There’s a flurry (forgive me) of activity in the ImpactWeather Operations Center this morning. First, there’s the discussion of a wintry mix of precipitation in Southeast Texas tonight. Granted, it’s the northern parts of Southeast Texas, but wintry precip is a big deal down here. Not only does it make travel conditions a nightmare (if it sticks, which it will not in the city) but it throws the general population into excitement-slash-panic mode. Not fun. Plus, it’s a real bear to forecast. And by that I mean that the conditions that bring about freezing precip are well known, but actually getting those conditions is very tricky this close to the Gulf Coast and its moderating influence on the local air mass. It’s like the difference between a cupcake and a scone — substitute a little yeast instead of baking powder and the outcome may surprise you. That said, if conditions come together just right, there could be sleet with potential accumulation (slight though it may be) in places just beyond the Houston Metro — like College Station and Huntsville — tonight and early tomorrow.
Next, there’s the consideration of severe weather. I know, its wintertime and we typically don’t associate severe weather with wintertime patterns but, as we’ve discussed before, severe weather is based on contrasting air masses not what page the calendar is on. Any time a strong cold air mass pushes into a warm and humid air mass, we have to be cautious and remember that the terms cold and warm are relative. The situation this time is setting up for the mid-to-later period of next week and we’re looking at the possibility of a strong upper low pressure system gaining strength and moving across Texas from Mexico. As the system strengthens and moves eastward, strong — potentially severe — thunderstorms are possible, with damaging winds, hail, frequent lightning and even tornadoes. As this is in the 7-8 day time period, confidence is low-to-moderate but already the numerical computer models are hinting at the threat of an elevated risk of tornadoes next week.
And then there’s snow. You’d expect it up north (more on that in a moment), but you might not expect it way out in West Texas. That, however, is the case today and tomorrow as the I-10 corridor from Kerrville, TX westward to Deming, NM is expected to see snow. Higher elevations from as far south as Alpine and Ft. Davis, Texas to the Texas/New Mexico border region may be on the receiving end of 6 to 8 inches. Unfortunately the wind should be gusting as high as 20 mph which will produce blizzard to near-blizzard conditions in the wide open spaces of this desolate region. Warming temperatures and clearing conditions later tomorrow bring the threat of snow to an end, however travelers in places like Terlingua and Study Butte (popular Big Bend travel locations) are already locked down because Highway 118 across the Alpine pass is closed due to snow.
As for up north, long-range models are beginning to show some consistency with a snow storm that will effect the Great Lakes over to the Northeast by the middle to end of next week. Additionally, the strong cold front trailing this system will bring the coldest temperatures of the season to middle and eastern portions of the U.S. Like the severe weather for the South, this system is a long way off and so confidence for now remains low. However, the combination of a strong cold front, plenty of moisture and very cold temperatures brings the growing possibility of a significant winter storm with blizzard conditions to this broad region. Also, let’s not forget that this early in the season most of the Great Lakes remain ice-free, allowing for lake-effect snow to remain a significant concern for the usual lake-effect snow belt locations.
We’ll keep a close eye on how this all develops. Even now there’s a fairly significant question of how next week’s storm system will take shape — will it be thanks to a major upper-level storm system or will it result from two smaller systems? We’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, I’m in the mood for a scone…