Winter or Not?


Winter Warmth in Perspective
Before I get into tonight’s blog, a mea culpa. I predicted the Pats to handle the G-men with relative ease in Super Bowl XLVI. Kudos to Eli and Giants for winning the Lombardi Trophy and to Madonna for keeping her Egyptian Queen outfit in tact! I loved her disappearing act with the grand finale of the halftime concert.
Now it’s onto the topic on everyone’s mind. Will winter make a true appearance this year or will 2012 spill into the annals of winter obscurity ala the winters of the early 1990s, pre March 1993? The answer will come in the next 4 weeks as a cold arctic vortex makes its closest approach to our region. I will elucidate more on that polar gyre later, but first things first.
Temperature-wise, so far this winter, the lowest temperature recorded has been a mere 12 above zero in Charleston and 16 in Huntington. It’s no wonder that local creeks and ponds have barely managed a few nights of thin ice.
While most winters during my 25 year tenure at WSAZ have registered multiple nights in the single digits (and even sub zero) for lows, there has not been a single winter in that quarter of a century where the temperature failed to get to 14 degrees in Huntington (March 1998 hit 14, all others since 1988 have been lower). So by that standard, we are on track for the "least cold"  winter since 1988.
Mind you we still have 4-6 weeks to get down to 14 degrees and admittedly there is way more to winter than the low temperature on the coldest night. Still, it is remarkable that here in early February, there has not been a bitter cold night yet.
Just today, I received my January heating bill. Down 35% from last year! And I heat by electricity. If you are heating with natural gas then you are also benefiting from the very low price of that commodity. That amounts to a double savings with less usage (warm winter) of an over-produced commodity (glut of gas makes a unit of gas cheaper). A sort of double coupon savings on your gas heated home!
From a macro-economic standpoint, we are awash in gas in this country. That excess has led companies like Chesapeake Energy (trading under the ticker CHK on the NYSE big board) to cut back on new production of gas. No sense drilling/fracking for more gas when there is more than enough to go around already. Who would buy it?
Snowfall-wise we are also on track for the snow-liest (least snow slag) winter ever in Huntington. So far we have watched the ground get coated twice in Huntington for an aggregate accumulation of less than 1”. Charleston has measured several inches and is not in danger of any snow-less records.
By comparison, the ground was coated 30 different time last winter!
Of course a look at the calendar suggests we are not even close to being through winter. The period from St Valentine’s Day through St. Patrick’s Day is often the snowiest of the winter. So hold your horses snow lovers, your time to ski, board, sled has not passed.
That’s especially true since the polar vortex will be setting up shop near the Hudson Bay of Canada for the rest of February. Patterns like that favor frequent cold shots and occasional snowfalls in our region.
The first snow will be of the melting, wet variety on Wednesday. A quick inch of snow on grass and car tops will be repelled by the warmer paved surfaces (roads and sidewalks). One to three inches are a good bet in the mountains and on the taller hills of Mingo, Logan, Kanawha Counties.
A more important arctic front looks to arrive this weekend armed with a light snowfall (few inches locally, 6”+ at ski lodges in the mountains) and air cold enough for lows back into the teens. If we manage to lay down an inch or two of snow and then the night time skies clear out, don’t be surprised to see your porch thermometer dip below that magical 14 degree mark.
Given the likelihood that the polar vortex isn’t going to move for a month, odds still favor a 10 inch aggregate snow for the month of February. 

OK so I have made a case for this winter to revert to its long term climatology. Hey it’s supposed to be cold and snowy in February. Time will tell!

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