The Nor’easter, Understanding the Storm

lavender in the winter snow
Lavender in the winter snow

Two days ago, a Nor’easter which brought over 7 inches of snow to Philadelphia. The storm lasted from February 1st – 3rd. It is so cold. The temperature has climbed a little above freezing, so the powdery snow still covers cars and lawns. It is still beautiful outside. Once it warms up, the snow will melt and gray slush will fill the streets. But for now, ice and snow are everywhere.

Little Snow in Philadelphia

In the last several years, we have had a little snow. Snowfall in Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley is highly variable. Snow can fall anytime between October and April. We have had years of heavy snow like 1995 – 96 when we had 65.5” of snow. In 1997 – 98, we had .08 inches. 


Apples for the squirrels
Apples for the squirrels

Giving the Squirrels a Sweet Snack

From the comfort of my warm kitchen, I watched the squirrels cavorting along the top of my fence. I cut up an apple that was becoming wizened and leave it out for the squirrels. I took a walk in my back garden. It is warm enough that a drizzle of melting snow drops on my sleeping flower beds.

One squirrel’s main nesting trees was cut down last fall. It seems that they have made nests on our house roofs. Luckily, when we had our solar panels installed, we paid the extra money for squirrel guards.


Bare winter trees

Where Does a Nor’easter Come From? 

A Nor’easter is a storm that moves up the east coast, bringing heavy precipitation. It can drop snow, ice, or rain and sometimes all three. And don’t forget the wind. An extreme Nor’easter is often called a blizzard.

“Nor’easters develop in response to the sharp contrast in the warm Gulf Stream ocean current coming up from the tropical Atlantic and the cold air masses coming down from Canada. When the very cold and dry air rushes southward and meets up with the warm Gulf stream current, which is often near 70 °F (21 °C) even in mid-winter, intense low pressure develops.” (“Nor’easter”, Wikipedia, accessed 2/5/2021).

When Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley have our legendary big snowstorms, the storms almost always come from the Gulf or Southeast coasts. The winter storm of this week was given the unofficial name of Orlena by the Weather Channel.

The National Weather Service doesn’t name these winter storms but the Weather Channel had begun their own list of names. Winter Storm Names


Mary Rose bud in Winter
Mary Rose bud in Winter

What is a Nor’easter?

Nor’easters are most common beginning in November through April. Nor’easters approach Philly from the southwest and the winds that accompany the storms come from the opposite direction, the northeast. It is from these northeasterly winds that the storm pattern gets its name.

Orlena brought heavy snow, gusty winds, storm surges, coastal flooding, and blizzard conditions across Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada. In Philly we had a snow emergency. But, few people are on the roads anyway because of the pandemic.

flies live in this contaner
Flies live in this container under the snow

In the garden, I watch as two flies take a slow zig zag flight in the cool afternoon air. The temperature is 36 degrees F, which is not warm at all. The last several days the temperature has hovered in the twenties. The flies seemed to come out of a 7 gallon black plastic container I have for this years vegetable garden.

I listen to the gang of House Sparrows filling the air with the sounds of their chips and calls.

feral cat among winter snow
A feral cat among winter snow in my backyard.

I haven’t been able to feed the birds as I normally do because a family of tailless feral cats live in the small road behind my house. I think neighbors maybe feeding them. The family multiplied from one tail-less female to another six tailed and tail- fewer offspring of various ages and sizes.

This may be the second and only snowfall this year, or it may just be the prelude to something more. Either way spring begins in six weeks. Stay tuned.


More Information 

The Science Behind Naming Winter Storms

More Posts about the Weather

When is Hurricane Season?

Lessons from a Hurricane

Hurricane and Tropical Storm Names (National Hurricane Center)

The Smell of Rain

What is Fog? 

The Order of a Rainstorm: the Pattern that Predicts Rain 

Mysterious Cloud Bank 

March Winds – Why the Wind Blows So Cold

Beaufort Wind Scale 

Nature Journals Posts

Nature Journal Prompts: Looking Above 

Winter Photography Tips

Some of My Favorite Winter Photos


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