A Break From the Bitter, but at the Price of a Storm

1/24/2011, 8:37:03 AM

Monday, 11:45 A.M.

What a brutal Monday morning in the Northeast! As advertised, the second surge of arctic air this weekend turned an already way-below-normal air mass into a ridiculously cold one. The lowest I've seen so far this morning is -36 in Saranac Lake, New York. I've not checked all of the cooperative observer reports to see if someone topped that mark.

The groundwork for this was perfect--deep snowpack; long January night; fresh arctic air mass; clear sky; and little wind. You couldn't draw it up any better for a historic night. Even this morning it was minus 2 in Boston with a wind chill of minus 21.

Over the next 24 hours, this arctic air mass will be unceremoniously kicked out of the Northeast. In fact the air mass that awaits the storm is nothing resembling the bitter cold of this morning, and that's why there is such concern over a storm tracking inland (west of Hatteras, perhaps as far west as the Chesapeake Bay) and bringing rain to the I-95 corridor, not snow.

Before I go further, the morning walk through on the video:

As I tried to point out, the modeling that just a couple of days ago looked like it was locked on target for a storm track up through eastern North Carolina toward the Delmarva Peninsula is now all over the place. The NAM has been trending a little farther north and west, but still takes the storm and brings it over Hatteras, but sends it northeast from there, well south and east of Cape Cod. The GFS is farther north and west still, but not as far west as the European and Canadian, the two models that have been the most consistent. The truth will probably be closer to the European.

What does this model mayhem really mean? A few things:

1) Coastal plain up to New Jersey and Long Island over to southeastern Massachusetts should get more rain than snow. Whatever snow there is on the front end may well get washed away, with very little on the back end.

2) Big Cities should get a little more snow, especially up front, but still go to rain.

3) Mountains from western North Carolina, extreme upstate South Carolina and northeastern Georgia into West Virginia will get mostly snow. As the upper-level low rolls by, the whole column will cool enough so that the difference in elevation means all the world.

4) From southwestern Pennsylvania to central Maine on north and west, little snow.

5) Areas in between stand the best chance of getting more than a foot of snow. It's an admittedly tough call in that area from, say, Blacksburg to Harrisburg to Hartford. It can go from mostly snow and a lot of it to snow to rain, ending as snow, to maybe just a few inches of snow. I'm trying not to let my wishes get in the way of this, as I've got a vested interest in the middle of that southwest-to-northeast oriented line!

Behind the storm, it gets cold again, but there's another break coming from the Plains Friday into the Ohio Valley, and on Saturday in the mid-Atlantic into at least southern New England ahead of the next cold front. An air mass that is fairly Pacific in nature, some sun and mixing should translate into a day with near-normal highs, and any place the ground is bare, probably above it--see Maryland and Delaware.

That front, though, is the door into another plunge off the deep end of temperatures, another vast abyss of frigid air that will probably be colder than the computer models have been suggesting over the past week. That was the case with the bitter blast that shivered the Northeast and mid-Atlantic this weekend.

I will hold off until late in the week before posting my 'countdown to spring' list. Let's get the storm out of the way first!

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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