In October 2011, the Halloween Nor’easter produced unusually early and heavy snowfall while leaves were still on the trees, causing extensive damage throughout the northeastern United States. This storm is an example of winter weather whiplash, in which an abrupt, back-and-forth swing in winter weather affects coupled human and natural systems. Research on the social-ecological drivers and impacts of winter weather whiplash is scarce because most studies only consider meteorological causes and consequences of extreme events. In this study, we used publicly available data of snowfall accumulation, vegetation phenology, road density, and per capita income to predict storm impacts, which we estimated with textual analysis of Halloween Nor’easter newspaper coverage. We demonstrated that a combination of meteorological, natural, and human system drivers was better able to predict the impact of the storm than meteorological drivers alone. Although we focused on the Halloween Nor’easter, our work highlights the necessity of understanding how multiple drivers and hazards can intersect to create rare and possibly novel conditions that may become more common as the climate warms and becomes more variable.
Coupled human-natural system impacts of a winter weather whiplash event
Ecology and Society
Article published in Earth's Future