Students in Scott County got to stay home on Tuesday, January 29. It was just the second “snow day” of the year for students in the Scott County School System. Almost unbelievably, it was the first snow day of the year for students in the Oneida Special School District. In a winter that was supposed to be colder and snowier than normal, Oneida students made it as late in the season as anyone can remember without missing a day of school.
And here’s the kicker: if schools hadn’t opted preemptively to close classes for Tuesday, it’s likely that first snow day wouldn’t have been used even then. Although the National Weather Service had downgraded the forecast to just 1-2 inches of snow by late Monday, it didn’t snow that much — not even close. There wasn’t hardly enough snow to call a “dusting” or a “coating” in much of Scott County, and road conditions weren’t a concern.
So, as this snowless and — for snow lovers, at least — frustrating winter continues, what’s next?
Well, not much snow — at least not anytime soon.
The region will begin to emerge from the deep freeze on Thursday. That’s the first sign that something is amiss this season. Even when the long-advertised polar vortex finally dropped into the continental U.S., it got cold in the Mid-South for just a couple of days — and not spectacularly cold, as many would’ve expected — before temperatures began to moderate.
As we emerge from this cold spell, we’re going to enter a mild spell. We’ll be above freezing on Thursday, in the 40s on Friday, in the 50s on Saturday and we may see the 60s by Sunday. Get this — after a cold front moves through on Monday, we could even hit 70 degrees next Tuesday!
Like the cold, the warmth won’t last. The colder air is scheduled to return by the latter part of next week. February 7-10 look cold, but not impressively so. Then, after that, temperatures moderate into the 50s and perhaps even the 60s again.
So, in a nutshell, the first half of February looks warm.
Here’s the thing about winter in the Mid-South: January and early February are Ol’ Man Winter’s wheelhouse. After that, the sun is getting quite high into the sky, which makes it difficult for any snow that does accumulate to have a lot of staying power. The truly cold air is starting to repeat towards the arctics, and the storm track is on the verge of tracking back to the north again. In other words, winter is starting to wind down.
If we get through the warm spell that looks to kick in after February 10, we’ll be past Valentines Day and into the middle of February. At that point, it’s usually downhill to spring.
You might notice I emphasized “usually”, and I did that for a reason. That’s not always the case, and you only have to remember 2015 to realize that.
If you don’t remember 2015, that was the year of the Cumberland Plateau ice storm. It wasn’t too bad on the north end; it was at its worst in Cumberland and Putnam counties. But we did see damaging ice accumulation in western Scott County, and we really saw cold temperatures — we dropped to a stunningly cold -13 on February 20, 2015 — one of the coldest temperatures ever recorded in Oneida…which was especially noteworthy considering how late in the season it occurred. The day before, Oneida dropped to zero and only got to 12 degrees during the afternoon.
If you read this blog often, you might recall that I made a comparison to 2015 a few weeks ago. The seasonal atmospheric setup this winter is not unlike the winter of 2015. In fact, February 2015 started off much like February 2019 is going to start — warm. We hit 63 degrees on February 8. But when the bottom fell out in the middle of the month, it stayed cold. The month ended up 10 degrees below normal, overall. And we saw a whopping 14 inches of snow — more than four times the amount we normally experience in February.
I’m not going to go out on a limb and say that we’re going to see a repeat of February 2015, but there are some signs that winter will return with a vengeance the second half of February. We’ll just have to wait and see how things shape up over the next couple of weeks. If things do go south like they did in February 2015, you better enjoy the next couple of weeks…because the few weeks after that will be downright miserable.
So far, the Madden-Julian Oscillation, a measurement of warm air that circles the earth in the tropics and influences global weather patterns, has been stuck in unfavorable phases, which has helped to prevent cold air from locking itself into place here in the Mid-South. There are signs that it’ll move into a more favorable phase over the next couple of weeks. If that happens, it’s game on for winter.
If that doesn’t happen, local students are going to end the season with a lot of snow days still in the bank — as in, almost all of them.