The Nor’easter snowstorm may have broken snowfall records across the US East Coast, but it’s in the days after a storm that the biggest hospitalization spikes can occur, meaning they remain an environmental hazard even after they ‘end’.
We explain what causes such extreme winter storms and how hospitals, businesses, and even local governments can improve their climate resilience ahead of and during such events.
What is a Nor’easter Cyclone/Storm?
The term Nor’easter (i.e. Northeasterner) refers to a cyclone in the western North Atlantic Ocean with strong winter storm winds coming in from the northeast.
On Friday, January 28th, the US East Coast began to brace itself for the impact of such a powerful winter storm, soon to cause thousands of flight cancellations and blanket whole regions with snow in what may become a record-breaking snowstorm.
How ‘Bombogenesis’ Turns Snowstorms into ‘Weather Bombs’
On Saturday, the National Weather Service announced the winter storm had grown so powerful through a process called bombogenesis that it had evolved into a “bomb cyclone“.
The phenomenon of ‘Bombogenesis’ describes a mid-latitude cyclone that drops at least 24 millibars of pressure in 24 hours or less. This can happen when cold and hot air masses collide, and the process indicates that a storm is intensifying, often resulting in heavy rain, snowfall, high winds, and coastline flooding.
In this instance, the storm dropped 35 millibars of pressure over the course of 18 hours by Saturday morning (January 29th).
At the time of writing, predictions stated that the storm may cover the City of Boston in 24-30 inches of snow, possibly breaking the region’s 2003 record of 27.6 inches. Predictions of 18-24 inches of snow in Providence, Rhode Island could see the city’s 18.3 inches record break as well.
As the storm intensified, specific regions witnessed snow falling at a rate of 3 to 4 inches per hour. “This is one of the top snowfalls in the 24-hour period in the history of the state of Rhode Island at this point in time.” – Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee
How Extreme Snowstorms Impact Hospital Admissions: Trips, Slips, Heart Problems
An analysis of Boston hospital admissions during snowstorms found that much of a snowstorm’s impact happens on the days following the heavy snowfall:
- Cold-related admissions increased by 3.7% during high snowfall days and remained high for the following 5 days.
- Admissions related to slipping or falling increased by an average of 18% in the 6 days following a moderate snowfall.
- While cardiovascular disease admissions decreased by 32% on high snowfall days, 2 days later admissions increased by 23%, suggesting a delayed impact.
The takeaway here is that failure to prepare adequately for such extreme climate events can put patients and health providers at a major disadvantage that can end up costing lives.
What Governments, Hospitals & Businesses Can Do to Prepare for Extreme Snowstorms
While preventing extreme snowstorms is impossible, predicting and preparing for them has become all the more possible thanks to advancements in climate tech and environmental forecasting.
- Provide preemptive health advice to more vulnerable communities (children, elderly, chronic disease sufferers).
- Open remote patient monitoring and digital communication channels to reduce the need for in-hospital visits.
- Prepare for an influx of visits due to storms by stocking up on medical supplies and organizing additional treatment rooms.
- Change delivery route plans to avoid forecasted heavy snowfall on roads and slippery driving conditions.
- Personalize the online shopping experience to encourage consumers to use it over going to physical retail stores.
- Stock up on seasonal goods and leverage climate-based advertising to reach people in heavier snowfall regions that will require offered products/services.
- Leverage weather insights to maintain the infrastructure of heavily impacted roads, prioritizing work based on forecasts.
- Increase emergency staffing during snowfall days to minimize reaction times for road and health services.
- Issue environmental alerts to stay indoors/seek shelter before snowstorms and send post-storm warnings to reduce driving speed and avoid impacted regions.
- Promote home and vehicle preparedness in-line with CDC winter storm guidelines.