All told, Tuesday, January 27, was a lot better than it could have been.
The National Weather Service on Monday had warned a monster storm was headed this way, predicting a total 18 to 24 inches of snow by 6 p.m. Tuesday. It was a dire warning, and local officials took it to heart. Highland Park schools closed at noon Monday, sending students, teachers and workers scrambling to get home safely once the snow started to fall in earnest.
Borough offices closed early Monday, and like the schools, announced that they would be closed Tuesday. Recycling pickup on the north side, triangle and business district were rescheduled for Wednesday.
And then the snow all but stopped by dinnertime. It did pick up again late Monday night, but if forecasters had called for the King Kong of snowstorms, what Old Man Winter delivered was more like Mighty Joe Young’s little brother.
“It’s been a very uneventful few days with the storm,” said Capt. Scott Golden of the Highland Park Police Department. “But that’s probably because the storm petered out.”
But for all the relative calm, it was anything but quiet at South Second and Riverview avenues. Friends and family members gathered for their customary sledding celebration. Amid friendly chatter and excited hubbub, children tackled the hill sitting in their inner tubes, lining up on toboggans, and sharing old-fashioned wooden sleds.
There were near misses and memorable moments. At least one innovative child, whose sled got away from him, hitched a ride on the back of a friend’s plastic sled as it whizzed past, and rode down the hill on his stomach. Further on, safely past the end of the line for the sledding enthusiasts, a lone snowman stood and kept vigil over the park.
By the time the crowd began to thin out after 4 p.m., it was a chilly 28 degrees and the slope of the hill was a compressed sheet of ice.
None of the children objected to the unscheduled holiday, but what exactly did happen to the epic storm system we were promised? And how far short did reality fall from the promise?
“I think we’re missing the numeral 1 in front of the actual value of what’s out there,” State Climatologist David Robinson at Rutgers University said Tuesday afternoon. “Instead of 4 or 5 inches of snow, we were expecting 14 or 15 inches out there.”
In the days leading up the storm, weather models agreed that a nor’easter was bringing a mass of snow down to this region. But as the day dawned and especially as the hour approached, that consensus began to break up – not on the scope of the storm, but on where it would unleash its ferocity.
“There was a huge storm,” Mr. Robinson said Tuesday afternoon. “It just missed the metropolitan New York area by 75 miles.”
The key difference between Winter Storm Juno, the official name of the storm, and last year’s relentless barrage of snow is in the weather cycle driving it. Last year’s weather system was a polar vortex, a movement of air that brought below-freezing temperatures from the Arctic down to the Midwest and across the country to New Jersey.
Nor’easters are narrower weather fronts that come from the Northeast, usually bearing loads of moisture. A similar storm hit New Jersey on Dec. 26, 2010, and left Highland Park buried beneath more than 18 inches of snow.
“It paralyzed eastern New Jersey,” said Mr. Robinson, “but when you got out to Flemington, there was just six inches of snow.”
The promised storm did come, but not to New Jersey. As Juno blanketed New England, the storm moved out to sea instead of along the coast, with the result that the promised snow did fall – about 75 miles east of here, over the Atlantic Ocean.
Mr. Robinson compared Tuesday’s missed storm with the one that had been expected to hit New Jersey early in 2001. Like Winter Storm Juno, that storm was described beforehand with apocalyptic imagery; but when it hit, New Jerseyans had to dust off their cars rather than shovel them out.
“This miss is going to be discussed in the same vein as that miss,” Mr. Robinson predicted. “It just goes to show you: location, location, location.”
But stay tuned. Forecasters say an inch or two is coming on Thursday eveinng into Friday, followed by bitter cold on Saturday. One thing that is predictable – Spring will arrive in six weeks.