The December 2003 Nor'easter

Today marks the 13th anniversary of the December 2003 nor'easter that ranks among the more memorable early season snow events in recent times.  Several disturbances were involved in the formation of the parent cyclone that dropped over 20 inches of snow in Eastern MA and Northern RI.  Perhaps just as memorable was the Patriots-Dolphins game in Foxboro on the 7th.  The Pats blanked the Phins 12-0 to clinch the AFC East on the way to 14-2 season and the second Super Bowl title in franchise history.  After this guy pick sixed Jay Fiedler Gillette erupted.
Tedy Bruschi pick 6 December 7, 2003 (via
The Foxboro faithful erupted with not only cheers but fists full of snow throughout the early December night.
Patriots fans throw snow into the air after Bruschi's division clinching INT (via Boston Globe/Jim Davis)
General Atmospheric Set Up
High pressure was building into the Northeast on Thursday December 4, 2003 as a midweek storm departed to the northeast.  One area of low pressure was moving along the gulf coast while another was making noise in South Central Canada and another moving out of the Rockies in Montana.  Eventually all three of these features are absorbed into the actual "storm".
WPC Surface Analysis Thursday December 4, 2003 7 AM (Daily Weather Map archives)
While temperatures were near average on December 4 the high pressure center to the north in Ontario/Quebec forced 10-15 F below normal air into the entire northeast.  High temps were only in the mid 20's for most cities and towns away from the coast.
via NWS Daily Weather Almanac 
By Friday December 5 the Gulf low was off the North Carolina coast while a surface low formed in the Ohio Valley.  The Canadian clipper continued to the east into Ontario.  A dome of high pressure extended from New England up to Hudson Bay and back down the through the Great Plains.  This low produced a burst of snow in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware that totaled 3-6".
WPC Surface analysis Friday December 5, 2003 7 AM (Daily Weather Map archive)
By Saturday AM the low in the Ohio Valley was reforming off the VA/MD coast.  The frontal low refused to dissipate but the new low began to take most of the energy.  This new low was also starting to feel a transfer of energy from the clipper moving through Southern Canada.  Here it is on the 500 mb analysis in the Great Lakes.

The surface chart at the same time
WPC Surface Analysis Saturday December 6, 2003 7 AM (Daily Weather Map archive)
The surface low is still a bit broad thanks to that energy in Canada.  Eventually on this energy is absorbed completely by the coastal low and it is able to mature like most typical nor'easters.  The tightening pressure gradient in Southern New England was accompanied by 40-60 mph winds.  Here is the surface low Sunday AM as the storm was moving away from the region.
WPC Surface Analysis Sunday December 7, 2003 7 AM (Daily Weather Map archive)
Perhaps most impressive is the freezing line reaching the gulf coast this early in the season.

Meteorological Analysis/Statistics
The first snow began in Southern New England on Friday afternoon.  It fell lightly but given the cold temperatures in the 20's snow accumulated from the start.  These radar images are from the NWS review of the storm by Richard Grumm of the State College office.  The top image is Friday 455 PM and the bottom is from Saturday 1 AM.
There is a lot of snow free zones in these radar images which goes back to the competing low pressure centers competing.  The storm had yet to mature which prevented a "major" snowstorm for the entire northeast.  Most of the snow fell on Saturday for the major Southern New England cities.
via NWS Daily Almanac (inches)
For the northeast as a whole many areas saw over a foot and quite a few were over 18".
CIPS analog total snowfall Dec 5-7, 2003
A close up for Southern New England shows a solid snowfall for most.
NWS Review by Richard Grumm snowfall totals

Southern Worcester county maxed out around a foot.  It was a bit disappointing given the 1-2 ft forecast as I wanted 20".  Still it was better than 5-7" some in Southern CT/ME received.  A strong snow band Saturday night into Sunday did a number on the Foxboro area which is why they ended up with 2 ft.  Top image Saturday 155 PM bottom image Sunday 1 AM.
NWS radar image a) Saturday 155 PM b) Sunday 1 AM
If you look closely at C MA/RI the SE MA snow band was so intense it robbed the snow from this region.    I wasn't a huge fan of this storm because we didn't miss any school for it.  I waited to do my homework until Sunday at 9 PM when I resigned myself to the fact that everything would be cleaned up in the AM.

-Zack Green


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