Polar vortex brings ‘once in a generation May snowstorm’ to US East Coast

A polar vortex has blasted into the northeastern US this weekend bringing rare May snowfall and record low temperatures to some areas.

Up to 10 inches of snow has been reported in some elevated parts of New York and New England, with flurries and dustings seen along the coast from Maine, New Hampshire and Boston to as far south as Manhattan.

John Cannon, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine, said: “We’ve had several inches in many areas in the northeast.

“This is a rare May snow event.”

Peaceful wintry scene at the Basin in Franconia Notch this morning. #NH#nhwx#snowinmaypic.twitter.com/X5FYdUmuNr

— Jason Schreiber (@Schreibernews) May 9, 2020

The unseasonable May weather is being described as a “once in a generation May snowstorm”.

Snow was reported in New York City’s Central Park, equalling a record set in 1977 for latest snowfall of the season, while Massachusetts hadn’t had measurable snow in May since 2002.

The hardest hit areas were hill town communities like Sugar Hill, New Hampshire, which got 10.5 inches, and Carrabasset Valley in Maine, which saw nine inches of snowfall, he said.

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Winds of up to 87mph (140kph) were recorded on Saturday at the Mount Washington Observatory, atop the highest peak in the northeast, with temperatures plunging to -30C (-22F).

Temperatures are expected to dip below -1C (30F) into Sunday morning in parts of New Jersey and New York, and a freeze warning has been issued in parts of Pennsylvania.

A map from the National Weather Service shows the stark contrast in temperatures between the East Coast and West Coast
Image:A map from the National Weather Service shows the stark contrast in temperatures between the East Coast and West Coast

“There are numerous freeze watches, warnings, and frost advisories in effect through Sunday morning across the Central High Plains, Northern Plains, and from Alabama to the Northeast,” the National Weather Service tweeted.

It also posted a map on Twitter showing the stark contrast between the East Coast and West Coast, with temperatures forecast to reach up to 38C (100F) in parts of California on Sunday, and 8C (46F) in Maine.

“What a pattern across the United States. It will be warmer in Alaska than it will be in Atlanta, Georgia,” said AccuWeather chief on-air meteorologist Bernie Rayno.

A polar vortex is a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding the north and south poles.

Present all year round, it is known as a “vortex” because the air flows anti-clockwise, keeping the colder air close to the poles.

A person wears a protective face mask while walking in the snow during the coronavirus pandemic in New York City
Image:A person wears a protective face mask while walking in the snow during the coronavirus pandemic in New York City

Often during winter in the Northern Hemisphere, the polar vortex will weaken sending cold Arctic air south over the US Midwest and East Coast.

The wintry weather comes two days after Vermont began to lift restrictions on tennis, golf and other outdoor activities that had been imposed to curb the coronavirus outbreak.

Governor Phil Scott sympathised with those frustrated by the weather following weeks of being in lockdown.

He tweeted: “I know snow on May 9th isn’t a welcome sight for many Vermonters, just as we’re cautiously allowing outdoor recreation to get going again.

“But this is just a snapshot in time. Just like better weather is ahead, better days will come, as well. We will get through this, together.”

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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