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This wintry weekend will lighten up

The moderate widespread snow is long since over, and even some limited lake snow, mostly over the hills, will gradually wind down by the end of today. The weekend is a cold one, to be sure, but does not qualify as bitter or extreme in this less than eventful winter.

Snowfall amounts as of late Saturday morning ranged from light to moderate in most locations, having been held down by the mixture and freezing rain during Thursday afternoon and evening. Just a handful of rural locations came in with heavy accumulations.

Let’s take our weekly inventory of ski conditions for the weekend. Skiers, keep in mind we are colder now, meaning this is the first week I can write there will be the beloved fresh powder on the slopes — something that has been absent most of the winter. The high water content snow has been replaced by a modest coating of fluffier, lower density snow.

Here is a sampling of how things look on some of the slopes: Holiday Valley Mardi GrasKissing Bridge Holly Cam. Holimont.

Saturday temperatures will only reach the low 20s at lower elevations, and stay in the teens on the slopes. Fortunately, wind chill will be modest though noticeable. On Sunday, temps will edge up to the low to mid-30s, with plenty clouds and only limited sun. A south-southwest breeze of 7-14 will keep wind chill minimal. Sunday evening a disturbance will bring a round of steadier light snow, which could produce 1-2 inches of accumulation by midnight.

Even that small system is fated to draw in milder air, changing the snow to “plain” light rain in time for the Monday morning commute, as temps move to the mid-upper 30s, so roads should be shedding any slick spots.

After that little system, there are no signs of major storms approaching our region next week, though we may have brushes with lighter snow by Thursday and Friday, as well as some nuisance light mixed or snow showers preceding that. Daytime highs will run a little above the average of 32 degrees Monday into Thursday, with a much colder air mass returning at the end of the week, as seen in this NWS headquarters forecast.

The cold air from the north central United States across into northern New England would still be labeled as “seasonably cold” rather than truly bitter or extreme. The upper air pattern continues to include a polar vortex which has been consistently strong and located closer to the north pole. That tends to keep the coldest air bottled up in the polar region and doesn’t allow it to dip far south into the lower 48. A weaker polar vortex has a tendency to sag southward and allow more polar incursions. Long-range specialist Judah Cohen has tweeted a temporary weakening of the polar vortex, which goes on to re-strengthen and pull back to the top of the world in fairly short order:

If you watch the animation, you may notice it drops a cold shot back into the northern United States for a couple of days around Feb. 21-22 but, as has been the case all winter, there is no staying power. Ahead of that possible short colder period, there is still warm ridging in the east and only modest chilling in the west, as seen in the ECMWF upper air ensemble mean a week from this Sunday.

As of late Friday, this young month has been much (6.1 degrees) milder than average. That anomaly will take a hit through Sunday. Seasonal snowfall for Buffalo reached 50.7 inches by Friday evening, 15.6 inches below average for the season. Reflective of the prevailing milder temperatures, Lake Erie at Buffalo has reached 35 degrees, 3 degrees above the average of 32 for this time of year.

Understatement: I see almost no chance Lake Erie will come close to freezing over this year. In fact, here is Great Lakes ice coverage as of Thursday. Lake Erie? It's at 0.1% coverage. A year ago, it was at 79.5%.

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