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CZ-Tip - Tracking Nor'easters and Staying Safe in the Storm

Find ways to get to, protect, and enjoy the coast with tips from the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM).

Just as hurricane season is ending in Massachusetts, it's time to watch out for nor’easters. Named for their predominant winds, which blow from the northeast, these storms can cause substantial damage to the Massachusetts coastline. Although they occur throughout the year, nor’easter season typically runs from October through April, when cold arctic air from the north combines with warm, moist air from the south and forms strong areas of low pressure. The resulting storms can bring hurricane force winds, major storm waves and storm surges, and precipitation of all kinds—rain, sleet, freezing rain, snow—or all of it together! Memorable storms have hit Massachusetts all nor’easter season long: from October, with the "Perfect Storm" of 1991, to March, when three nor’easters struck within 11 days in 2018, all the way through April, with the April Fool's Day Storm of 1997. And let's not forget what was arguably the storm of the 20th century in Massachusetts, the Blizzard of '78. For information on how individuals and communities can plan for and deal with coastal storm damage, see the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management's (CZM) StormSmart Coasts website.

To help you stay safe and keep a close eye on approaching nor’easters, the following websites provide the most relevant and up-to-the-minute prediction, tracking, and emergency management information, organized into the following categories:

Nor'easter Safety

What is a Nor'easter? - This National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) web page provides general information on these powerful storms and their impacts on the coast.

Snowstorms and Extreme Cold - This web page from ready.gov explains how to put together a winter weather supply kit, develop a family preparedness plan, and prepare your home and car for a storm. It also gives tips on staying informed and defines important winter weather terms.

Winter Weather Safety - This NOAA page links to forecasts and warnings, climate predictions, and information on being prepared for the cold, ice, snow, and strong winds of severe winter storms.

Safety Tips for Specific Threats and Hazards - From the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, this web page provides links to tips on Winter Storm SafetyExtreme Cold Safety, and Nor'easter & Coastal Storm Safety. All pages include specific information on what to do before, during, and after major storms and includes tips for emergency supply kits, family communications plans, emergency car kits, and auto safety.

Winter Weather - Not just another winter weather web page, this Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site provides extensive information about health issues in extreme cold, including frostbite, hypothermia, and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Announcements and Emergency Management

Mass.gov - During major storms, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts website provides information about emergency declarations and other safety issues.

Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) - This website is a hub of information—from weather and traffic updates to safety and cleanup instructions—for emergency situations in Massachusetts. Their Be Prepared for Emergencies site discusses how to receive emergency alerts, make emergency plans, and get involved in emergency preparedness. 

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) - The FEMA website includes information on preparing for disasters such as major storms, how to get assistance after a disaster, and updates and ongoing activities.

Forecasts and Snow Totals

National Weather Service: Boston/Norton, MA - This NOAA National Weather Service (NWS) page provides focused information on Massachusetts forecasts, current conditions, warnings/advisories, hazards, and more, complete with a prominent weather map. When a nor’easter approaches, this is the place to go for targeted and current information.

Weather Prediction Center - The hub of NWS forecast information, this website provides access to interactive forecast maps for precipitation (short-range to 7-day forecasts), excessive rainfall, and winter weather, along with links to forecast and analyses information, tools, storm summaries, and more.

Winter Weather Forecasts - This NWS Weather Prediction Center web page gives winter weather forecasts with probability maps for snow and freezing rain, along with storm tracks, weather discussions, and other information.

National Snow Analyses - This NWS website provides comprehensive snow observations, analyses, data sets, and map products for the entire country, including forecasts, satellite snow cover mapping, and interactive visualization tools.

Base Reflectivity - Also from NWS, this page shows rain and snow geographically on a radar loop. The color-coded dBZ-scale can be interpreted as: >65=extreme precipitation; 46-65=heavy precipitation; 24-45=moderate precipitation; 8-23=light precipitation; and 0-8=barely anything.

PSL Map Room - NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Laboratory (PSL) conducts weather and climate research to observe and understand Earth's physical environment, as well as to improve predictions on global-to-local scales. Geared to those with significant technical weather training, this page links to a variety of their climate and weather maps and forecasts.

Storm Models

Model Analyses and Guidance - From the NWS National Centers for Environmental Prediction, this page provides the graphics and discussion details on forecasts for severe storms. And while forecasting capabilities continue to improve, always remember that the further out the storm, the less accurate the prediction.

Severe Storms and Other Hazards

NWS Daily Briefing - The latest weather outlook and any significant weather or natural hazard situations are provided on this comprehensive NWS site.  

NWS Safety Tips - Along with the information on winter weather and cold, other potential hazards such as air quality, drought, floods, fog, heat, hurricanes, rip currents, thunderstorms, and more are posted here.

Buoy Data

National Data Buoy Center - This NOAA web page includes a map of buoys strategically positioned in coastal and ocean areas around the world to record atmospheric and oceanographic data. To keep an eye on ocean wind speeds and wave heights, click on a buoy icon to get the most recent data, which is typically updated hourly.

Surf Report - New England and Nova Scotia - Maintained by stormsurf.com, this web page provides color-coded and numerical data on forecasted wave heights, along with information on wind direction and speed. The forecast extends for 180 hours.

New England Surf Reports and Surf Forecasts - This SurfLine.com web page features swell and wind forecasts for the New England region, along with detailed surf reports for wind speeds, wave heights, and tides for coastal Massachusetts sites.

Sea Surface Temperature Analysis - Water temperature is an important factor in any storm. During nor’easters when the wind is coming off the water, sea surface temperature affects the always-changing snow/rain boundary. This NWS page includes graphics with sea surface temperatures for the Atlantic Basin.

Northeastern Regional Association of Coastal Ocean Observing Systems - Spanning coastal waters from the Canadian Maritime Provinces to the New York Bight, this regional coastal ocean observing system provides weather and ocean condition data. This regional effort is also advancing the use of these data for coastal flooding and erosion forecasting systems.

Gulf of Maine Moored Buoy Program - Buoys deployed by government and academia throughout the Gulf of Maine measure various meteorological and oceanographic conditions in near real-time. Click on the buoy of interest to see if it has the data of interest to you.

Tide and River Data

National Ocean Service Water Level Observation Network - From the National Ocean Service (NOS), this website provides data from major tide gauges around the country and the world. To get observed and predicted water levels, which are generated at 6-minute intervals, search for a station by name (under the Massachusetts heading) or click on the Massachusetts map icon to search for a station by region.

Real-Time Data for Massachusetts: Streamflow - This U.S. Geological Survey web page reports current river and stream heights at 155 sites in Massachusetts with fairly close to real-time data. This information can be critical when looking at inland flooding from excessive rainfall or snowmelt.

National Water Prediction Service (NWPS) - This NWS page provide users with the latest river and stream levels, forecasted levels, tide gauge readings, and precipitation forecasts for the United States. It includes access to the National Water Model and increased user interaction options, including the ability to overlay warning and analysis data. For more on NWPS, see the User’s Guide Story Map and this fact sheet (PDF, 2 MB).

Northeast River Forecast Center Briefing Page - See this NWS site for all things hydrological—from observed and forecast river conditions and precipitation forecasts to flash flood guidance and regional hazards information.

Satellite Imagery

NOAA Satellite and Information Service - This website provides global environmental data and information from satellites and other sources. Images are available at different resolutions, and custom loops can be created for up to two weeks of imagery. All of the Geosynchronous Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-East images depict Massachusetts and the East Coast at various scales and are based on different types of sensing technology. The GOES-East imagery is also available in a world-view SLIDER.

NASA Earth Observatory - From the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), this website includes satellite images for the entire globe, featuring severe storms, flooding, and other natural hazards, as well as global maps with total rainfall amounts and sea-surface temperatures.

Environment Canada Satellite Images - The GOES-East section of this Canadian government web page presents NOAA satellite data for Canada down through the Gulf of Mexico.

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