This had been such a snowless winter that TDOT hadn’t even been required to pretreat roadways due to the threat of a snow until Tuesday evening. When is the last time we made it to Jan. 19 without brine on the roads? When is the last time local schools made it to Jan. 20 without using a snow day?
I don’t know the answer to those questions, but obviously this started as the least-snowy winter the northern Cumberland Plateau has seen in many years…first with the record-setting warmth through the Christmas holiday, then with a much colder but relatively dry start to January.
Then Ol’ Man Winter moved in with a one-two punch that completely paralyzed the region.
After 4-to-5 inches of snow across the northern plateau on Wednesday, anywhere from 6-to-12 inches of snow fell on Friday into early Saturday, with the highest totals in the north and the lowest totals in the south.
This was a rare winter storm even by northern plateau standards — where more snow falls than anywhere else in Tennessee, outside the mountains of far eastern Tennessee. The snow drought of the ‘00s has obviously ended — we had three snows of 6+ inches in 2010-2011 and we’ve had a couple since then, after only one snowfall of 6+ inches from 1998 to 2010 — but this snow, at least on the northern end, will go down as the biggest snowfall in Scott County since the surprise dynamic cooling snowstorm of February ’98 that dumped well over a foot of snow and proved to be the most damaging winter storm in the county’s history. Combine Wednesday and Friday’s snow total, and this becomes what would appear to be the third-largest 72-hour snow total on record in Scott County, behind that ’98 storm and the Blizzard of ’93.
And it wasn’t completely unexpected. Shortly after New Years Day, as the current weather pattern unfolded over the eastern U.S., I commented in a post that the pattern was ripe for a major snow storm somewhere in the Mid-South. It took a while to get it, but it finally happened as the pattern was relaxing. This snow had been showing up on models fairly consistently for more than a week. (Just for future reference, the NAM model handled both snow events in Scott County this week much better than the usually-more-reliable GFS, in terms of actual accumulation amounts.) The gradient between lots of snow and almost no snow was also well modeled. Some models showed that gradient setting up right over Scott County, and that is indeed how it worked out, with a foot of snow on the north side of the county and a half-foot on the south side. Snow totals continued to drop off sharply further south, with less than an inch of snow in southern Morgan County.
So…with an ultra-rare one-two punch of snow-on-top-of-snow events now complete, when is the next one?
Answer: It’s gonna be a while.
The cold pattern that we’ve been in for the past several days is flipping even as we speak. The Arctic Oscillation, which spent the first half of January in negative territory, is rapidly reversing itself and headed into positive territory. The AO, remember, is an indicator of cold weather in our area, with a negative AO being more conducive for cold and a positive AO being more conducive for warmth.
All the snowpack will keep temperatures down some on Sunday from what they would otherwise be, but the warming trend will definitely begin. Raw data from the 12z GFS tops us out at 35 on Sunday, which is probably too cold, while model output statistics from the 12z GFS warm us to 44, which is probably too warm. The National Weather Service forecast takes the middle road, predicting a high of 38 on Sunday. A combination of the above-freezing temperatures and lots of sunshine will lead to a lot of snow-melting on Sunday. Not enough to put students back in school on Monday, but a lot nonetheless. And Monday will be even warmer, with temps in the 50s possible.
The pattern reversal will manifest itself nation-wide, with warmer temperatures in the East and colder temperatures in the West for at least the next couple of weeks. Again, this is not unexpected and has been coming. In a #snowatch post early in the week and in another last week, I noted that a pattern relaxation was coming as Mother Nature reshuffled the deck. That still looks to be the case. The warm temps on Monday won’t necessarily be indicative of what’s in store for the rest of the week, as somewhat cooler temperatures return after Monday, but models consistently warm us up even more next week. The GFS model, in particular, has been very consistent in projecting temperatures warming into the 60s for the first couple of days of February, and the milder pattern looks to stay in place for at least the first week of next month.
So, in other words, if you want more snow, it isn’t going to happen — at least measurable snow — for the next couple of weeks.
But, by the same token, I wouldn’t count on an early spring, either. The El Nino pattern that has dominated the past few months is eroding quickly, and the Arctic Oscillation looks like it could return to at least neutral territory — if not negative territory — by early February. We’ll have to wait and see how the pattern evolves, and there are plenty of question marks, but if past El Nino winters have taught us anything, it is that Ol’ Man Winter can really flex his muscles in the month of February. Whenever schools reopen next week, they’ll do so with plenty of built-in snow days still in their hip pocket, and it may be only a matter of time before they can use some of them.
Just don’t count on it happening in the next couple of weeks.