December to Remember Off to Warm Start
Just 4 days into December and already we are off to the warmest start for the 12th month since 1998. That year, the first 6 days of the month basked in 60 and 70 degree warmth. On December 3rd, 1998 Marshall hosted Toledo in the MAC title game at Edwards Stadium after a 65 degree day with game-time temperatures in the mild upper 50s.
So December is off to a memorable start which brings to mind a familiar commercial on TV. Nowadays, there is a popular car jingle that makes its way onto the airways every December. The jingle touts a "December to Remember" sale.
Of course you and I know how car sales pitches are a lot like winter snowstorm forecasts; namely, long on promise, often short on substance. I should know after all if I had a dollar for every snow forecast I made over the years, well you get the idea. While my snow forecasts are always well intentioned and frankly usually based on sound interpretation of our sophisticated weather models, they have a tendency to stray from ground truth more often than I like.
Since I can’t talk to the models, I must simulate a conversation with the Euro, American and Canadian weather models playing both ends of the chat. This makes for some weird banter, yes some shouting, and often some heated debate. (That’s a fancy way of saying I talk to myself while making snow forecasts). In the end, I culminate my “chat” with the models with an original interpretation and forecast. Sometimes right, sometimes wrong!
That doesn’t mean my forecasts are useless, it just means snow forecasts should be taken with a grain of salt. I do my best!
With that disclaimer as a backdrop, I am writing about for the first time what I have mentioned on the air a few times since Thanksgiving; namely, we may well be setting up for a 2-3 week period of harsh winter weather centered around Christmas and starting next week.
In many regards, the weather maps now look a lot like they did in December of 1989 as we were soon to break zero on the thermometer (we dropped to -10 on Christmas morning) and have a White Christmas. It snowed or flurried pretty much every day the 2 weeks before and week after Christmas that year.
Let’s start with the most axiomatic winter weather concept of them all. As I mentioned on Monday to the 4th and 5th graders at McKell Elementary in South Shore Ky, you need a good source of cold air to make a big snow here in Appalachia.
Here’s a picture of these inquisitive students who begged me for a snow day before Christmas. this upcoming weather pattern should nswer their wishes!
Now check out this snow cover map of the Northern Hemisphere.
The yellow area represents the Arctic Ocean, which at this time of year is locked in snow and ice. The white area on top of the yellow is the snow pack in Eurasia including Siberia! From Northern China and Mongolia to Russia, there are thousands of square miles of land that are covered in snow.
On the bottom of the yellow, is an equally vast area of white where snow is on the ground across virtually all of Canada, including the key areas I watch in the Northwest Territories, Ontario around Hudson Bay and Alaska.
That leaves most of the USA on the very bottom of the map and likewise most of Europe on the very top of the map in green with no snow on the ground.
Here’s a closer up look at the snow in Canada and the US. Note how America shows only snow in the mountainous west. If someone tells you there is snow on the ground at our ski resorts, be assured it is there because of machines. The October snow is gone.
OK, so we have established that there is a vast snow cover to our north. Since snow on the ground chills the air that sits above it, it is easy to see how there is now a mighty reservoir of cold air in Canada, Alaska and Northern Eurasia. Think of the snow pack as housing an endless supply of bitter cold air just waiting to be tapped before during and after Santa’s Christmas eve sleigh ride in from the North Pole.
I will come back on Tuesday and describe how an active Pacific storm track can team with the cold air reservoir to produce a late year cold surge that can indeed lead to a White Christmas and “Late December to Remember”.