February 2, 2023

Dreaded Polar Vortex Drags Intense Freeze Over New England To End The Week

The much-maligned polar vortex will live up to its reputation over the next couple of days as some of the coldest temperatures on the planet dive south over New England on Friday and Saturday.

The polar vortex is a large-scale circulation that wraps around the Arctic Circle. It's strongest in the winter months, when it acts like a moat keeping the winter's coldest air confined to the far northern latitudes.

Every once and a while, this circulation will become unstable, creating troughs and upper-level lows that break off and head south. When this happens, it drags that bitterly cold air south right along with it.

A model image showing the upper-level pattern responsible for New England's deep freeze on Friday and Saturday. (Tropical Tidbits)

A fast-moving upper-level low—once part of the polar vortex circulation—swooping over eastern Canada is responsible for this impending blast of very cold air sagging into New England.

Temperatures will dive well below zero for many areas, with wind chill values in the double-digits below zero. The wind chill in Boston will dip below -30°F on Saturday morning, with wind chill values reaching the -40s in western Massachusetts. The National Weather Service predicts wind chill values all the way into the -60s for northern parts of New Hampshire and Maine.

(NWS Caribou)

Don't underestimate the risk posed by such low temperatures. This is dangerous cold, the kind that can cause serious injury in just a couple of minutes. Frostbite can develop on unprotected skin in as fast as two minutes with temperatures and wind chill values this cold.

It's not going to last long, thankfully.

The pattern is pretty progressive, so the upper-level low responsible for the extreme cold will move along in a hurry. A ridge will build in behind it, allowing temperatures to rebound to above-normal territory in time for next week.

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January 19, 2023

Enhanced Risk For Severe Storms Across Ohio Today, Because Of Course, It's January 19th

There's an enhanced risk for severe weather across much of Ohio today.

Of course.

Because that's just what you'd expect for the middle of January.

A low-pressure system moving across the Great Lakes region is responsible for all sorts of foul weather across the central U.S. this week. The system plastered a solid swath of snow from Denver to Duluth over the past couple of days.

Now that most of the wintry weather is north of the border in Ontario, we're left to deal with the volatile southern end of the storm today.

The core of the low will spend Thursday scooting across the Midwest in a hurry. Southerly winds feeding into the center of the low will drag warm, humid air from the south. The system's cold front will crash into this modestly unstable air, made a little more unstable by the amount of cold air aloft.

This setup will lead to a fast-moving line of severe thunderstorms developing along that cold front during the latter half of the afternoon. We'll see the squall line develop in central Indiana not long after noon, racing east into Ohio through the mid- to late-afternoon hours.

You can see a simulated radar image from the HRRR weather model at the top of this post, covering the 5:00 p.m. timeframe. 

A risk for severe weather covers about all of Ohio on Thursday afternoon, radiating out to include eastern Indiana, western Pennsylvania, and far northern Kentucky. Within that area is a bullseye of sorts, an enhanced risk—a three out of five on the categorical scale measuring the risk for severe storms—that includes Dayton and Columbus.

Damaging wind gusts are far and away what concerns the Storm Prediction Center the most with Thursday's storms. The enhanced risk is in effect for the potential for significant wind gusts of 75+ mph, which are plenty strong enough to knock down trees and power lines across the affected areas.

There's also a small—but not zero—risk for tornadoes in and around the enhanced risk. This kind of setup carries the risk of "kinks" developing along the leading edge of the squall line, which could spin up short-lived but fast-moving tornadoes.

Honestly, the most dangerous part of today's severe weather risk is the fact that it's January 19th.

Severe storms are more common in Alabama and Louisiana this time of year. Not so much in Ohio! Many folks across the affected areas won't be tuned-in to severe thunderstorm watches and warnings as these fast-moving storms approach.

If you live in the area, please let your family, friends, and neighbors know that there's a risk for rockin' storms today. If you know anyone in the area, drop a note on Facebook or Twitter or Mastodon or wherever that these storms are coming this afternoon.

Severe weather is dangerous any day, but it's even worse in the winter when most folks aren't on the lookout for watches and warnings.

The risk for severe weather will quickly diminish after sunset, and no more severe thunderstorms are in the forecast for the remainder of the week.

As it should be.

In January.

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January 4, 2023

California Flood Risk Ramps Up As Another Atmospheric River Washes Over West Coast

Widespread heavy rain, high winds, and many feet of mountain snows are on the way to California over the next couple of days as another powerful storm swirls off the coast.

This latest wash of heavy rain will lead to a heightened flood risk for much of coastal California, with many communities still cleaning up the damage from the prolific rains that fell over the weekend.

We're in the midst of an exceptionally unsettled stretch of weather across the West Coast as a series of potent low-pressure systems take aim at the region.

This week's atmospheric river will bring the risk for several inches of rain across a wide swath of coastal California. The Sierra Nevada will see very heavy snow, with areas above 5,000 feet piling up multiple feet of snow over the next few days.

Source: NWS/WPC

The Weather Prediction Center (WPC) issued a moderate risk for excessive rainfall for much of the day Wednesday. This means that there's at least a 40 percent chance of rain exceeding flash flood guidance, or rain falling fast enough to trigger flash flooding in certain areas. Moderate risks don't come around too often, so that's a strong sign that vulnerable areas will see dangerous conditions.

We'll see high winds accompany the heavy rainfall through Thursday. Much of California is plastered in high wind warnings as gusts will reach 40-60 mph in most areas. Higher elevations could see gusts up to 70 mph at times. Since the ground is soaked from recent and ongoing rains, the winds will likely lead to tree damage and power outages in spots.

It's not over once this storm moves along, either.

The WPC's latest precipitation outlook for the next seven days shows 10-15+ inches of rain falling on a huge swath of California through next week, with the heaviest precipitation focused on northern California and the mountains.

A continued train of storms will focus on California in the coming days, with about a day or two of spacing between each one. We're seeing this relentlessly wet pattern as a result of a powerful jet stream sagging pretty far down over the Pacific Ocean.

Source: Tropical Tidbits
This jet isn't moving very much, so it has the opportunity to pump out one storm after another as each trough breaks at the end of the jet like a wave crashing on the beach.

Additional strong systems could reach the coast by this weekend, early next week, and late next week.

Remain mindful of the dangers of flash flooding. It's impossible to tell how deep the water is until it's too late. It takes surprisingly little moving water to lift up a vehicle and carry it away. Most freshwater flooding deaths in the U.S. occur when people drive their vehicles into deep or moving waters. Sometimes, especially in a hilly state like California, the road may be completely washed out under the water.

If you're under a wind advisory or high wind warning, you're at risk for power outages. It'll take crews longer to restore power during bad weather.

Make sure you've got batteries and flashlights on hand so you can see in the dark without wasting your cell phone battery on the flashlight feature. Rechargeable cell phone battery packs are also a great investment—they're relatively cheap now and most can provide one or two boosts to a smartphone's charge.

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December 31, 2022

New Year's Winter Storm Threatens Blowing Snow, Severe Storms, Significant Warmth

A developing winter storm will tick almost every box on the hazards checklist to start the first week of the new year as a low-pressure system strengthens over the center of the country.

The system is over California right now, bringing plenty of much-needed rain to lower elevations and very heavy snowfall to the mountains. This low will traverse the Rockies this weekend, eventually emerging over the Plains on Monday as a fast-developing Colorado low.

We'll see widespread winter weather across northern sections of the Rockies and the Plains through Tuesday, with several feet of snow falling at the peaks and a decent, shovelable snowfall for areas like Denver, Boulder, and Cheyenne. Freezing rain and sleet are possible closer to the track of the low.

Snow and a wintry mix will continue into the Upper Midwest as the storm peaks in strength as it pushes into the Great Lakes on Tuesday.

Southerly winds pulling into the storm will drag warm, humid air deep into Canada as the low strengthens and moves through, bringing very warm temperatures to just about everyone in the eastern half of the U.S.

The calendar may say January, but the thermometer is going to scream April. Tuesday's highs will climb into the 70s as far north as West Virginia, with 60s reaching western New York—still buried under many feet of snow from last week's blizzards.

A few inches of rain could fall through early next week with this system. The rapid warmup and arrival of heavy rain could lead to flooding in areas where the ground is frozen or there's still significant snowpack from last week's storm and lake-effect bonanza.

Farther south, the system's cold front plowing into that warm and humid airmass will trigger a round of severe thunderstorms across the Deep South on Monday.

The greatest threat appears centered on the Arklatex region, with the threat stretching out to include Little Rock and Shreveport. These areas could see the threat for "potentially significant damaging gusts and a couple of strong tornadoes," the Storm Prediction Center said on Saturday.

Colder air will move in for a couple of days behind the system, but it's not going to last too long or get too cold. In fact, winter's deepest chill seems like it wants to chill out on the northern Plains for the next couple of weeks, sparing the rest of us with milder conditions through the first half of the month. (And even there it'll be warmer than normal.)

The Climate Prediction Center's latest outlook through January 13th tells the tale—decent odds of warmer-than-normal temperatures for almost everyone. Ahh, winter.

[Top Map: NOAA/WPC]

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December 21, 2022

What You Need To Know About This Dangerous Pre-Christmas Cold Snap & Snowstorm

It's pouring out of the northern Plains like an avalanche.

The temperature in Wheatland, Wyoming, on Wednesday dropped from 45°F at 9:50 a.m. local time to just 6°F by 10:30 a.m., falling further to -6°F by 12:50 p.m.

This week's remarkable crush of Arctic air will pick up speed as it hurtles toward the eastern two-thirds of the United States over the next couple of days.

Our cold front will race down the Plains through Thursday, the slug of frigid air curving eastward as a low-pressure system develops over the Midwest.
The WPC's forecast for the morning of Friday, December 23rd.

This low will slingshot the cold toward the eastern states on Thursday and into Friday morning, bitter air riding in on southwesterly winds for many folks courtesy of the vigorous flow spiraling around the center of the storm.

Many folks across the east will see Friday's high temperature happen either at midnight or during the early morning hours. This cold front will pack a punch all the way to the Atlantic, sending temperatures plummeting dozens of degrees in a matter of minutes.

The arrival of dangerous, life-threatening cold doesn't even begin to touch this pre-Christmas storm's other hazards.

Cold Temperatures

Extreme cold is nothing to scoff at. A cold snap like this can injure or kill hundreds of people through frostbite and hypothermia.

The same elderly, poor, unhoused, or chronically ill people who struggle through extreme summertime heat are vulnerable to frigid cold snaps like the one descending on the U.S. this week.

A vast swath of the country will face several straight days of subzero—and, for even more, subfreezing—temperatures heading into the Christmas weekend. That's cold for anyone no matter how acclimated you are to winter weather.

Unprotected skin can begin to freeze in as little as 30 minutes when temperatures or wind chill values dip below zero. Frostbite is possible in a short while with readings in the double-digits below zero.

Frigid temperatures will easily reach the Gulf Coast over the next couple of days, with morning low temperatures into the lower 20s spreading over the Florida Panhandle. Temperatures below freezing will reach the Orlando metro area, and Miami is expecting a chilly low temperature of 47°F by Christmas morning.

Wind chills will be even colder. Widespread wind chill warnings blanket the country from the Canadian to the Mexican borders.

No matter how much people fake-knowingly snicker at the idea, the wind chill isn't made up.

Scientists developed the wind chill by studying how cold temperatures and wind affect the human body. Gusty winds on a frigid day chill your skin faster than your body would otherwise lose heat if it wasn't windy out. A wind chill of -15°F means that the combination of cold air and gusty winds has the same effect on your body as an actual air temperature of -15°F.

Take this cold snap seriously. Cold air is bad enough, but it'll be life-threatening for much of the country when you factor in the winds.

Flash Freeze

Most folks are going to see rain before the cold front roars overhead and temperatures plunge below freezing. Those wet roads and sidewalks won't have a chance to dry off before the frigid air arrives, leading to a dangerous and widespread risk for a flash freeze.

We're used to dealing with patches of black ice during the winter months, but a flash freeze is like if everything turned into black ice. A flash freeze on a major highway can cause significant pileup accidents.

If you're travelling or heading home from work or school over the next couple of days, make sure you're where you need to be once the cold temperatures hit—otherwise, you might get stuck wherever you are for a while.

Blizzard Conditions

Areas where precipitation follows the arrival cold temperatures will see heavy snow.

The heaviest snow will fall across the Great Lakes where the extreme temperature gradient between the relatively warm water and bitterly cold air will allow the lake-effect snow machine to crank at full capacity, especially off of Superior and Michigan.

Several inches of snow are possible across a widespread area from the central Plains toward the Northeast. It's not going to be a blockbuster snowstorm away from the Lakes, but the very cold temperatures will make this a fine, powdery snow—perfect for blowing around.

Very strong winds will develop as the cold air floods in and the accompanying low-pressure system strengthens over the Great Lakes. Even if you're only expecting a few inches of snow from this system, the powdery snow will easily blow around in the blustery winds, leading to whiteout or near-whiteout conditions for a very large area.

NWS wind gust forecast for 10:00 a.m. EST on Friday, Dec. 23, in knots. (For reference, 30 knots is about 35 mph, and 40 knots is 46 mph.)

It's likely that driving will be nearly impossible at times throughout the central U.S. heading into this weekend. If you can avoid it, don't go driving anywhere when it's snowing. You really, really, really don't want to get stuck on an impassable highway when temperatures are near or below zero.

It's likely that the snow and winds will cause widespread delays and cancellations at the region's major airports, including Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Toronto. Bad weather affecting major hubs around a holiday is a recipe for hundreds (if not thousands) of delayed or cancelled flights.

Anticipate having to make alternate arrangements in a hurry, even if you're not flying through the affected areas. All planes have to come from somewhere, and if your plane gets stuck up the line at a snowed-in hub, you're not flying anywhere anytime soon.

Beware The Risk For Power Outages

The same high winds that will lead to dangerously cold wind chills and blizzard conditions could also lead to power outages. There aren't really any good times for the power to go out, but the power going out during a life-threatening cold snap is exceptionally bad.

Make sure you've got enough to eat, flashlights to feel around at night, rechargeable battery packs for cell phones, and plenty of blankets just in case the high winds (or demand on the grid) cause power outages.

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December 18, 2022

100+°F Temperature Gradient Likely As Extreme Pre-Christmas Cold Snap Hits U.S.

You know it's going to be a heck of a cold front when there's a 99-degree temperature difference between Glasgow, Montana, and Miami, Florida, in the middle of the day.

A brutal blast of Arctic air will pour south out of Canada this week and plunge almost all of the eastern two-thirds of the United States into an extended cold snap.

That Glasgow-Miami difference isn't even the worst of it. It's likely that we'll see a >100°F spread between the warmest high temperature and the coldest high temperature in the U.S. at some point on Thursday or Friday.

Temperatures won't climb much above the single digits, let alone the freezing mark, over a vast swath of the country for a couple of days this week.

The P***r V****x

This pre-Christmas cold spell comes courtesy of a splintered piece of the polar vortex—that terrifying, mythical wintertime creature that lurks in the "favorites" list of every broadcast news computer's scary graphics folder.

The polar vortex is an ever-present belt of winds that wraps around the North Pole, growing to its peak strength every winter. This circulation keeps winter's coldest air confined to the Arctic when it's strong and well-behaved.

SOURCE: Tropical Tidbits

However, the circulation becomes unstable from time to time, allowing troughs or upper-level lows to swoop down to lower latitudes. These "pieces" of the polar vortex bring bitterly cold air south with them. 

Our looming surge of Arctic air will come courtesy of an upper-level low that was once a part of the polar vortex's broader circulation over far northern Canada.

Not only will this low pull frigid air as far south as Florida and southern Texas, but this setup will generate a low-pressure system at the surface.

This developing late-week storm will bring a major bout of wind and wintry precipitation just in time to mess up everyone's holiday travel plans across the Midwest, Great Lakes, and Northeast.

The Cold

Subzero temperatures were firmly locked in place across the northern Plains on Sunday night, and temperatures will remain in negative territory for a full week from the northern Rockies to the Upper Midwest.

Wind chill values will drop well below -40°F during the worst of the cold across this region. That's dangerous cold even for the hardiest Plains resident who boasts about their fortitude. Actual air temperatures below -30°F, and wind chill values below -40°F, can lead to frostbite and hypothermia in a matter of minutes. It's serious stuff.

This unpleasantly cold air will steadily march southward over the next couple of days, forcing daytime highs to remain well below the freezing mark—even into the single digits or below zero—as we head through the middle of the week.

Thursday will see the most extreme temperature gradient across the country as our big storm system begins to develop across the Midwest.

Miami will bask in a high of 81°F on Thursday afternoon, while Glasgow, Montana, will only hit a balmy -18°F.

Overnight lows into Friday morning will be downright rude, with -30s widespread in the Dakotas, subzero readings into Oklahoma, and single digits as far south as northern Mississippi and Texas' Big Bend region.

It'll finally take until the night before Christmas for the cold front to reach the Atlantic coast, and all through the country it'll be...really darn cold.

Temperatures will dip into the 40s down in the Everglades, and lows on Christmas morning will even get into the lower 20s across the northern Gulf Coast. (22°F is frigid for Mobile, Alabama, y'all.)

Conditions will gradually improve and warm toward some semblance of normal during that vaporwave week between Christmas and New Year's when existence is a simulation and nobody actually gets anything done except for eating cookies and reading best-of-2022 listicles.

The Storm

Ohhh, the storm.

You've probably heard about it on Facebook or Mastodon or the failing tweeting bird app in the past week:

"It's a blizzard. It'll be a behemoth. It'll rival your grandparents' best childhood memories."

It's going to be a doozy for somebody, for sure. If you live along the East Coast, though...it's probably not gonna be you.


Models this weekend came into a bit of agreement that this low will track along or west of the Appalachian Mountains, which is great news for snow lovers in the Midwest and Great Lakes, and a nightmare scenario for the same group of folks along the I-95 corridor.

It's still too early to call out specifics like snow totals, ice accretions, or even which cities are going to get walloped the hardest. (It's at least four days away. For real. C'mon.) But the signals are all there that this is likely going to be a high-impact event for lots of major cities, including Chicago, Detroit, and Toronto.

Forecasters are already starting to use phrases like "blizzard conditions" for some areas, so this storm—regardless of its precise track—will have significant impacts on cross-country travelers heading out by road, rail, or plane.

Keep in mind that foul weather at air traffic hubs will have downstream ripple effects that affect flights that won't ever touch a snowy runway. (Every plane comes from somewhere else, after all.)

We'll have a better idea of what that storm will look like as we make our way through the week. Models will jump back and forth with its location a bit. Remember that only a few dozen miles to the east or to the west can have huge implications for the impacts of a winter storm.

The best thing to do now is to make flexible travel plans (a polite way of putting it) and try keep a jolly demeanor about whatever blows our way. We'll remember this ordeal fondly come July when we're breaking all-time heat records again.

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December 12, 2022

Major Storm Threatens Blizzard, Ice Storm, Tornadoes, Heavy Rain...You Name It

The first real rip-roarin' winter storm of the season is cranking up over the Plains states this evening.

The storm will kick into high gear heading into Tuesday, bringing blizzard conditions and a full-on ice storm to parts of the High Plains, while folks across parts of the south have to deal with the risk for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.

A fast-developing low over northeastern Colorado will strengthen over the next 12-24 hours as a strong jet stream moves across the Rockies.

This large system will have a little bit of everything for everyone—it'll be one of those classic winter storms that puts on a gorgeous curly display when we gawk at satellite imagery on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The northern side of the storm will have plenty of cold air for heavy snow and freezing rain to fall over the northern Plains.

Forecasters expect the worst conditions to cover communities from northeastern Colorado into the Dakotas.

It's not heavily populated terrain by any means, but it'll be a disruptive storm for folks who live in the area, and it'll make life difficult for cross-country travelers by road and rail.

The latest forecast from the National Weather Service calls for widespread totals of more than a foot of snow across the hardest-hit areas, with more than two feet of snow possible for some (un)lucky towns, especially in South Dakota.

Closer to the track of the low itself, warm air nosing its way into the lower-levels of the atmosphere will lead to a prolonged freezing rain event.

An ice storm warning is in effect for parts of eastern South Dakota, including Brookings, for the potential for 0.25 to 0.50 inches of ice accretion. That's more than enough solid ice to bring down tree limbs and power lines.

A solid stream of warm, moist air pumping north from the Gulf will fuel a widespread risk for severe thunderstorms through midweek. The greatest risk will play out on Tuesday, with the Storm Prediction Center issuing an enhanced risk for severe weather (a 3 on the 1-5 scale) centered on much of Louisiana.

The biggest concern with Tuesday's storms will be the risk for tornadoes. The environment may be capable of producing significant, long-track tornadoes. If you're in or near the region at greatest risk, keep an ear out for severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings and have safe shelter nearby you can reach in a hurry.

Snow, ice, and tornadoes aren't this storm's only risks. We're looking at the risk for several inches of rain across the southeastern states over the next couple of days. This steady march of heavy rain will beef up the potential for flash flooding in vulnerable areas.

This storm will spin itself out (to use the technical term) by Thursday, with its remnant moisture going on to feed the development of another system along the East Coast by the end of the week.

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November 28, 2022

Strong Tornadoes Are Possible Across The Mid-South On Tuesday

We're staring down a classic late-fall severe weather setup across parts of the southern United States on Tuesday, and forecasters are concerned about the potential for significant tornadoes in the Mid-South as storms fire up through the day.

A low-pressure system developing over the Midwest will drag warm, moist air north from the Gulf of Mexico. A cold front will crash into this instability, providing the spark needed for thunderstorms to fire up across the lower Mississippi River Valley.

There's enough wind shear through the atmosphere to allow some of those thunderstorms to grow into supercells. Forecasters with the Storm Prediction Center are worried there will be enough instability and 'spin' in the atmosphere to produce strong, long-lived tornadoes across the region.

Anticipating the threat, the SPC issued a moderate risk for severe weather across parts of Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, and southwestern Tennessee for the day on Tuesday. A moderate risk is a 4 out of 5 on the scale measuring the risk for severe thunderstorms on a given day. Significant, long-lived tornadoes are also possible throughout the enhanced risk zone that covers larger portions of those four states. 

Thunderstorms will fire up during the late morning hours, peaking in intensity and coverage through Tuesday afternoon. As we usually see during a setup like this, the storms will likely begin to merge and evolve into one or more squall lines as we close in on the evening hours, transitioning the threat over to damaging straight-line winds with a risk for embedded tornadoes.

Given the potential for supercells, the biggest concern here is the potential for one or more significant tornadoes. The SPC issued the moderate and enhanced risks almost entirely based on Tuesday's tornado threat. The black hatching indicates the risk for strong, long-lived tornadoes. A 10-15% chance for tornadoes doesn't seem like much, but it's all relative considering the average odds of seeing a tornado on any given day is basically nil.
The greatest chance of tornadoes at the end of November is right around where we're expecting severe weather on Tuesday. (NOAA/SPC)
Severe weather is common in the southern U.S. during the late fall and winter months, and it's for pretty much the same reason we see a huge uptick in severe weather during the spring months. Spring and fall are both transition seasons that strengthen the jet stream, giving way to robust low-pressure systems that can foster severe thunderstorms.

Make sure you have a way to receive warnings the moment they're issued. Check your phone and ensure that emergency alerts are activated for tornado warnings. These free push alerts may be annoying, but they're proven lifesavers and can alert you to a tornado warning for your location before many other apps or devices do. Seconds count when a dangerous storm is barreling toward you.

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