Forceful gusts of up to 60 mph caused University of Maryland’s campus to close March 2. These high winds were a result of a low-pressure storm off the the Atlantic Coast, a phenomenon known as a nor’easter.
“The reason this one was so intense was the fact that it strengthened very rapidly,” senior atmospheric and oceanic science major and UMD weather forecaster Cody Snell said. “The sea level pressure at the center of the storm dropped 30 millibars in 24 hours, which created a very strong pressure gradient, leading to very windy weather.”
A pressure gradient is the difference between two pressure levels, which often results in wind. When the difference in pressure levels are wide, and the gradient is strong, the wind moves especially quickly.
“Due to the storm’s position, and extremely violent upper level winds mixing down to the surface, College Park and most of the Mid-Atlantic saw wind damage,” Snell said.
By mid-afternoon, 510,000 residents in the D.C. area were without power due to the storm, according to Capital Weather Gang.
“There have not been any major surprises, which is always a good thing when
it comes to forecasting,” said Rebecca Huff, a senior atmospheric and oceanic science major interning with Earth Networks’ WeatherBug. “This system had a long journey across the U.S. It has had plenty of time to form.”
Snell, who also interns with WeatherBug said winds strong enough to cancel school are “very rare.”
“We would normally see these winds with a strong cold front or more isolated within a severe thunderstorm,” Snell said. “A hurricane or tropical storm would also cause widespread winds like we are seeing today.”
The storm has been stalling for a while off the coast and will rotate south and then east, leading to an “atmospheric block” of extreme wind for an extended amount of time, Snell said.