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February Temperature Outlook: Mild in Central, Eastern U.S.; Colder in Northwest

February Temperature Outlook: Mild in Central, Eastern U.S.; Colder in Northwest

At a Glance

  • There are several weather patterns that have grabbed our attention in recent days.

  • One of these is a weaker polar vortex, which could have an impact on the winter pattern.

  • These factors could lead to a colder, snowier central and eastern U.S. into February.

February 2021 may be warmer than average across much of the United States from the South to the Northeast, according to the latest outlook from The Weather Company, an IBM Business.

February’s forecast shows far-above-average temperatures are possible across most of the Northeast, as well as the Southern Plains. Above-average temperatures are also expected in parts of the Midwest, Southeast and Southwest.

Colder-than-average temperatures are possible in the Northwest and northern Rockies, particularly from Montana to Washington state.

Most other areas of the U.S. should see temperatures that are close to average.

Winter, so far, has been a relative non-event in parts of the northern U.S.

A persistently strong Pacific jet stream has spread warmer-than-average air into much of Canada and the northern states from the Northwest to the Plains, Great Lakes and New England.

Some cities from Seattle to Caribou, Maine, have had a record-warm start to winter.

But there are signs the pattern will have changed heading into February.

One change is that a sharper southward jet stream plunge – known as a trough – will carve itself into the western U.S., forced by a bubble of higher pressure aloft in the North Pacific Ocean poking north toward Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.

This pattern will “favor Arctic air transport into western Canada for the first time this winter,” said Dr. Todd Crawford, chief meteorologist with The Weather Company.

The proximity of this colder air in Alaska and western Canada increases the chance of a colder February in the Northwest and northern Rockies.

This pattern change, by itself, resembles a typical La Niña winter. Namely, colder in the Northwest and northern Rockies, and generally warmer elsewhere in the U.S.

The jet-stream level features we expect to be in place in February 2021.

But there’s one stubborn feature that could throw a large monkey wrench into that general La Niña outlook.

That’s the Greenland block, another bubble of high pressure aloft near Greenland that intensified after Christmas. Meteorologists also refer to this as the negative phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation, a sloshing of pressure difference across the North Atlantic Ocean.

Crawford suggested this blocking pattern may stick around at least through February, if not later, based on an examination of previous winters similarly dominated by this pattern.

“The North Atlantic blocking may allow for occasional Arctic air intrusions into the eastern U.S.,” said Crawford.

In other words, it may temper to some extent what would otherwise be a warm late winter in parts of the South and East.

This Greenland block appears to have already had an effect along the Gulf Coast and Florida, one of the few areas with a cooler-than-average winter so far.

The Greenland blocking ridge may extend southward into parts of eastern Canada at times. Thus, parts of northern New England may have the best chance of a milder February, as shown in the outlook.

You may wonder if the polar vortex has anything to do with this outlook. The short answer: possibly.

A sudden stratospheric warming (SSW) is an event over the Arctic when the stratosphere warms sharply – 50 degrees or more in just a few days – miles above the Earth’s surface.

One such SSW happened a few weeks ago, which weakened, stretched and displaced the polar vortex off its usual position near the North Pole.

A significant SSW event can sometimes have an influence on weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere, reinforcing the blocking patterns such as the Greenland block.

That means this Greenland block could linger in some form into March.

Early Spring Sneak Peek

A gradually weakening La Niña and the potential for leftover Greenland blocking are the key factors leading into early spring.

“Lingering La Niña conditions are typically associated with hotter spring and summer outcomes,” said Crawford. “We think that spring and early summer will be unusually warm and dry across the western and central U.S.”

In March, most of the nation’s midsection may see far-above-average temperatures.

Concerns about Greenland blocking lead to less confidence of warmth spreading to the East Coast and Southeast. The potentially stubborn West Coast jet-stream dip could also put a cap on temperatures in the Northwest.

April outlook temperatures look much the same, with perhaps a better chance of warmth farther east, including the Mississippi Valley and Southeast.
Dry ground from the ongoing extreme to exceptional drought across the Southwest, Rockies and High Plains may contribute to the spring warmth in those areas.
Late-Week Snowmaker to Bring Strong Winds, Colder Temperatures to Plains, Midwest, Great Lakes

Late-Week Snowmaker to Bring Strong Winds, Colder Temperatures to Plains, Midwest, Great Lakes

At a Glance

  • Far-above-average temperatures are gripping parts of the Plains and Midwest right now.

  • A cold front will bring snowfall, gusty winds and somewhat colder temperatures to these areas.

  • The snow might contribute to travel delays Thursday into Friday.

A January reality check is headed for portions of the Plains, Midwest and Great Lakes later this week as a cold front brings blustery conditions and snowfall to areas currently experiencing far-above-average temperatures.

Arctic cold commonly grips the north-central United States this time of year, but so far in January, those shivering temperatures have been nonexistent. That includes through the middle portion of this week with high temperatures so mild, they’ll threaten daily record highs in parts of the Dakotas on Wednesday.

(The orange and red contour shows how much warmer than average high temperatures are forecast to be on Wednesday.)

Temperatures will fall back closer to average in the Plains and Midwest late this week after a front passes through, but it still won’t be terribly cold by January standards. That front will also be accompanied by the return of snowfall and gusty winds in many areas.

Here’s the latest timing and how much snow to expect.

Forecast Timing

Thursday

The front will charge into the upper Midwest Wednesday night into Thursday with snow or rain changing to snow spreading from the northern Plains into the upper Mississippi Valley and western Great Lakes. This changeover from rain to snow will advance eastward toward the rest of Lower Michigan, northern Indiana and Ohio overnight.

Thursday’s Forecast

Strong northwesterly winds will also howl through the Plains from the Dakotas to parts of Oklahoma and Texas.

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Where gusty winds overlap with snowfall in open areas of the Northern Plains, there could be reduced visibility and poor travel conditions into Thursday night.

A widespread area from the Northern Plains into the upper and mid-Mississippi valleys and Great Lakes could see periods of snow during the day on Friday. Gusty winds will also continue in much of the Plains as well as parts of the Midwest.

Widespread, heavy snowfall totals are not expected. However, even light snowfall can impact travel, especially where stronger wind gusts combined with the snow produce lower visibility in open areas of the Plains. That could include the eastern Dakotas and western Minnesota into parts of Iowa.

By Friday night, rain changing to snow will push eastward into the interior Northeast and Appalachians, from northern Maine southward into West Virginia. The Interstate 95 corridor from Boston to Washington D.C. will receive rain from this system.

Friday’s Forecast

Saturday

The weekend will begin with lingering snow showers and lake-effect snow in the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley.

Rain is expected along the immediate Northeast coast, with snow possible from upstate New York into northern Maine.

Saturday’s Forecast

How Much Snow?

Snowfall totals from this system won’t be heavy in most areas.

A broad area from the eastern Dakotas into Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and northern and central parts of Illinois and Indiana could see at least light accumulations.

Some of the largest snowfall totals in this region might pile up from parts of Minnesota into the northern Great Lakes. But that will depend on where any bands of prolonged snowfall set up for a period of time Thursday into Friday.

Farther east, generally light snowfall totals are forecast from the Appalachians into northern New England, with the exception of heavier totals over the Adirondack, Green and White mountains.

Weaker Polar Vortex Just One Ingredient to an Interesting Pattern for Winter Storms Into February

Weaker Polar Vortex Just One Ingredient to an Interesting Pattern for Winter Storms Into February

At a Glance

  • There are several weather patterns that have grabbed our attention in recent days.

  • One of these is a weaker polar vortex, which could have an impact on the winter pattern.

  • These factors could lead to a colder, snowier central and eastern U.S. into February.

Three interesting features in the weather pattern, including a weaker polar vortex, could combine to make the rest of January and February more active for winter storms and cold in the eastern United States.

Interestingly, one of those features is not La Niña, the periodic cooling of water near the equator in the eastern Pacific Ocean, which intensified in the fall and can have impacts on winter weather in the U.S., including snowier winters for some.

The borderline strong La Niña is still there, but its influence on the atmosphere may be overridden by a trio of weather patterns that could have important consequences on the rest of winter’s weather.

1. The Greenland Block

The Greenland block is a relatively warm bubble of high pressure about 17,000 to 20,000 feet above the ground that can set up, as its name suggests, near Greenland.

Meteorologists monitor the strength, or lack of, a Greenland block by examining an index called the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), which can oscillate over the course of days or weeks. When this index is more strongly negative, blocking high pressure near Greenland is stronger.

When this negative NAO pattern sets up, winter weather fans in the eastern U.S. salivate.

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That’s because this nose of high pressure aloft acts like a rock in a stream, forcing the polar jet stream to plunge southward across the central and eastern U.S., pulling cold air from Canada.

Nosediving jet streams can spawn strong storms with heavy snow. The Greenland block can force these storms to crawl slowly up the East Coast rather than simply sweeping quickly from west to east across the U.S. or Canada and out to sea.

This Greenland block is currently quite strong and expected to linger a while. More about that a bit later.

The upper-level pattern as of the week of Jan. 4-8, 2021, includes a prominent Greenland block, with some upper-ridging extending west into Canada.

However, there’s a monkey wrench in this pattern.

In a YouTube video recorded earlier this week, Michael Ventrice, a meteorological scientist at The Weather Company, an IBM Business, pointed out warm air aloft, and at the surface, extends westward into much of Canada and the northern tier of the U.S.

So although this negative NAO pattern is bringing some colder air into the South, it’s not very cold by January standards.

High temperatures near the U.S.-Canadian border are topping out in the 20s or 30s, well above average nearing what is typically the coldest time of year.

But that might change later this month.

Longer-range models suggest this Canada ridging could retreat northward closer to – you guessed it – Greenland during the last half of January, according to Ventrice.

This could open the door to more of the East Coast and Midwest for more winter storms from late January into at least early February.

2. The Pacific-West Coast Ridge

In recent weeks, the Pacific jet stream has delivered a series of wet, windy storms to the Pacific Northwest and Northern California, and delivered relatively mild, Pacific air to much of the rest of the country.

That pattern is expected to change next week.

Instead of the Pacific jet plowing into the West Coast, high pressure aloft, similar to the Greenland block, is expected to strengthen near the West Coast and nose its way northward toward Alaska.

This pattern fluctuation is known to meteorologists as the negative phase of the Eastern Pacific Oscillation (EPO).

When this upper ridge pokes northward, it can dislodge cold air in Alaska and western Canada and send it careening into the central and eastern U.S.

In fact, a 2019 study published in Geophysical Research Letters found a pattern with an Alaskan ridge of high pressure was most important for widespread severe cold in North America.

So this is another pattern on the way that could eventually deliver more cold into the U.S. in the coming weeks.

The upper-level pattern beginning the week of Jan. 10 is expected to evolve to a stronger nose of high-pressure aloft near the West Coast, potentially nosing toward Alaska. This positive PNA pattern generally works to tap colder air from Alaska and Canada into the central and eastern U.S.

3. Weaker Polar Vortex

You’ve likely heard the term “polar vortex” virtually every winter since it first entered into popular culture during a bitter cold January 2014.

The polar vortex is a whirling cone of low pressure over the poles that’s strongest in the winter months due to the increased temperature contrast between the polar regions and the mid-latitudes, such as the United States and Europe.

This isn’t like a storm you might think of in the lower atmosphere, with cold and warm fronts producing rain or snow. Instead, the polar vortex occurs primarily in the stratosphere, a layer of the atmosphere about 6 to 30 miles above the ground – above most of the weather with which you’re familiar occurs.

Strangely, when this polar vortex is strong, cold air is less likely to plunge deep into North America or Europe. Picture this strong vortex fencing off the coldest air from the U.S. and Europe. This was in place much of last winter.

In December, however, the atmosphere threw a curveball.

A sudden stratospheric warming (SSW) event originating over Siberia sent temperatures rocketing 50 degrees Celsius warmer over the North Pole stratosphere in just a few days.

These temperature spikes are actually quite common, occurring on average once every other winter, according to data compiled by Amy Butler, an atmospheric scientist and expert on SSW events at NOAA.

This sudden warming weakened, stretched and displaced the polar vortex off the North Pole, as you can see in the animation below from Judah Cohen, director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER), a Verisk Business.

When that happens, the weaker polar vortex and stratospheric warmth can drip down to affect the jet-stream patterns in such a way to enhance the previous two blocking patterns mentioned above, opening the floodgates for colder air into the U.S. and Europe.

And those blocking patterns could have staying power.

“All we really know is that the AO/NAO are predominantly in the negative phase for up to two months following an MMW (major mid-winter warming, an extreme case of an SSW),” wrote Cohen in a Jan. 4 blog.

That means the Greenland block pattern could persist in some form into February or even March.

“It’s typical one week or so after the SSW event peaks over the North Pole to see upper-level ridging build over Alaska,” Ventrice told weather.com, referring to the pattern discussed earlier.

What Does This Mean for the Rest of Winter?

Cohen cited the two most recent SSW-polar vortex disruption events, each with far different outcomes.

The February 2018 event triggered a pair of “Beast From the East” March cold outbreaks in Europe – where impacts from polar vortex weakening typically first occur. That was then followed by a parade of four nor’easters that hammered the U.S. East Coast in March and prolonged April cold in the nation’s midsection.

Visible satellite image composite of the four nor’easters of March 2018.

(Individual image source: NOAA/RAMMB/CIRA)

But the most recent SSW case was a cautionary tale against taking a stormier outlook as a slam dunk.

After the January 2019 SSW event, much of the eastern U.S., Europe and Siberia remained mild, as the Greenland block was absent.

“I think the background state of the atmosphere preceding and during the SSW currently is more like 2018 than 2019,” Cohen told weather.com referring to more blocking, a warmer Arctic and colder weather in Eurasia.

A study lead by Cohen coincidentally published during that same March 2018 plague of nor’easters found a warmer Arctic can lead to more severe winter weather in the eastern U.S.

But, Cohen likened this outlook to the NBA Draft: “Great potential doesn’t always translate into commensurate reality.”

Regardless of how the pattern evolves, we’re also headed for what has historically been the peak time of year for East Coast snowstorms, from late January through February.

So fasten your seatbelts – the rest of winter may be a wild ride in the U.S. and Europe.

FEMA Tool Calculates Risk for Every County in the Nation; Los Angeles Is at the Top

FEMA Tool Calculates Risk for Every County in the Nation; Los Angeles Is at the Top

At a Glance

  • FEMA rolled out the National Risk Index at the end of last year.

  • It puts three New York City-area counties at greater risk of tornadoes than Oklahoma County.

At first glance, the list of the 10 riskiest places for natural disasters in the U.S. seems counterintuitive.

Los Angeles County, with its risk of wildfires, droughts, heat waves and earthquakes, seems a logical choice to be high on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Risk Index.

Others near the top may leave you scratching your head.

For example, the New York City area, which has four counties in the top 11 — Bronx, New York, Kings and Queens — isn’t exactly known for being hit by hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires.

Those counties rank high because FEMA’s tool looks beyond the risk factors from 18 natural hazards. It reviews a community’s expected annual loss from natural hazards based on how many people and how much property could be affected. It also examines how vulnerable residents are and a community’s ability to recover from a disaster.

That’s why New York County, home to Manhattan, is considered at much greater risk from tornadoes than Oklahoma County, Oklahoma. Of course, Oklahoma County has seen many more tornadoes than Manhattan. But, according to the index, the expected annual loss from a tornado in New York County is $219 million while the annual loss from a tornado in Oklahoma County is expected to be $5.1 million.

“It’s that risk perception that it won’t happen to me,” Mike Grimm, who led FEMA’s mitigation and resilience programs, told the Associated Press. “Just because I haven’t seen it in my lifetime doesn’t mean it won’t happen.”

The National Risk Index, which was rolled out at the end of last year, has details for the more than 3,000 counties in the U.S. and calculates each county’s risk for hurricanes, tornadoes and floods, both coastal and riverine. It includes droughts, earthquakes, heat waves and cold waves, landslides, lightning, wildfires, tsunamis and volcanoes. It also includes avalanches, hail, ice storms, strong wind and winter weather.

“The index is intended to help users better understand the natural hazard risk of their respective areas or communities,” FEMA explains. “With improved understanding of natural hazard risk, communities can take action to reduce it.”

Eleven counties are listed at “very high” risk on the index.

1. Los Angeles County, California; Score: 100. Los Angeles County’s expected annual loss is very high, and its social vulnerability is relatively high while its community resilience is relatively low. Because of its population of nearly 10 million people and property value of more than $950 billion, any natural hazard can be costly. The county is at relatively high risk for drought, heat waves, ice storms, lightning, strong wind and tornadoes. It is at very high risk for earthquakes, riverine flooding and wildfires.

2. Bronx County, New York; Score: 85.63

3. New York County, New York; Score: 69.91

4. Miami-Dade County, Florida; Score: 58.25. The county at the tip of Florida is most at risk for hurricanes, cold waves, lightning, and riverine flooding.

5. Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania; Score: 57.72. The county surrounding the City of Brotherly Love is at very high risk for heat waves, ice storms, lightning, riverine flooding, strong winds, tornadoes and winter weather.

6. Kings County, New York; Score: 56.52

7. Riverside County, California; Score: 55.80

8. San Bernardino County, California; Score: 52.56

9. Dallas County, Texas; Score: 52.45. Among the hazards Dallas is at very high risk of are hail, lightning and riverine flooding.

10. St. Louis County, Missouri; Score: 52.35. The county along the Mississippi River is at very high risk of heat waves, ice storms, strong winds, tornadoes and winter weather. It also is at relatively high risk of earthquakes and cold waves.

11. Queens County, New York; Score: 49.97

The county with the lowest risk in the country is Loudoun County in Virginia. The suburb of Washington D.C. has a score of 0.

3 Weather Stories We Are Watching in the First Full Week of January

3 Weather Stories We Are Watching in the First Full Week of January

At a Glance

  • A cross-country system will spread into the central and eastern states mid to late week.

  • The Northwest will remain in a stormy pattern.

  • No arctic cold is expected in the first full week of the month.

The first full week of 2021 will have a cross-country weather system to track as the Northwest remains soaked. January’s reputation for biting cold air will also be lacking.

Here’s a quick look a what we are watching in the week ahead.

1.) Cross-Country System One to Watch For East Coast?

A storm system pushing into the Northwest on Monday will track across the country through late this week.

Light snow and rain from this system will reach the central U.S. by Wednesday, but this precipitation should only be a nuisance in most areas.

From there, this system might spread rain across the South Thursday into Friday. Snow or a mix of rain and snow is possible on its northern fringe through the Ohio Valley eastward to parts of Virginia and western and northern North Carolina.

(MAPS: Daily Forecast Timing)

Rain and snowfall amounts from this system should be light in most areas Wednesday into early Friday, as depicted in our outlook below.

By later Friday and Saturday, this system will cause an intensifying area of low pressure to form off the East Coast. The track of that low as of right now is forecast to remain far enough offshore to keep most of its significant rain, snow and wind impacts out to sea. However, it’s too soon to rule out a more impactful track that is closer to the coast, so check back to weather.com for updates in the week ahead.

Rain and Snow Outlook Wednesday Through Friday

(The “L” shows the general timing of this system.)

2.) Northwest Stays Soaked

The Northwest has been in a wet pattern of late and that looks to continue much of this week as a series of Pacific fronts move inland.

The first system will enter the Pacific Northwest on Monday, and it will likely have the heaviest rainfall and mountain snow of the week. Rain is expected as far south as Northern California.

That will be followed by another front pushing across generally the same areas on Wednesday. A third system might affect the region late in the week.

Rainfall totals over 3 inches are possible in coastal areas of the Pacific Northwest through the week ahead. Snowfall will be measured in feet in the Cascades.

These systems won’t be quite as soaking the farther south you head into California, including in the Bay Area. In addition, Southern California and Southwest won’t see any drought-helping rain and mountain snow from this active weather pattern.

Snow and Rain Forecast

3.) No Arctic Air

January marks the beginning of the coldest time of the year for a majority of the country, but the first full week of the month won’t have a widespread arctic blast to contend with.

A majority of the country will have high temperatures that are near or even above average for early January this week.

The average high in Minneapolis-St. Paul is about 24 degrees this time of year. Afternoon readings there should mostly be in the lower to mid-30s in the week ahead.

Chicago, New York, Atlanta and Dallas will all see highs that are a few degrees above average for early January during the first half of the week.

While it won’t be T-shirt weather in the nation’s northern tier this week, it certainly could be worse given the month’s reputation for biting arctic cold outbreaks.

New Year’s Storm to Bring Snow and Ice to Plains, Midwest and Interior Northeast

New Year’s Storm to Bring Snow and Ice to Plains, Midwest and Interior Northeast

At a Glance

  • A low-pressure system will track from Texas to the Great Lakes through New Year’s Day.

  • This storm will spread a wintry mess of snow and ice across parts of the Plains, Midwest and interior Northeast.

  • The snow and ice could contribute to travel problems in some areas.

A New Year’s storm will bring snow and ice to portions of the Plains, Midwest and interior Northeast, where it’s likely to hamper travel in multiple states.

An early-week system, named Winter Storm Ivy by The Weather Channel, is winding down with snowfall in the Great Lakes this morning.

Current Radar

We are now turning our attention to the next developing widespread wintry mess. This system will bring snow and/or ice to multiple states from the Plains and Midwest to the interior Northeast late Wednesday through Friday. It will also bring heavy rain and severe thunderstorms to parts of the South.

(MORE: Heavy Rain, Severe Storms Threat South This Week)

Here’s a look at the forecast timing and how much snow and ice to expect.

Forecast Timing

Snowfall will develop in parts of southwest Texas by late Wednesday, but the bulk of this storm’s impact will be New Year’s Eve and Day.

Thursday (New Year’s Eve)

During the daytime on New Year’s Eve, snow or a wintry mix is expected in portions of western Texas, possibly including Midland and San Angelo.

The northern fringe of this storm’s precipitation could also produce some wintry weather from parts of Oklahoma into the Ozarks and Ohio Valley

Thursday’s Forecast

The wintry mess of snow and ice will expand greatly by Thursday night.

Sleet and freezing rain could spread northward from the mid-Mississippi and Ohio valleys toward the southern Great Lakes.

Snow and a wintry mix will also spread northward in the Plains from western Texas into western and central Oklahoma, central and eastern Kansas and northern Missouri.

Thursday Night’s Forecast

Friday (New Year’s Day)

New Year’s Day should have an expansive area of wintry weather stretching from the Central Plains to the Great Lakes and interior Northeast.

Snowfall might affect areas from eastern Kansas and northern Missouri into parts of Iowa, Wisconsin and northern lower Michigan.

Freezing rain and sleet could impact travel from the southern Great Lakes to the interior Northeast. Some of these areas could eventually change to rain.

Friday’s Forecast

This storm should wind down on Saturday, but snowfall might linger in northern New England.

How Much Snow and Ice?

Light to moderate snowfall accumulations from this system will be most likely in a narrow strip from southwest Texas into parts of the Central Plains and upper Midwest, as depicted in the map below. This could include San Angelo, Texas, Wichita, Kansas, Kansas City and Milwaukee.

Snowfall Forecast

( )

Freezing rain from this storm could accumulate on tree branches, power lines and other surfaces from parts of the Central and Southern Plains and Midwest to the interior Northeast through New Year’s Day. Some locations will eventually see that precipitation change to rain or drizzle.

Ice accumulations could at least slicken untreated roads for a time from eastern Kansas and Missouri into portions of the southern Great Lakes and interior parts of Pennsylvania and New York. There could be some pockets with greater ice accumulations capable of triggering sporadic power outages, but it’s too early to know where that potential threat might be highest.