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What is a nor’easter, exactly?

The word “nor’easter” usually elicits images of streets blanketed in heaps of snow and power lines defeated by intense winds. But what, exactly, makes a storm a nor’easter?

“There’s no strict definition,” said Rich Otto, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center. “It’s sort of a loose term.”

Broadly speaking, the term characterizes a weather system in which winds just off the East Coast collide with surface winds from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States amid areas of low pressure.

Nor’easters usually occur between November and March, Mr. Otto said, but they can also form earlier in the fall and in the late spring. The storms can develop 100 miles east or west of the coastline, from as far south as Georgia to New Jersey and beyond up north, according to the Weather Service.

Their effect can be seen in the form of heavy snow, freezing rain, sleet and strong winds. Wind speeds in a nor’easter can reach hurricane force, with rainfall usually hovering around one to two inches. Snowfall can accumulate to a foot or two on average, but can be “pretty variable” over all, Mr. Otto said.

In March 1993, during the so-called Storm of the Century, a nor’easter produced four feet of snow in some areas, according to the Weather Service.

Given that nor’easters can produce dangerous conditions such as power outages, icy roads and fallen trees, Mr. Otto said it was recommended that people prepare for the storm in advance, stocking up on necessities such as batteries and extra food early, to avoid traveling during the worst of the weather.

Written by Allyson Waller