Coldies? This Blast’s For You!

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On the heels of last week’s nor’easter, comes this chilling scenario: Record-breaking cold the likes of which haven’t been seen for years in many areas. And perfectly timed as our next Winter Weather Outlook webinar is coming up later this week (more on the webinar below).

What exactly is on the way? For the second and third week of January, the ImpactWeather StormWatch team is identifying these events:

  • Hard freeze potential increasing along the immediate Gulf Coast.
  • One or two significant winter storms likely effecting the central and southern U.S.
  • Well below normal temperatures over much of the Lower 48, with the highest risk over the Great Plains.
  • Two or three significant wind events for the western Gulf of Mexico and southern Plains. These winds will be precursors to the Arctic activity moving from the Rocky Mountains to the Plains.
  • Growing confidence in another nor’easter.

Next Tuesday's GFS computer model indicates strong high pressure situated over the Northwest Territories and Alberta, Canada. What's key to this scenario is that the north winds reach well into the Beaufort Sea and the Arctic Ocean, tapping into bitterly cold air then delivering it straight south to the Plains and the Gulf Coast of the United States.

Early indicators point to a strong Arctic high pressure system and a shift in the upper flow pattern. Of note, a large “omega block” looks primed to develop across far northern latitudes. Omegas are tough to move and/or break down, allowing strong/unusual weather patterns to persist much longer than normal. Omega blocks are not confined to the winter, but this type of pattern can establish a repetitive storm track while ushering cold, Arctic blasts southward to areas not accustomed to prolonged outbreaks of such unseasonal cold.

Our temperature outlook for the month of January reveals all of the country to be at or below normal. Note: This image shows temperatures below normal, not actual air temperature. Image: ImpactWeather StormWatch.

How cold? This remains the million-dollar question. The exact placement of the upper flow and how it taps into the Siberian and Arctic cold remains to be seen. Expectations, however, suggest that all of the Lower 48 will be either below or much below normal as this bitterly cold air arrives. As an example of “how cold” here in Houston, some of the old salts at ImpactWeather are comparing these early indicators to the same ones that lead into the big Houston freeze of 1983 when the temperature dipped down to 8F and the temperature didn’t rise above freezing at all for several days.

As for our Winter Weather Outlook webinar, this will be the third in our ongoing series of webinars on this 2010-2011 winter season. Highlights of this webinar will include:

  • What are the global signals telling us about what to expect the rest of winter?
  • What clues do past years with similar patterns to this year tell us?
  • Specifically, what will the general storm track be for January?
  • What is the likelihood of another nor’easter this month?
  • How likely will it be that a hard freeze will make it all the way to the Gulf Coast this month?

As usual, the ImpactWeather webinar series are free and are not restricted to clients or meteorologists. We encourage all those with an interest in this winter weather season to sign up for these popular online discussions.

From StormWatch: Expected for January 12-17, 2011.

Lastly, let me mention that a severe cold outbreak like the one expected next week can be as damaging and perhaps even more widespread than the effects of a landfalling hurricane. Snow and ice can bring vehicles and communications to a standstill, while putting personal safety, property, commercial power and supply lines in jeopardy for hundreds of thousands of people for days or even weeks. For the “tropical half” of the year, ImpactWeather stresses preparation and preparedness not for a busy or quiet tropical season for the one storm that has the potential to be a memorable event (not the good kind). Likewise, for the “winter half” of the year we stress similar preparedness for the winter storm(s) that may have similar effects.

From StormWatch: Light snow or ice is possible in the South, January 12-17.

From StormWatch: Winter Weather Threat, January 9-12.

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