Big Change Next Week: Cold vs. COLD – What’s it Mean to You?

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We had a cold front move through Houston yesterday — no snow, no ice, no school closures. It’s December, after all, and I want some cold. In fact, Monday’s official Houston high was 82F, yesterday’s high was a record 83 and today — once these clouds break — should once again be quite warm, though five or six degrees cooler than yesterday. Cold however, is not a measurement but a perception and a perception that’s about as subjective as they come.

A few years ago I was the morning meteorologist for one of Houston’s news radio stations when a similar cold front moved through and I reported it as a cold front. Later, off the air, the news anchor cornered me and said, “You really meant a cool front. Calling something like this a cold front only confuses the listeners.” I understood his point (in radio, the listener is always right), but you won’t find the term “cool front” in any meteorology text books.

One doesn’t expect to see images like this in December, but it is what it is. Most of the country has been experiencing unusual and, in many places, record warmth.

So what’s going on? Cool, cold, colder? Technically, a cold front is defined as a cooler air mass replacing a warmer air mass at the surface. Indeed, that’s what happened in Houston yesterday: a cooler, drier airmass  undercut a warmer and much more humid air mass (and now this is happening across the Southeast U.S.). Though the cold front revealed itself yesterday in the form of strong thunderstorms, we’ll see evidence of the cooler air in the coming few days. Additionally, the drier air will allow greater swings between afternoon highs and overnight lows.

Even in the northern Plains there are disagreements as to what constitutes truly cold weather, and those arguments will undoubtedly kick-off again next week.  Image: ImpactWeather’s Fred Schmude

All is not lost if you like it really cold however, and the next cold front is an attention-getter as it will definitely chill things off next week. Dangerous cold? No, but a swing of 25+ degrees from today will take Houston from yesterday’s 83F down into the lower 50s for highs by next Tuesday. Now that’s a cold front. Here’s what’s happening:

Much colder Canadian air will be sweeping into the northern and central Plains this weekend as a strong trough develops over the Rocky Mountains. The cold front is expected to push across most of Texas by early Monday morning. Gusty winds and much colder temperatures will have arrived in a good portion of the U.S. as December begins its second week.

Snow behind the front and heavy rainfall ahead of the front. There’s also a good chance for severe thunderstorm activity. Image: ImpactWeather’s Fred Schmude

The cold front will be responsible for strong to severe thunderstorms as the front clashes with the very warm and humid air now in place across the Plains, the South, the Midwest and most of the rest of the country. Severe storms will have the potential for damaging wind gusts above 50 mph, hail and intense  lightning. Temperatures behind the front are expected to quickly fall into the 50s over most of south and southeast Texas on Monday and likely linger in the 30s and 40s over most of the remainder of the state, while teens and 20s should be expected across the northern Plains. The air will likely even be cold enough for some mixed snow over far west Texas and New Mexico late Sunday into early Monday. Rain will likely linger across most of the remainder of Texas on Monday into early Tuesday over coastal areas as a strong disturbance moves by the region.

This disturbance will more than likely induce the development of a fast-moving low pressure area from the mid-Mississippi Valley to the eastern Great Lakes on Tuesday bringing a wide swath of rain and mixed heavy wet snow from central Missouri to southern Michigan. We’ll have to wait and see how/if that develops.

So, does this meet the definition of a cold front? Everybody has an opinion about the weather, but if you’re wondering where the cold is — no matter what your definition — I think you’ll have your answer early next week.


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