Tuesday, December 11, 2012

12/11 - 10:30pm - Be Careful When Wishing for Snow... You Might Get it!

With all the warmth much of the eastern portion of the nation has been experiencing lately some folks are beginning to get antsy over whether we'll be able to fall into a more winter-like pattern in time for the holidays. The cold front that rolled through earlier this week has helped to assuage some of those fears as it brought much cooler temperatures and even some light snow/sleet to parts of Kentucky and Indiana.

So... What's next? First up is a system that will move through the region this weekend as a warm one. A low will travel from the Plains to Lake Michigan and keep the eastern half of the nation warm as it spreads rain from the Great Lakes to the South. This makes sense because the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) will be going neutral during this time, which generally means that cold air won't be able to spill down into the Eastern US from Canada. The Arctic Oscillation will be negative to support cold air coming out of the north, but that doesn't matter too much for us when the NAO isn't negative as well.

The system behind this weekend's is the one that is drawing some concern. A low will be moving across the South during the day on Tuesday and potentially spread some snow to areas that are north of it. At this point anywhere from West Tennessee to the Louisville area is in a potential corridor for snow. This all depends on the exact track of the low and how much cold air it will be able to bring down from the north. This scenario is supported by the NAO and AO both going negative during this time. The GFS model takes the storm along the southern border of Tennessee right to the Carolinas. The ECMWF (European) model starts out with the low a little further south along the Mississippi River but has it exit off the coast in about the same location as the GFS. The low would then become a storm that would ride up to the Northeast just off the coast. With the previous system pulling up toward the Chicago area, this low will likely stay suppressed to the south. So... the broad, general nature of this low's track isn't in too much question. My preliminary (read: subject to change!) thinking is that this will be a rain to light snow situation for portions of Tennessee and Kentucky since cold air would plunge in as the system is exiting to the east. Accumulations would be very light to none.

But here's an issue. The snow cover over the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest has expanded tremendously over the past week as a storm pummeled those areas with quite a bit of snow. We're now at 31.4% snow cover over the United States. Air moving from the north over that snow won't warm as quickly as it would over bare land and the computer models generally have a difficult time resolving that. With this snow cover, the air in place over us and the air coming down from the north may be a little cooler than the computer models think it will be at the moment. That could mean more snow from this system. We're still a week away from this event so while details are sketchy, it's now obvious that this is a system to watch. This likely won't be the only storm we'll have to contend with between now and the new year since a pattern is setting up that will allow cold air to sit close by to the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys while lows track through and just to the south of the region. There's hope for a white Christmas in the region but it will depend on whether we can get enough cold air and a storm to move through just before the 25th. It'll be fun to watch!

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