A potential nor'easter could easily become the Garden State's most significant winter storm of the season.

(Background map: College of DuPage Meteorology)
(Background map: College of DuPage Meteorology)

For several days now, I have been hinting at a big storm potentially brewing for early next week. And social media is starting to explode now that big snow totals are becoming more likely. Yes, I know it's March. Yes, I know this winter has been a complete disappointment so far in terms of snow. But I think it's now prudent to say that confidence is increasing for heavy snow, heavy rain, high winds, and coastal flooding for at least part of New Jersey from Monday night through Tuesday.


GFS model precipitation forecast, as of the peak of our impending coastal storm, Tuesday morning. (College of DuPage Meteorology)
GFS model precipitation forecast, as of the peak of our impending coastal storm, Tuesday morning. (College of DuPage Meteorology)

The primary culprit for this potential late-season blast of wintry weather is a powerful coastal storm system. As it slides up the Atlantic coast, it will interact with a system further inland, over the Great Lakes. This potent combo could lead to some big impacts from the mid-Atlantic states to New Jersey to New England. With cold air and cold ground in place before the storm arrives, snow would begin to accumulate immediately.

However, when "big storms" pop up in the forecast, you know I have to curb excitement and remain grounded. My approach to forecasting and communicating potential risk from storms is methodical, realistic and honest. Even though we're now within 72 hours of first flakes, there are still some huge questions that need to be answered before we can present a confident, pinpoint forecast. Little changes in the track, temperature, or timing forecast could lead to a huge difference in our expected weather conditions.

Unfortunately, the weather business is always a game of uncertainty and probability. As the storm draws closer and closer, we will be able to piece together a clearer and clearer picture of potential weather conditions. In other words, for now, I have to remain fairly vague. But I can paint three potential track scenarios that are in play. (Keep reading...)

Snow or Rain: The Current Forecast

Let's start with some numbers, according to the latest forecast data. I know some of these details are downright ridiculous — again, we will be able to narrow storm estimations down in the coming hours and days.

--Timing: All precipitation looks to be confined between late Monday night through Tuesday night. At the moment, the period of heaviest snow looks to occur between 4 a.m. and Noon Tuesday.
--Snow: Literally anywhere from 0 to 20 inches. The "snow bullseye" could occur anywhere — it all depends on track and temperatures.
--Rain: Up to 1 to 2 inches of rain, possibly mixing with or changing to mix/snow. Yes, it is totally possible that part of New Jersey gets no snow at all.
--Wind: Sustained up to 35 mph, with gusts to 60 mph. Wind direction may be variable, and will be dependent on the exact track. Predominant northeasterly ("nor'easter") winds are traditional.
--Surge: Certainly a concern. Early runs of surge models show the potential for 3+ foot surge. Combined with Sunday's full moon, we could be dealing with some pretty serious coastal flooding at the times of high tide.

"Worst" Case Scenario: Classic Nor'easter

Powerful Noreaster Possible 20170311 2

If you like snow, this is the setup you want. The center of the coastal storm skirts just east of the Atlantic coast. Northerly winds keep cold air in place, as the ocean provides plenty of moisture and energy. Widespread double-digit snow totals (i.e. 10+ inches) will accompany blizzard, whiteout conditions and moderate to major coastal flooding. This would be the kind of storm that completely shuts down the state on Tuesday. And possibly Wednesday too.

Right now, the European and Canadian models favor this track.

"Middle" Case Scenario: Inland Track

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If the coastal storm "wiggles" further west, so the center is even partially inland, the precipitation will be just as heavy but the profile of the storm will shift. This scenario also covers the possibility of the coastal storm not phasing properly with the inland low. Still, there would be a chance for heavy (maybe double-digit) snow totals, especially to the north and west. Along the coast, temperatures would probably end up a bit warmer in this scenario, so the storm might struggle to maintain "all snow" for the duration. The coastal flooding picture would be better here too.

Right now, the GFS, GFS ensemble, Euro ensemble, and (early) NAM models show a preference for this track. So do I. Again, that means part of the state could see a foot of snow, and part of the state could see all rain.

"Best" Case Scenario: East

Powerful Noreaster Possible 20170311 4

On the other hand, if the coastal low "wiggles" to the east (out-to-sea), the greatest forcing and axis of heaviest precipitation could stay off-shore. The chance for a total bust is dwindling — I think we'd still be guaranteed some snow, especially as the secondary low over the Great Lakes would remain in play. But snow totals would be relatively pitiful, and we wouldn't come anywhere near blizzard conditions. Coastal flooding could still be a threat, even if the center of low pressure misses New Jersey by hundreds of miles.

Right now, there are members of the GFS and European ensemble models that indicate this seaward track is a possibility.

The Bottom Line Right Now

Again, confidence is steadily increasing that New Jersey will face a significant winter storm centered around Tuesday. At least part of the state will likely experience some degree of heavy snow, high winds, and coastal flooding. This could very well be our most significant storm of the 2016-17 winter season. And might become our most impactful March winter storm since the Blizzard of '93.

But it's important to realize there are still unresolved questions regarding the storm's exact track, timing, and precipitation type(s). You know, even though New Jersey is a small state — just 150 miles long and 60 miles wide — weather conditions can be dramatically different from one end of the state to the other.

For now, it's a good idea to consider your Tuesday plans carefully and have a backup ready to go, in case the snowiest, windiest scenario does indeed play out. (Maybe your Wednesday plans too.) Check your supplies (food, bottled water, batteries, and gas) now to be prepared, no matter what transpires. It's far better to be overprepared then to be caught unaware.

I highly recommend you keep a close eye and ear on this forecast as storm time approaches. As always, we will provide regular forecast updates both on-air and online. If the storm track "wiggles" I'll make sure you're among the first to know.

Next weather blog update expected Sunday morning.

Dan Zarrow is Chief Meteorologist for Townsquare Media New Jersey. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter for the latest forecast and realtime weather updates.

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