Where’s Winter? England, Italy and Denver, That’s Where

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Nearly everybody on this side of the Atlantic is wondering where winter is. It’s February and areas that were under significant snow pack this time last year are experiencing snow-free roadways and minimal accumulations. Back in early January I posted about the New England Pond Hockey Classic to be held this week on my beloved Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire if, I said, there was going to be enough ice. Wishful thinking wasn’t enough as it turned out, and the Classic was moved to another lake. On top of all that, the furry forecaster in north-central Pennsylvania saw his shadow yesterday, thereby declaring six more weeks of winter. Over the past 24 hours people from coast to coast are wondering, “Six more weeks of this? This isn’t winter!” Sure enough, winter in many areas of the U.S. seems to be on sabbatical — for now.

Algerian snow. Video screen grab: BBC

One place where winter is not on sabbatical is Europe. Nottingham, London and Rome all have snow in the forecast over the next couple of days and the snow is even spreading across the Mediterranean to Algeria. Algerian snow is not unheard of, but snow in northern Africa is — not surprisingly — a rare event (thanks to the Atlas Mountains, there are actually ski resorts in Morocco). Having said that, it snowed over the Sahara Desert just two weeks ago.

Toubkal Mountain in Toubkal National Park in the High Atlas Mountains of north-central Morocco. Photo: Wikipedia

GFS computer model predictions place upwards of 20 inches of snow in the high elevations of Italy, Croatia, Bosnia and yes — Algeria this weekend. Wales and the western United Kingdom are bordering on 4-6 inches. England, Wales and Scotland (as well as Continental Europe) already have significantly cold air in place, and with a strong North Atlantic low pressure system on the way the snow event is already locked and loaded. “Ski Liverpool!” bumper stickers, anyone? (Tongue-in-cheek, but snow is not expected in Liverpool; ice however, is.)

Accumulated Snowfall. 36hr GFS Valid 12Z Feb 4, 2012. Image: GFS via WeatherCaster

By the way, the mild Atlantic flow will keep Ireland in the rain rather than the snow and as that mild air pushes east across the central U.K. snow should turn to rain tomorrow making for ugly travel conditions as ice becomes an overnight concern. The UK’s DailyMail has some great pictures of the bitter cold across Europe — you can view them here.

Yours truly explainng the snow situation in the Plains and Colorado on this morning's episode of StormWatch Today video. Image: ImpactWeather

Meanwhile, as we know, the U.S. is experiencing less snow and less cold than usual. But it can’t stay this way, can it? The short answer is no. And if there is still any lingering doubt, just look to the fact that Punxatawney Phil saw his shadow yesterday and declared six more weeks of winter. If that doesn’t sell you, then direct your attention to the central Plains where a major low pressure system is pumping copious amounts of relatively mild low- and mid-level moisture into the Plains and Colorado — exactly the ingredients needed for significant snow not only in the higher elevations of Colorado, but also the Foothills and even Nebraska.

But shouldn’t it be rain in Colorado if the air mass being directed there is mild? True enough, but the air in place across the Plains is already quite cold — Goodland, KS and North Platte, NE are both looking for a high of just 33F with eight inches of snow expected — and the upslope conditions (oragraphic lift) across Colorado will make the air even colder. Some areas of Colorado are expecting up to two feet of snow today and, combined with the strong winds, will experience blizzard conditions. This is a key snowfall event for Colorado ski resorts as most of the significant snow has missed these areas so far this season.

Lastly, given the global circulation of air currents, a plunge into the freezer for Europe is often followed by similar conditions in North America. Remember, last weekend temperatures in Fairbanks were recorded at -49F and -50F while on the same day -79 was recorded in another Alaska location. That type of air doesn’t typically sit around and stagnate (it can, but is not expected to this time) and it’s expected to push eastward into Canada and then the Lower 48 next week. Yes, it will be modified (warmer) than what was recorded in Alaska, but it will likely bring a real taste of winter to many who have, thus far, felt cheated by the lack of cold.

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