WASHINGTON - There is a buzz in the air once again, the kind of buzz that can only mean snow is in the forecast for Washington, DC. Should you rush to the store to stock up for the next snowpocalypse or will this be more of the “garden variety” snowfalls?
Here are 5 things you need to know about snow potential early next week.
1. #TheWinterAwakens This is Not
January 22-23 brought the region the most snow since snowmageddon in February of 2010. It was a top 5 snowstorm for the region, but that is because the storm had a lot of moisture with it. Historically, Washington’s biggest snowstorms are these storms which track through the southern United States, gather Gulf moisture, and then turn up the East Coast. The approaching system on Monday night and Tuesday will be one that takes a northerly track across the Northern Plains and Great Lakes. These systems do not have a strong moisture connection as they travel over land and, as the low pressure moves off the coastline on Tuesday morning, it will relay on Atlantic Ocean moisture to supply snow to the region. Water temperatures in the Atlantic are considerably cooler than the Gulf of Mexico this time of year, which means the storm my struggle to grab moisture.
2. A Very Difficult Forecast
The day was January 26, 2015. A storm system was traversing the northern half of the country. This storm was forecast to transfer its energy to the coastline and rapidly strengthen. 20-30 inches of snow was forecast for New York City. The mayor shut the city down ahead of time for the following day, and New Yorkers were ordered off the streets so that road crews could do their job. And then it happened, or rather, it didn’t happen. In what was called one of the greatest forecasting busts in recent memory, the storm transferred its energy too far off the coastline and the bulk of the storm pushed out to sea. The New York City area only received between 6-11” of snow, despite model guidance generally agreeing with the original forecast totals. The point is this, weather models handle the transfer of energy from a mid-continent storm to a developing nor’easter very poorly. The slightest change in positioning in where a coastal low develops can mean major differences in the amount of snowfall that can be received, which is a big reason why we are being extra cautious with this forecast.
3. Snow Lovers May Be Unimpressed
The first “real” snow of the season set the bar rather high with many locations digging our from ‘feet’ of snow and school systems across the region being closed for a week. As is such, this storm is unlikely to impress for several reasons. Temperatures in DC fell below the freezing point for the first time in a week this morning (Saturday). Ground temperatures have had time to warm-up over the course of the past week. In addition, temperatures when the snow initially beings to fall will be marginal to above freezing across most of the region meaning we will initially likely do some melting before snow begins to stick. Models have continued to go back an forth on amounts, but this afternoon seemed to come into more agreement on snows in the range of 1-3” for the metro area by the time the system exits Tuesday afternoon. Of course, more time will be needed before we can officially begin to throw out our official forecast, and our “first guess” likely will not come until tomorrow evening given the difficulty in this forecast. Given the history of these types of storms, statistics favor less snow as opposed to more snow.
4. Little Snow Could Still Have Big Impact
You have heard us say it time and time again on air. Snow, no matter how little, falling at the wrong time of the day could still have major problems. Given current modeling, snow (or a wintry mix) would begin to fall Monday evening, and potentially peak around the dawn hours of Tuesday. This would mean potential impacts on the morning commute. We have all sat in DC traffic when the snow is falling…it is not fun. It may be only Saturday, but plan ahead to spend a little extra time on the roads. It’s always tough to predict school closings, but delays around the region are probable just due to the timing of the snow.
5. February Could Be A Busy Month
While close to the January average (5.6”), February is historically the snowiest month of the year (5.7”). It is also worth noting that 7 of the top 11 snowstorms on record in Washington, DC happened in the month of February. While not a guarantee, there is a higher potential for February/March snowstorms in an EL Niño winter (which we are in) as opposed to the average winter. Despite what the groundhog may have said, winter is not nearly over. Following the Monday-Tuesday snow, the week ahead will bring a colder winter pattern, with lows temperatures falling into the 20s and highs only making it into the 30s. The following week, we look to transition into a “milder” period as a blocking feature known as the “Arctic Oscillation” breaks down in the Polar region. It is during this transition period from cold to mild that we need to be on guard for potentially more impactful storms. Current long-range guidance is hinting at something between the February 15-17th time frame, but it is still far too early to tell whether or not the threat is credible.
As always, the Fox 5 Weather Team will keep you posted.