Welcomed Mid Winter Thaw
Congrats to all! We have survived the traditional “dead of winter"!
A close inspection of long time climate records shows that the last 10 days of January and first 10 days of February are often known for the coldest and snowiest weather of the season.
In aggregate then, we are about to enter the tail end of the winter season.
Granted it is only February 5th, but the pattern the next 5 days will resemble March more than February with nothing harsh and snowy in the pipeline through early next week. That will put us to February 11th and beyond the dead of winter!
But hold onto your seats! Since a recurrence of the siege of winter weather that we have just survived may make a comeback in the second half of February (yes, I believe the biggest snowstorm and coldest day of the season are still ahead), it is prudent to explore this winter’s history as a way to speculate what may come our way next.
For the first 4 weeks of winter, starting with the pre-Christmas solstice and lasting through the King Holiday weekend, our region managed just a few dustings of snow and run of the mill chilly temperatures.
Then starting on January 22nd, a series of arctic fronts and polar snow clippers slashed their way through our region.
First the coldest air in 2 winters invaded (11 degrees with wind chills below zero) prompting a frozen pipe alert. Three snowfalls helped refrigerate the air for several nights as ponds and streams took on a healthy sheet of ice.
A sudden 3 day warm wave gave us a brief reprieve at January’s end. This wave came complete with roaring winds and near record highs of 70+ degrees. On January 29th, the official temperature gauge at Tri-State airport failed depriving us of a certain record high temperature.
I personally had no qualms calling that day the warmest in recorded history in Huntington since the downtown temperature at Cabell EMS and at Old Main on MU’s campus registered 73 degrees.
Then just as suddenly the snows and harsh cold came roaring back. LIKE A RUBBER BAND STRETCHED TO ITS LIMIT, Mother Nature snapped back. Six straight days of light to moderate snowfalls netted most areas 4 to 6 inches of snow cover while temperatures fell into the single digits for the coldest air since 2010. (Charleston fell to 7 above this past Saturday morning).
The driving force behind the change from mild to harsh focused on the reorientation of the jet stream. For most of the first 4 weeks of winter, a Pacific flow of moderate air bathed Appalachia as it blew quickly and pleasantly from the west coast to east coast.
All the while a deeper snow pack was building in Siberia and most of Canada (away from the oceans). Since air over that snow cover was refrigerated by the snow, morning lows in the -20 to -40 range were common from the Northwest Territories (where Klondike Tony visited this past summer) to the home of the 2014 Winter Olympics in the fatherland of Russia. Ouch!
It merely took a change in jet stream wind direction to channel the cold and snowy clippers our way a second time. As the jet stream flow turned to the north, the cold came swooping back into the Midwest and Eastern USA.
And that pattern held its ground for a week before succumbing to another Pacific westerly wind flow at jet altitude level.
So you see the pattern! Cold shots of arctic air interrupted by mild streaks of oceanic air from the Pacific.
Now the latest news flash should not surprise you!
During the next 5 days, the flow will revert to a Pacific (peaceful) westerly direction with mild ocean air flooding the eastern USA.
Given the history of this winter with bouts of cold and snow overwhelming periods of mildness every few weeks, I am not about to buck the trend and pronouce winter over.
Instead, I will go with the "snap-back" theory to work its snowy magic again with another period or two of very cold continental air to invade in the second half of February.
If that occurs, the cold in Canada and Eurasia will come charging south for another blast or two of harsh winter weather and more SNOW DAYS for the kids and teachers!
The questions to be answered yet are whether the snap back will feature a big eastern snowstorm and whether the cold will lock in or again be fleeting.
Here’s a look at my favorite European weather model as it predicts a cold and snowy pre-Valentine's Day set-up.