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"Slam Dunk" Blizzard Buries Northeast US

'A fact' of warmer times: fierce winds, power outages and chest-high snow drifts

Lauren McCauley, staff writer

As the Blizzard of 2013 continues its assault on the Northeast throughout the day Saturday, marking itself with fierce winds and huge drifts, climatologists are quick to point out that these "slam dunk" storms are simply another sign of these increasingly-warming times.

As of Saturday afternoon, the storm—dubbed "Nemo" by the weather channel in what NPR refers to as the recurrent "hype cycle" of storms—had claimed four lives and left over 650,000 region residents without power.

Downed power lines left some 400,000 without power in Massachusetts alone, where up to two feet of snow was recorded throughout the state.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced that Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth, Mass. experienced an automatic shutdown at around 9:15 p.m. Friday after fierce winds caused it to lose off-site power. According to spokesman Neil Sheehan, backup generators are currently powering plant equipment.

As the morning high tide peaked around 10 am, members of the Massachusetts National Guard rushed to coastal communities to evacuate shoreline residents.

“What were streets a little while ago could look like canals in a lot of these towns up and down the coast,” said MEMA spokesman Peter Judge.

The Blizzard left its mark as Portland, Maine's greatest snowstorm on record with more than 32 inches. And in Connecticut, where snow fell at a rate of up to five inches an hour, 38 inches of snowfall are estimated thus far.

Climatologists have been quick to point out that an increase dramatic storms, including nor'easters, are another effect of our quickly warming planet.

In this case, the combination of atmospheric moisture and slightly-below-freezing temperatures contributed the "perfect setup for a big storm," said Kevin Trenberth, of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado.

"In the past, temperatures at this time of year would have been a lot below freezing," Trenberth said, which would have been too cold to hold the moisture needed to crystallize water into snow. "The atmosphere's ability to create those snowflakes drops by 4 percent for every one degree Fahrenheit fall in temperature," the Huffington Post reports.

"Storms like this tend to be heavier than they used to be," said Princeton climate change expert Michael Oppenheimer. "That's a fact."

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