D.C. may see snow this week, but risks for accumulation low

Let's get a few questions out of the way right of the bat. Could it snow in Washington, DC later on this week? Yes, it absolutely could. In fact, there are two chances for snow in the region before the week is out. Is it definitely, one-hundred percent going to snow? No. None of these systems are set in stone yet, and in fact there is a decent chance that both of them miss our region, and we do not see any snow at all. If they do happen, is this the get out of work/school, get the shovels ready type of snow? In all likelihood, no. I suppose as a "worst case scenario" there is a way that it could happen…but the way things stand now this would likely be more of the type that falls but has trouble sticking.

So what's the deal? Well we have been telling you for a little while now that this week was going to be one of change. By Wednesday, a major pattern shift will begin not just for our region, but across the whole of North America that is favorable for some winter cold to head into town, and honestly stick around for the foreseeable future. By the end of this week, many suburbs will struggle to make it out of the 30s for daytime highs, while the city itself sees lower 40s.

Let's talk snow risks. On Tuesday and Wednesday, a cold front will swing through the region, spreading rain showers across the area. This frontal system will move south and east of our region Wednesday into Thursday and stall at some point. Along this boundary, a storm is likely to develop sometime between Friday night and Saturday morning, but it is where it goes after that point the models continue to disagree on. The American model, shown above, keeps the storm close enough to the East Coast that a period of light snow overtakes the region late Friday night, some of which does accumulate.

On the other hand, the European model (shown above), which is considered by many forecasters to be the more accurate weather model, is farther out to sea with the storm, and only shows a brief period of mixed rain and snow showers east of the immediate Washington, D.C. region early Saturday morning with no local accumulations. So which model is correct? Given the pattern, I personally favor the European model at this time, and think it may even be a little aggressive with the extent of snow showers reaching the coastline. While I cannot discount either model solution, and the situation certainly bears watching over the next few days, the overall pattern strikes me as one that will likely cause the storm to miss our region to the East. I believe the storm will develop too far out to sea.

Let us go back to that American model briefly however, which is the one that showed light snow for several hours Friday night into Saturday morning. Let's take that as a worst case scenario at the moment. With some mathematics added, the above image shows that the model is putting down a generally coating of 1-3" of snow for the region by the time things wrap up Saturday morning. However, even if the American model was correct with the solution of light snowfall on Saturday morning, it is likely overdoing snowfall amounts by a wide degree.

The fact of the matter is ground temperatures are still very warm, and the ground does not cool as fast as the air does. It has been 10 days since the District last saw subfreezing temperatures, and none are in the forecast until Thursday morning at the earliest. Temperatures even on Friday afternoon are forecast to be above freezing for much of the day. Sure, we have done big snows following warmth before. We had a string of 60° and 70° days leading up to the foot of snow that fell on Veterans Day in November of 1987, but that was a very heavy snow. If you want accumulations when ground temperatures are not ideal, you need to have it snowing at a rate faster than the ground can melt it. If you want that to happen, then you need the weather models to trend closer to the shoreline with Friday's storm. The point being that the numbers you are seeing above are very unlikely to happen even given the current aggressive American model for the storm track.

The second chance for snow in our region comes right on the tail of the first system and comes in the form of a potential clipper system Saturday evening. Of the two potential systems, this one may have the better odds of getting snow to actually fall in the region. Clippers are fast moving systems that ride the jet stream down from Canada and occasionally bring snow to our region. They tend to be less organized and more moisture starved than their coastal counterparts, which means we are likely just talking the threat for some scattered, light snow showers here. Similar to the issues with the first system, we are unlikely talking about any potential accumulations here other than a spotty grassy coating east of the I-81 corridor. You will likely only need the ruler if you live in the mountains of the Maryland Panhandle and West Virginia. Much like the first storm, this system is not set in stone either as weather models have been bouncing its track around over the past several days. There is a decent shot it could miss our region to the north.

So what is the conclusion? Well generally speaking we have our best chance of seeing snow in the region since last spring…but the problem for snow lovers is those chances still are not all that great. What do I personally believe will happen based on the weather pattern I see? I think Friday ends up being a near miss, and we end up being dry with some clouds around. I am not sold on our odds Saturday for seeing anything too widespread, but think we may be able to squeeze out a couple of flurries. All things said, these possible systems are still far enough out in time in the weather modeling world that there is still room for the forecast to change. The slightest of detail changes in the weather modeling could lead to a snowier outcome, so it is still something we will still be keeping a close eye on. However, I think the odds are against us this week. Perhaps we may see a better shot next week, when many weather models are indicating even colder weather courtesy of our old friend, the Polar Vortex (shown above). As a snow lover myself, I will keep my fingers crossed. Stay warm!

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