WASHINGTON (FOX 5 DC) - It has been a rough past few winters for snow lovers. The previous two winters brought below normal, single-digit snowfalls to our region, along with numerous near misses. Here is a crazy statistic for you. Since the winter of 2016-2017, Reagan National Airport has gotten 12.6” of snow total. A mere 100 miles to the south in Richmond, VA they have picked up over double that, accumulating 31” of snow in that same time span. Much like what happened last month on December 9th, the District has found themselves right on the edge of some significant snowfalls on a number of occasions over the past couple of years.
As things sit at this hour, the weekend has the potential to bring Washington, DC its biggest snowfall since ironically the first day of spring last year when we picked up over 4” of fresh powder. However, differences remain in the various weather computer models on the exact track and strength of our system, and as a result, differ on just how much snow our region could get. As of Wednesday morning, there are generally two camps that the models are falling into.
The first camp is the one the local snow lovers would be rooting for. It shows both a stronger and more northern track to the storm system. It is the track that would bring the risk for the more widespread, steadier snows to the region and consequently the higher snowfall totals. Snow would initially start later on Saturday afternoon or into the evening hours with very light amounts as the storm system begins to strengthen. It would make its closest pass to us on Sunday morning, which is when the bulk of the accumulations would occur, before pulling away on Sunday afternoon.
We have various weather models that we use for various situations in the weather world, but by far the two most popular at this range are the American model, called the Global Forecast System (GFS), or the aptly named European Center for Mid-Range Weather Forecasting, or the ECMWF, which is commonly referred to as just the European model. The European model tends to be the favorite of the two among weather forecasters, as in skill testing it has consistently outperformed its American counterpart. There is a long list of reasons for this, but generally comes down to the European model being privately owned, funded, and maintained.
It was Wednesday morning’s European run that indicated the potential for a stronger and more northern-based track to the storm system and consequently had the higher snow totals. It called for a general 3-6” across the region. Now we should mention that this same model yesterday was only giving D.C. about an inch of snow, so things have changed quite a bit over the course of a day. With several days left to go before the snow arrives, expect the numbers you see to jump around in the days ahead, as the models argue with themselves over the exact storm strength and track.
The second scenario involves a much weaker storm system, which makes little to no connection with what we call the “northern branch”, which is a zone of upper atmospheric energy off to the north which helps steer and power these storms. If no connection is made, the result is a much weaker storm that takes a more easterly course instead of northeasterly. As a result, you only get lighter snow falling and amounts this far away from the storm, with the heavier amounts being more confined to southern Virginia.
The second scenario involves a much weaker storm system, which makes little to no connection with what we call the “northern branch,” which is a zone of upper atmospheric energy off to the north which helps steer and power these storms. If no connection is made, the result is a much weaker storm that takes a more easterly course instead of northeasterly. As a result, you only get lighter snow falling and amounts this far away from the storm, with the heavier amounts being more confined to southern Virginia.
For all that we still are not too sure about with this system like who exactly will get what, there are some things worth mentioning that we are more confident it.
The first is that we will be cold enough for snow. While we have been generally stuck in a warm pattern of late, there will be plenty of cold air around for the second half of the week as winter roars back into our area on the back of some very gusty winds the next couple days.
The second is what it will not be, a big blizzard. While there were some paths to that solution a few days ago, all models have trended away from anything close to that in our region. It still has the potential to a disruptive, midlevel event around here of course, but the storm of the century this is not.
Another thing models are hinting at is that, much like the December 9th event in Virginia, they type of track models are suggesting with this storm would give the odds of highest and heaviest snowfall the farther south you go. This is the opposite of what you might expect as most sizable storms in our region do see the heaviest snows north of town, but models would have to come into agreement on a more northern storm track for that to be the case here.
To conclude, this storm is a number of days away. Undoubtedly there will be more changes in the days ahead, but at this time we still feel we have our best shot of the winter so far to pick up some measurable snow in the District. It is figuring out how much that will give us the most trouble over the next few days. Please be patient with your weather team, but know we will do our absolute best to keep you ahead of the storm.
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