Even though my winter forecast has more than verified with a warning of how active and cold this winter was going to be back in October, I’m pretty much ready to say enough. After all, even a meteorologist needs a break from winter storms. Sadly, I’m not going to get one.
To the left is what is called the water vapor satellite picture, and over the Rockies is the first piece of what is going to be a VERY dynamic and powerful winter storm. Now, let me be very blunt. What we are seeing on the models this morning is not the final solution. The key point to remember with this storm set up is that there are a lot of moving parts and very energetic disturbances. How these disturbances interact from the Pacific to even the north Atlantic will be key in determining exactly how this storm will develop for Tuesday night and Wednesday.
However, before I get to the storm, let’s talk about this arctic cold. When you walk outside in central New Jersey and realize that temperatures are in the lower 10’s, you know the Arctic air mass has arrived. This is likely the coldest air mass we’ll see this winter, at least I hope. I don’t think I can handle negative temperatures right now and I think most would agree. There’s a reason why I don’t live in Greenbay after all. This arctic air mass will be in place through this weekend with very cold temperatures and departures well below normal for this time of year. The good news about this type of air mass is that the air mass is so dry that precipitation is very hard to come by. The problem with this type of air mass, besides the fact that’s it’s brutally cold, is that any disturbance that moves through the region, like several approaching from the southwest, will pick up any moisture that is in the atmosphere and produce some rather dynamic snow showers, much like what was seen yesterday afternoon over northeastern New Jersey. With snow ratios over 30:1, any snow flurry can quickly turn into a quick inch of snow and a rapid drop in visibility. So if you are driving along and notice clouds building, be prepared for a quick heavy burst of snow. Most locations will remain dry and very cold this weekend, but these snow showers have a habit of showing up very quickly.
These cold conditions will continue through Monday, with the only positive being that the winds are relatively light which means that wind chills will not be too much of an issue. Still with lows below zero to the lower 10’s and highs in the 10’s and lower 20’s, I would strongly suggest staying in doors as much as possible or at least layer as much as possible.
The next threat for precipitation is obviously the big storm for Tuesday night into Wednesday. I don’t think any of the models have a very good handle on the details for this storm, and the details are VERY important. Of course, I wouldn’t expect the models at this point to have a very strong handle on rain/snow lines, timing, or amount of accumulation. There are several factors influencing this storm like the timing of phasing of disturbances over the Southeast on Tuesday, the development of the negative North Atlantic Oscillation and orientation, and of course the wild card in this whole situation which is a very strong disturbance over central Canada on Tuesday night. So how do you prepare for this storm? Well, I can say given the air mass in place is that everyone will start as snow and given the strong thermal gradient developing ahead of this storm, the snow will come down fast and heavy on Tuesday night. How fast will a change over to rain occurs, if it occurs, is pretty much an unknown and will have a significant impact on snowfall accumulations. However, let’s not also forget that the process of going from snow to rain is not going to be that simple, in other words many locations will have to deal with sleet and even freezing rain as well. The point is that this is going to be a very difficult storm to forecast for and the details just can not be defined for another few days. Plus even with a change over to rain, the initial frozen precipitation and the eventual change back to snow at the end of this storm will create issues along the coast. Oh and speaking of the coast, be prepared for coastal flooding as well. So clearly there are a lot of impacts with this storm besides just whether the storm will produce snow or rain or both. At this point, prepare for a major storm on Tuesday night into Wednesday and a significant impact on travel. That’s the best way to handle this storm at this time.
Once the storm exits, look for a return to cold conditions once again, but likely not as cold as this weekend. Temperatures will still remain below normal with lows in the teens and twenties and highs in the twenties and thirties with various disturbances creating the threat for a few scattered snow showers.
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