By now, some of you have heard a wintrier pattern is on the way by and during this weekend. I’ve written about this in a few articles, going back to Dec. 19 and Jan. 2.
Up until now, we’ve had it easy. Lake Erie is cooling but, as of this writing, it is at 36 degrees, 1 degree above average. January’s mean temperature as of Sunday is 3.9 degrees above average. Seasonal snowfall is 15.6 inches below average.
Now, a little more clarity is beginning – JUST beginning – to emerge on a storm system headed from California to the east coast, and its potential to bring significant widespread snow to Western New York. Coming with that is the long-advertised transition to a more persistent colder-than-average pattern, with some models suggesting much-below-average temperatures much of the time by next Sunday.
We’ll begin with snow potential. I use the word potential because of unavoidable uncertainty in storm track and intensity forecasts this far out in time (Monday). Here is National Weather Service HQ’s Sunday morning forecast map. Their projected position for the surface storm system would be favorable for at least moderate snow to reach Western New York, if not heavy. The packing of the “isobars” suggests a very brisk NE wind, which would cause blowing and drifting.
The NWS projected high temperature for next Sunday is fairly frigid, near 15 degrees. Feel free to factor in the likely bitter wind chill, which would be about 0 to -5. However, some model and ensemble output suggests there is a chance for truly bitter temperatures below those in the NWS forecast. The American GFS projects these temperatures at the end of the day Sunday:
The experimental newer version of the GFS is even colder:
The Canadian GEM, which is an outlier for Saturday bringing us into the 40s (no other individual model supports those 40s) catches up with the cold by late Sunday:
The ensemble mean of the GFS and Canadian matches well with the individual model temps above. So, there is a fair probability (far from certain) NWS HQ’s projection isn’t cold enough for Sunday.
As for snow amounts, which have greater uncertainty than temperatures, here’s a first look at model output. The GFS has moderate totals by Sunday evening in Western New York, heavier closer to Pennsylvania. Heaviest amounts are to our east and northeast, as the storm is expected to deepen when it reaches the coastal waters:
The experimental GFS takes the storm closer to us, and ups the ante on snow totals in Western New York. The GEM keeps snowfall in Western New York strictly moderate, with an outlier (less probable) storm track taking the low much farther north and delivering heaviest snow to Canada.
The European ECMWF brings moderate to heavy amounts to Western New York. Its storm track has the moderate amounts closer to Lake Ontario, marginally heavy closer to the metro area, and heavier to the south; a range of around 5 inches in northern Niagara County to near a foot in the Southern Tier. As for temperatures, the ECMWF starts Western New York's Sunday morning in the upper single digits and drops us to near 0 by evening.
So as to a snowstorm, my first evidence-based fuzzy estimate leans toward moderate snowfall on the Niagara Frontier with a better chance for heavier amounts in the Southern Tier. Heavier amounts, as per the experimental GFS are currently less likely, but far from out of the question. However, I have higher confidence that even a moderate snowfall would be complicated by a gusty north to northeast wind, producing reduced visibility, some drifting and blowing snow. Accompanied by increasingly frigid to bitter cold temperatures, travel is likely to become hazardous by and during Sunday.
As for the longer term, it does appear Western New York will have frequent episodes of below-average to much-below-average temperatures later this month into February. There may be more frequent storm systems crossing the country moving toward the East Coast. Some of these storms will be preceded by briefly warmer temperatures and trailed by fresh polar air. That means the cold would not be as persistent as in the brutal, coldest-ever month of February 2015, or as harsh. But there will be some darn cold days ahead, as seen in this GFS ensemble mean projection for late this month. Whether or not you know the nomenclature, its basic “look” tells the story.
I will tighten up these estimates and probable impacts during the week. To put numbers on snowfall amounts this far ahead of the storm is, frankly, bad science. My policy is only to do bad science by accident, not on purpose. Catch my drift?