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Weather forecasters: Blizzard held a few surprises

Along with an unwelcome helping of snow, the blizzard of '13 brought a few surprises to Long Island.

The high winds and coastal flooding that forecasters had predicted could accompany the blizzard were largely unseen across Long Island, even as the storm dumped nearly 3 feet of snow across parts of Suffolk County, forecasters said.

Samantha Augeri, meteorologist with News 12 Long Island, said the storm moved slightly faster than predicted, with snow starting to fall earlier than expected.

And while there were some localized heavy winds -- gusts of up to 70 mph were reported at Eatons Neck -- most other areas saw winds of about 40 mph, Augeri said.

"It could have been worse," Augeri said, adding that the widespread coastal flooding that forecasters had called for apparently didn't materialize.

Instead, what did come was wet, heavy snow -- and lots of it, sometimes falling as fast as 3 to 4 inches per hour. Augeri said some of the hardest-hit areas, such as Setauket, Centereach and Upton, happened to fall within the storm's most intense band of precipitation. She said early reports of a wide range of snow totals were due to the fact that forecasters had to wait to see where the band would settle.

The storm's strength also brought on a rare weather event in some areas, known as thundersnow -- basically a thunderstorm accompanied by snow instead of rain, according to Joey Picca, meteorologist in the National Weather Service's Upton bureau.

"It's certainly not something you'll see with most snowfalls," Picca said.

Still, Picca said that while conditions in local areas always vary, in general the storm "was well forecast."

"There are always things that are going to be surprising or amazing," he said. "On the grand scheme of things, the storm behaved like we thought it would."

Looking toward the future, experts say that intense storms such as this are expected to occur with increasing frequency as part of overall climate change.

"Climate change increases the likelihood of higher precipitation amounts in intense storms of the type we just experienced, whether rain or snow," said Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University.

Robert Brinkmann, director of sustainability studies at Hofstra University, said it was impossible to point to one storm as evidence of overall climate change.

"There certainly is more of a frequency of extremes of weather that have been occurring all over the world," Brinkmann said. "While we can't look at this one event as associated with climate change, it is a part of a set of data demonstrating that we're having more extreme events like this."

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