It’s That Time Of The Year

A major winter storm impacted a large part of the nation this past weekend producing a wide variety of weather impacts and disrupting travel. 

Low pressure developed over the Southwest U.S. and moved northeast across the Central Plains. 

Snow Accumulations

While there have already been several significant winter storms, the period starting after Christmas often marks the start to a more active period of winter weather. 

Thus, it might be a good time to discuss several typical storm tracks that produce winter weather across the nation. Two common winter storms are the Panhandle Hook and Alberta Clipper.  

The past-weekend storm was a typical Panhandle Hook storm.

Panhandle Hook

Names of these primary storm tracks are based upon their formation regions. While the atmospheric energy that forms Panhandle Hook storms moves inland along the western U.S. coast, the surface low development usually occurs well inland over Oklahoma.

The “hook” refers to the hooking/bending of its track towards the Great Lakes. 

The Panhandle Hook is a classic winter storm producing a wide swath of winter weather impacts. Low level moisture is pulled north from the Gulf of Mexico resulting in severe weather over the southern tier of the U.S.

As Gulf moisture is pulled into the colder air, heavy snow and freezing rain is likely. The band of heaviest snow is located to the north and northwest of the track of the surface low. 

– Widespread weather impacts
– Heavy snow, freezing rain, severe weather potential 
– Blizzard conditions possible behind system
– Impacts areas east of the Rockies 
– Can take several days to traverse the U.S.  

Alberta Clipper

The second type of winter storm is called an Alberta Clipper which is named after the fast-moving mid-1800’s Clipper ships. Clipper ships took full advantage of harnessing the wind by employing many sails. 

Clippers are embedded in a fast west to east “zonal” steering flow. These systems mainly impact the Upper Midwest, Great Lakes and Northeast U.S. but can track further south as well depending on the jet stream alignment. 

Due to their speed and lack of significant moisture, snowfall amounts are relatively light — typically on the order of 1 to 4 inches.

It’s not unusual for an Alberta Clippers to follow a Panhandle Hook by a day or two.  

– Fast moving
– Lighter snow totals
– Strong winds with blowing snow
– Mainly impacts northern third of U.S. east of the Rockies   



Nor’easters are specific storms that travel up the east coast of the United States. These storms are called Nor’easters based on the extremely strong northeast winds associated with the circulation of the low pressure. These winds can reach hurricane force at times.

Nor’easters develop or intensify rapidly offshore due to contrast in the cold continent of North America and the relatively warm Gulf Stream Current in the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Hatteras North Carolina.

– Major impacts from Mid Atlantic and Northeast U.S. 
– Heavy snow potential
– High wind impacts
– Coastal waves and surf