records started being kept here in 1872. The other time was a century ago, in the bitter winter of 1917-1918.

Now comes a fairly high-impact snowstorm. The snow is expected to begin in the Boston area between 4 and 8 a.m. Thursday and continue through the day before coming to an end anywhere from 5 to 10 p.m., the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency said.

The city is likely to receive 8 to 12 inches, but those numbers could go higher if the storm moves farther west.

Eight to 12 inches is expected for New Hampshire’s coastal plain down through Rhode Island. The snow will be heavier and wetter toward Southeastern Massachusetts and the Cape Cod Canal. In those locations, 4 to 8 inches of snow is likely.


Farther out on the Cape, there’s a chance that, with warmer temperatures, much of the precipitation will fall as rain, so only a few inches of snow is expected there. The expected snowfall amounts also taper to about 7 inches in Central Massachusetts and up to 5 inches in Western Massachusetts.

Winds will gust at more than 30 miles per hour over inland areas and at more than 40 miles per hour along the coast, including in Boston. Over Cape Cod and the Islands, the wind could gust to more than 60 miles per hour.

Winds of that speed can themselves create power issues. Additionally, trees are very brittle from the recent cold and may therefore be more susceptible to damage.

The snow will be very light and fluffy in most places and whip around into drifts. The wind will also create very low visibility at times, approach- ing blizzard conditions at the coast.

“Blowing and drifting is going to be a huge problem with this,” said Accuweather senior meteorologist Dave Dombek.

The tides this week are astronomically high. Adding in a coastal storm will bring minor to perhaps moderate coastal flooding. A 2- to 3-foot storm surge is likely.


The storm is expected to intensify rapidly in a weather phenomenon known as “bombogenesis.”

The term was coined after the late MIT meteorology professor Frederick Sanders began using the word “bomb” to describe explosively intensifying winter storms, according to the university.

“A bomb goes off and it explodes. That’s essentially what’s happening. It’s not a gradual slow process that takes days to unfold. It goes from almost nothing to a very powerful storm in almost no time,” Dombek said.

Bombogenesis is defined as a steep drop of 24 millibars in atmospheric pressure over a 24-hour period.

The coming storm is expected to meet the criteria of a “bomb,” dropping about 35 points from 7 p.m. Wednesday to 7 p.m. Thursday.

Once the storm clears away Friday morning, it will be back to the deep freeze as another very cold Arctic air mass moves into New England.

The low temperature Friday night in Boston is expected to be zero. The high Saturday is expected to be 8, while the low Saturday night is expected to be 5 below zero.

Temperatures are expected to be even harsher in the interior, with some areas reaching double-digit negative temperatures.

On Sunday, a warmup will begin. The high that day is expected to reach 18, and highs on Monday and Tuesday are expected to be in the 30s, according to the National Weather Service.

Matt Rocheleau of the Globe staff contributed to this story Follow meteorologist Dave Epstein on Twitter @growingwisdom.