Looking back on January, the first month of 2018 finished about 3.7°F below normal, according to our friends at the Northeast Regional Climate Center (NRCC). That’s cold, but winter months tend to be more variable than other seasons; out of about 119 valid years in the Ithaca climate record, 2018 is the 25th coldest. 2015, 2014, and 2009 were colder. In terms of snowfall, the Game Farm Road weather station received 13.8 inches, which is a little above median (12.6″), but below average (17.6″; the average gets skewed by a few high-end years, like the 54″ of snow Ithaca was socked with in January 1978).
Last week included Groundhog’s Day, a day that every weather-person looks forward to with about as much enthusiasm as Bill Murray before he got trapped in a time loop. The little rodent down in Punxsutawney saw his shadow, which the old adage heralds as a forecast for six more weeks of winter. Had Punx Phil not seen the unobstructed light of day, spring would be ‘just around the corner’. Make of that what you will.
On a less sarcastic note, don’t let any newsperson or scientist ruin your fun, do whatever helps you enjoy the second half of winter. It’s early February, there is still climatologically a month of consistent winter conditions, and plausible winter or winter-like storms have been known to occur all the way through early April. Last year’s big blow came through in Mid-March, as was the Blizzard of 1993, and the Nor’Easter that dropped nearly two feet of snow at the end of March 1984. Moral of the story, we’ve got a ways to go, keep on trucking folks.
It is worth noting, though, the February is statistically the prime month for snowstorms in the Northeast. With that in mind, we’ve got a fairly active week ahead of us.
Your Weekly Forecast
Most folks have woken up this Monday with a fresh if thin layer of snow on their lawns and cars. Generally, the more eastward one lives in Tompkins, the more snow they received, as they were closer to the track of yesterday’s storm. Parts of Dryden and Caroline picked up 3″, while Trumansburg was less than an inch. The city’s odd/even street parking regulations are in effect.
Today will be quiet. Barring an errant flurry, skies will be partly cloudy, clouds breaking down while temperature just touch 20°F. With winds shifting to the south tonight, temperatures won’t fall back much, only falling to the mid teens by late evening before climbing back up to about 20°F by daybreak Tuesday. But clouds will build back up, so expect a cloudy start, and some flurry around, though noting substantial. Yet.
Tuesday will be upper 20s in Ithaca proper, mid 20s further out, mostly cloudy but dry. Tuesday night is where things start to get interesting. An area of low pressure is expected to strengthen as it moves from Texas and along the Appalachians on Tuesday. As it approaches our area, its energy will start to transfer over the mountains to a second low-pressure area that will form near the coast and run along the shores of New England. What this means is that a fairly potent storm system will be heading this way.
The track of the low indicates we’ll be on the cold side of the system for the duration of the event, which should mainly be from 6 AM Wednesday morning to 6 PM Wednesday evening. This will be a long-duration event with consistent moderate snowfall. Right now, NWS Binghamton is calling for 4-6″ in most of Tompkins County.
However, where neighboring forecast office predictions overlap or border Binghamton forecast area (Albany, State College), their more recent model runs show higher amounts. Don’t be surprised if that 4-6″ gets bumped up to 6-8″. NWS Binghamton says this is looking to have a, 9-12:1 ratio of inches of snow to inches of liquid equivalent, so the liquid totals of 0.5-0.75″ as shown in NOAA precipitation forecasts (QPF) would suggest 5″ on the low end, 8″ on the high end.
Your takeaway – Wednesday, expect steady snow from about 6 AM to 6 PM, 5-8″ likely. Temperatures near 30°F. Wednesday night, scattered showers on the back edge of the storm, but little new accumulation expected. Lows in the mid teens.
Things quiet back down for Thursday. Expect mostly cloudy skies, some flurries, and highs in the low 20s. Thursday night, very cold, mostly cloudy, lows in the 0 to +5°F.
Friday will be a repeat, low 20s with mostly cloudy skies and an isolated snow shower or two, with lows Friday night in the upper teens under mostly cloudy skies.
The weekend is looking unsettled if milder. A warm front will be moving in early Saturday, but models are not in good agreement on how much snow, rain and warmth comes with it; all dependent on a few miles of track variations. Right now, expect temperatures in the low to mid 30s Saturday and Sunday, with snow followed by either more snow or a cold rain.
This is a rather odd situation, because this time last week, the mid-range forecast models had all pretty much cued in on a cold February; the expectation was a surge of warm air into the Arctic would displace the polar vortex over the Central and Eastern United States, giving us a repeat of that frigid early January we just had. However, that was before the models started showing a split in the polar vortex that would basically bisect it into Asian and American halves, with the American side being a bit stronger. There aren’t many analogs to compare that to, and confidence in the long-term isn’t that high.
Nevertheless, without any strong guidance for the next couple of weeks, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center expects temperature to be near or a bit above normal, and precipitation to be near or a bit above normal – slightly warmer and drier as we get closer to Valentine’s Day.