This image shows the water vapor amounts in a northeaster that hit the Atlantic coast. The purple portion of the image over Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire represents moist clouds with water vapor; this shows how water from the ocean contributes more moisture to the clouds, which helps cause an intense storm in the New England area. A few feet of snow fell in New England and eastern New York from this storm.
Click on image for full size
Courtesy of National Weather Service Forecast Office of Buffalo, NY

Type of Wind: Northeaster

Northeasters, also known as nor’easters, are cyclonic, cold winds that develop in the mid-latitudes. They can bring heavy snow or sleet and gale force winds of 40-55 mph (64.5-88.7 kph). This type of wind is found off of the coast of New England mostly during the winter. In fact, most snowstorms in the eastern United States are called northeasters. The reason for this is the typical direction of the wind, which comes from the northeast. A northeaster forms when a deep low pressure system over the Eastern United States is fed warm moist air as it approaches the Atlantic Ocean. Northeasters usually travel parallel to the coastline. Studies have shown similarities between northeasters and hurricanes. This radar image shows a northeaster traveling up the east coast of the United States.

In February 1969, a northeaster hit New England and 70 inches (1.78 meters) of snow fell in Rumford, Maine. An astonishing 164 inches or almost 14 feet (4.2 meters) of snow fell in Pinkham Notch, NH! Beaches and beach front homes in Wildwood, NJ had extensive damage after 90 mph (145 kph) winds ripped through the area in 1992.

Another cold wind is the Texas norther or blue norther. Northers bring snow and cold wind to the high plains of Texas and the Gulf of Mexico.

Around the world, there are different names for a cold wind. A cold wind in Central America is called a norte. In India, there is a cold dry wind named terrenho. Brazil uses the name sur for a cold wind. A cold northern wind in Spain and Portugal is referred to as a gallego. Greece uses the word vardar for a cold wind.

In high latitudes, there is cold violent wind that suddenly comes down the mountains towards the sea; this wind is called a williwaw. Areas that are most commonly hit with williwaws are the Strait of Magellan, Aleutian Islands, and Alaska. The word williwaw is Native American in origin, and it means a strong erratic gust of wind.

Last modified July 22, 2008 by Vanessa Pearce.

You might also be interested in:

Cool It! Game

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more


Wind is moving air. Warm air rises, and cool air comes in to take its place. This movement creates different pressures in the atmosphere which creates the winds around the globe. Since the Earth spins,...more

Sleet and Freezing Rain

Sleet forms when a partially melted snowflake or raindrop turns back into ice as it is falling through the air. Sleet starts out in the clouds as a snowflake or a raindrop. If it starts out as a snowflake,...more

Hurricanes (also known as Tropical Cyclones)

As a strong hurricane heads towards the coast, people prepare - boarding up houses, packing the car, and evacuating. These storms can spell disaster for people in hurricane prone areas, so they are taken...more

Northeaster in Action

This radar image shows a northeaster that moved through the east coast of the United States on April 15-17, 2007. Several areas in the Mid-Atlantic and northeast regions were flooded because of heavy rain...more


Rainbows appear in the sky when there is bright sunlight and rain. Sunlight is known as visible or white light and is actually a mixture of colors. Rainbows result from the refraction and reflection of...more

The Four Seasons

The Earth travels around the sun one full time per year. During this year, the seasons change depending on the amount of sunlight reaching the surface and the Earth's tilt as it revolves around the sun....more

Research Aircraft

Scientists sometimes travel in specially outfitted airplanes in order to gather data about atmospheric conditions. These research aircraft have special inlet ports that bring air from the outside into...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA