As I expressed in my last article and on the Facebook page, we are about to enter into an active pattern that’s going to make things extremely interesting. For several days now, I have discussed with several of my colleagues that I strongly felt that the Southern Plains could be dealing with a potentially major winter storm by the end of this week/early weekend, but I’ve been quite vague in my updates to the public simply because it has been highly uncertain on how all of this is going to play out.
I want to be very upfront by saying that there is still a level of high uncertainty, but after studying and analyzing the forecast models and the expected trends for the upcoming days, it’s really beginning to look like the Southern Plains could be dealing with a major ice storm from Thursday night going into Saturday morning. There are still a lot of unanswered questions that will determine whether this is more of a minor event or something that could end up being a major ice storm for the area.
As I’ve mentioned for several days now, we have a strong Canadian high pressure system that is going to push into the United States and give us another shot of really cold, Arctic air. A cold front is going to swing south into the Southern Plains later in the week, which starts moving into the panhandle of Texas and northwest Oklahoma on midday Thursday and through central Oklahoma by that evening. The cold air will continue to push further to the south on Friday and Saturday, and given the amount of moisture that could be moving through the area around the same time, could set up the classic ice storm.
One of the major wildcards in all of this is how much moisture will be in place over the area, which is making for a difficult forecast. The NAM has been most aggressive with precipitation totals giving many areas in Oklahoma and Texas well over 3 inches of precipitation. If that were to occur, parts of northern Texas and Oklahoma would be dealing with a crippling ice storm, and major power outages and disruptions to travel would be expected. The latest European model is not quite as aggressive with precipitation totals but still gives the southeastern half of Oklahoma into Texas an impressive 1.5 to 2.5 inches of precipitation, which would still cause a major ice storm for the regions that have the cold air in place. The GFS is much more conservative on its totals, but some of the GFS ensembles are also giving the area a lot of precipitation. With that said, some ensembles keep the area mostly dry.
All of this is due to an upper level low that will be spinning around in the southwestern United States and pumping precipitation into the area. The cold air will be shallow at first with warmer air above the surface, which is why this will be a freezing rain event and not a snow event. For southern Kansas into northern Oklahoma, there could be a changeover to sleet where the colder air should deepen as time goes on. Another uncertainty is how quickly some of the more southern areas will transition from rain to freezing rain. If the majority of the precipitation falls as rain before the colder air moves in, this event would be less of a hassle for the more southern regions.
As you can see, there are a lot of uncertainties, which is why I love watching these kinds of systems! And if you think the next few days are going to be bad, just wait till early next week. That upper level low is going to come east, and the Southern Plains could get pounded with snow, sleet, and freezing rain depending on where you are at. Winter is approaching quickly, and we are setting the stages of what I expect to be a very exciting and active winter. As we get close to Thanksgiving, the East Coast states could be dealing with a big winter event also. Everything is getting so exciting!
I hope everyone has a great Wednesday, and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook if you don’t already.
Matthew Holliday (Curriculum Vitae - Resume) is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma, where he completed a B.S. in Meteorology and a B.S. in Geographic Information Science. He completed his master's degree in meteorology and climatology at Mississippi State University and is currently pursing a Ph.D. in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.