Isn't Nor'easter supposed to move from the Northeast to Southwest, hence its name? But the recent Nor'easter that hit the Northeast US right after Hurricane Sandy seems to have moved from the southwest to northeast, according to the meteorologic graphics that were shown all day long on TV. Can someone explain?

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    I would think Nor'easter = "Northeast wind" = "blowing towards the Northeast" – Russell Steen Nov 12 '12 at 15:26
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    See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noreaster. At least the name got its origin from the direction FROM which it is blowing. So my question is basically, whether Nor'easter is defined more by its nature - i.e., non-tropical storm originating in mid-latitude area - regardless of the direction from which it is blowing. – Anon Nov 12 '12 at 16:41
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    Definitely a question that I thinks belongs here. Welcome to The Great Outdoors S.E. – MaskedPlant Nov 13 '12 at 16:41
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    Maybe it got turned around. Specifically by a large spinning storm or something... – MaskedPlant Nov 13 '12 at 19:22
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    @RussellSteen Wind is almost always described as the direction it comes from. Without additional qualifiers, a wind which is only described as "northeast wind" is out of the northeast, not toward the northeast. – Beanluc Mar 12 '18 at 23:00

Yes, "Nor'easter" is derived from "north-easter" meaning the winds come from the northeast. That is exactly what happens in a nor'easter.

You are confusing the wind direction with the travel direction of the storm. The whole storm moves up the coast, but remember these are counter-clockwise rotating cyclonic storms. The winds that bring the most stuff and the notorious bad weather hit the New England coast from the ocean. These are usually the leading or northwesterly regions of the storm, so the winds themselves come from the northeast.

Remember that the names evolved long before people understood large scale weather patterns. All people in Cape Cod, Gloucester, or "down east" Maine knew was that the nastiest weather accompanied by serious precipitation come howling from the northeast. While not universally true of course, it's actually not that far off in the larger scheme of things. "Normal" weather here in New England comes from the west. Notable exceptions are the "Montreal Express" being cold and dry from the northwest, and a nor'easter bringing strong winds and serious precipitation from the northeast. "Nice" weather from the northeast basically doesn't happen here. The old mariners and fishermen knew a lot about local weather without understanding the global picture.

  • Olin, this is a great answer. I think it would be even more helpful if you linked to some technical references, so people could learn more. Since you and I are in the midst of our third Nor'easter in the past two weeks, it's a pertinent topic. Currently there are a lot of weather sites posting exact definitions and in-depth education. I think it's a perfect time to refer people to that information. Thanks! – Sue Saddest Farewell TGO GL Mar 13 '18 at 21:11
  • By the way, I hope you and yours are safe! – Sue Saddest Farewell TGO GL Mar 13 '18 at 21:12
  • @Sue: I'm actually at work right now. Getting a lot done since I'm the only one here. I heard the snow was supposed to start around midnight. This morning the ground was barely white, so I went to work. It's now coming down heavier. I can't leave here until the snow stops and I hear my driveway has been plowed, else I have no place to put the car. I brought a foam pad and sleeping bag with me just in case. I may yet need to use it. It's still coming down. Looks like well over a foot out there. – Olin Lathrop Mar 13 '18 at 21:24

Nor'easters move from the south to the north. Just like a hurricane. They are cyclonic and the wind that hits the coast comes from the NE.


Anon is correct. Nor'easter is a storm system blowing high winds and Artic air coming from the north or north east. A Sou'wester originates in the tropical/subtropical Atlantic and brings warm air and heavy precipitation. Newscasters tend to call these northeasters thinking, I guess, that it's a storm on the northeastern United States and therefore a nor'easter or they simply get things backwards. Again, the storms with heavy precipitation moving from the south into and along the East Coast US are sou'westers.

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