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Don Paul: The storm is winding down, but winter isn't

Don Paul

The ferocious wind storm is pulling away, the forecast verified all too well, and The Buffalo News has been providing admirable coverage of it. So, it’s back to the future for me. What’s next?

Following a cold but quiet Tuesday comes snow on Wednesday. While this will be no whopper and will not be accompanied by strong winds, we'll get enough to slow traffic and have people muttering under their breath. A widespread moderate snow will overspread the region during Wednesday into Wednesday night, as depicted in this model.

As for amounts, we are likely to see accumulations ranging from 3 to 6 inches by early Wednesday evening. The morning commute doesn’t look bad, but the afternoon commute will be a slow go. If you’d like a second opinion, National Weather Service HQ puts us at a 40 percent probability of more than 4 inches of snow.

It appears that the higher end of that range will be in the Southern Tier, with a bit less on the Niagara Frontier to the north.

Following that system, another area of low pressure draws near during Saturday, as seen here in the American/GFS. However, model agreement on the Saturday system is not good. The European/ECMWF thinks less of this system, as does the Canadian/GEM model.

Model agreement is better when it comes to temperatures. The average high temp this time of year is in the mid-30s. It’s 22 degrees in the afternoon as I write this, not to mention the wind chill. In advance of the Saturday system, some moderation in temperatures will occur, but any warming will be strictly temporary. We’ll probably reach the upper 30s on Friday and approach 40 on Saturday.


By the next day, we’re back to the deep freeze, by March 3 standards. (See NOAA graphic.)

The problem, drat, will be linked to the closer proximity of a lobe of … wait for it … a weakened polar vortex. (Remember: weakened is bad, strengthened is good)

When the polar jet stream goes into another weakened phase (which has been causally linked to arctic warming), that allows the jet stream to buckle and drop a piece of the polar vortex southward, as modeled in this NWS ensemble.

The good news is, that piece of the polar vortex doesn’t stay long. By the following Wednesday, it will have retreated to the polar region and will begin to re-strengthen. At that position, it will begin to trap the coldest of the cold air in the polar region.

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Until it does retreat northward, climatology shows that when the vortex is farther south, more vigorous storm systems can develop, often evolving into Nor’easters along the Atlantic seaboard. Any such storm next week is strictly speculative this far out in time. But even if it materializes, in the majority of such cases, Nor’easters are too far east to have a major impact on Western New York. Such a tendency is illustrated in the Canadian/GEM model for March 6.

Storm or not, next week is slated to be harshly cold for the first full week of March. After that, there are growing signs this could be winter’s last gasp for persistent cold temperatures. Model ensembles have been showing a fundamental upper-air pattern change shaping up across the lower 48 as we move toward March 12. The cold trough in the Great Lakes and the east will be replaced by a building ridge of high pressure. Arctic air will be displaced by Pacific air, as seen in the GFS ensemble mean.

The extended range Climate Forecast System/CFS model is emphatic on the warmup in the east for week 3, days 15-21.

I’m not the biggest fan of the CFS model. Courtesy of Dr. Michael Ventrice, IBM’s the Weather Company supplies some more convincing evidence of the warming trend. The European/ECMWF ensemble mean is big on eastern warming right in our back yard in week 4.

By then, I would suspect even winter lovers will be ready for March to go out like a lamb, instead of a lion.

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