Let me just go ahead and get this out there for anyone who may be wondering. We are about to set up for what looks like to be one of the coldest winters in decades for the central and eastern United States. We have been studying this upcoming winter since this summer and are highly confident that parts of the United States will experience temperatures well below average and potentially record breaking in many areas. Not only will many have to battle the bitter cold, but there will be many regions that will get copious amounts of snow causing hazardous road conditions, loss of electricity, and flight delays.
January has already started out very cold for many in the United States, and once we get into the first full week of January, we are going to be dealing with what could end up being a potentially record-breaking Arctic outbreak. This will feature about 3 to 5 days of bitter cold from the Plains to the Ohio River Valley to the Northeast and extend into areas of the Deep South. Although the United States has already had several Arctic outbreaks so far this season, this will be the strongest and most newsworthy outbreak yet. Many areas will get temperatures that they have not had in decades, and some areas will get record low temperatures. This will end up being a dangerous Arctic outbreak that should not be taken lightly. This cold air will push particularly far to the south and will likely kill crops in many areas that typically do not experience this kind of cold, even in the winter months.
Despite how severe this Arctic outbreak may end up being, it is not going to “set in” for the longterm. Temperatures will “moderate” across the central and eastern United States after this push of severe cold moves through, and we will likely be dealing with normal and maybe even above normal temperatures across the central and eastern U.S. During this time, the western U.S. may experience below average temperatures. However, all of this will be short-lived, and as we move into middle January, the central and eastern United States could lock into a cold pattern that would bring long-term cold, lasting well into February.
Don’t be tempted into thinking that the worst of winter is going to be over once we get past the first full of week of January because in reality, it will just be getting started. As I’ve mentioned several times, this Arctic outbreak next week could potentially be historic, so any warming that occurs afterwards will seem like a huge warmup relative to the cold that we will have just experienced. If you haven’t picked up on this already, our weather from now till the middle of January could be characterized by a lot of ups and downs, but beyond that point, I’m thinking that we will lock into a very cold pattern for the central and eastern United States. How many times have I said that already? A lot, so it’s very important to note!
From middle to late January going into February, bitter cold air and snow will be a common theme from the Plains down to the Deep South on up to the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Areas that rarely get snow and ice will likely get it in this time frame. The Western U.S. will likely be experiencing above average temperatures and drier weather during this same time. Damage to crops will be common in the Deep South, so this will definitely not be a good winter for the farmers in Florida. Ridging will likely be building over Alaska during this time with blocking over Greenland. The NAO/AO will be negative and the polar vortex will be weak, which will likely result in the splitting of the vortex. This will cause the cold, Arctic air to funnel down into the central and eastern United States, and because of the MJO phase that we’ll likely be in at that time, ridging will be occurring over the West. If we do indeed get a pattern like this to set up, which is currently strongly being indicated, this pattern will lock in and will give us a winter that we haven’t experienced in decades.
I have also accounted for the lower sunspot activity and the above average autumn snow cover over Siberia, which all indicate a colder winter for the central and eastern U.S. Snowfall will be above average particularly for the eastern U.S., and as I stated earlier, many areas could get snow that typically do not get it. If you like cold and snow, I’ve got a feeling that many of you are going to finally get the winter that you’ve been waiting for.
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Matthew Holliday 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 is currently pursing his master's degree in meteorology and climatology at Mississippi State University. Matthew founded Firsthand Weather in 2010 as a senior in high school and maintained the site through his undergraduate career. Research that was conducted by Matthew while at OU involved determining the synoptic environment in which various types of wave clouds (including vertically propagating waves and trapped waves) develop in Boulder, Colorado and Norman, OK. Matthew also did research on spatial changes in tornado activity across the United States . The goal of this study was to determine if spatial changes in tornado activity had occurred and if those changes could be linked to changes in average surface dew point temperature. Matthew has completed coursework in dynamics, thermodynamics, cloud physics, calculus and differential equations, statistics, remote sensing, GIS, synoptic meteorology, and mesoscale meteorology. His goal is to provide his audience with a deeper understanding of what drives our weather and climate, while making it easy and enjoyable to learn.