A winter storm is taking shape for the entire state of Tennessee and greater Mid-South region for early next week, with several inches of snow possible, followed by brutally cold temperatures.
The general time frame is Tuesday morning, with current timing indicating the start of accumulating snow shortly before dawn, continuing through the morning hours here on the Cumberland Plateau.
The setup: A warming trend is in store over the next several days, with temperatures possibly getting into the low 50s on Monday afternoon. But an arctic frontal boundary is going to be approaching Tennessee from the northwest, delivering arctic air.
Unlike many of the cold fronts we see here in East Tennessee, this one won’t be associated with a surface low pressure storm system. In those situations, we typically see a lot of rain before the colder air arrives, with a changeover to a little snow at the end, as the storm system pulls away from the region. In this case, we’re looking at a situation where the atmospheric dynamics caused by the sharply cooling temperatures will result in precipitation, primarily in the form of snow.
Precipitation may begin as rain late Monday night, but should quickly change over to snow as the colder air arrives. There won’t be a lot of moisture to work with, but with rapidly cooling temperatures in the snow-growth region of the atmosphere, well above the surface, we’re going to be looking at snowfall ratios that are greater than the standard 10:1 — that means this won’t be the kind of snow that sticks to trees and makes for great snowmen and snowball fights, but rather the snow that the old-timers used to refer to as “dry snow,” because it has less moisture content. While the snow may have less moisture content, that means a little bit of moisture can go a lot further in terms of accumulation, and we may see several inches of accumulation if this system pans out the way it appears it might.
As of right now, the best guess is for 3-5 inches of snow here on the Cumberland Plateau. It wouldn’t surprise me to see more than that, if this system develops as forecast models are currently indicating it might . . . but, of course, this is still the Mid-South, so it also wouldn’t surprise me too much to see things change and cause us to wind up with less than that.
Brutally cold air will settle in behind the frontal boundary. It’s likely that we don’t get out of the teens on Wednesday afternoon, with sub-zero temperatures Thursday morning. Right now, it looks like Thursday morning could be in the -4 to -6 range, perhaps slightly colder.
Every student and school teacher has been hankering for a few days out of school — and while I’m usually the first to poke fun, even in a winter like this one, which has been relatively snowless, absenteeisms are rising due to illness and a few days out of school wouldn’t hurt. Obviously if this were to pan out the way it looks like it might, schools would be closed for all of next week after Monday, with temperatures not getting back above freezing until next weekend — if then. However, keep in mind that we’re still the better part of a week out and there are a lot of things that can change between now and then. I feel confident that we’re going to see a big blast of cold air settle into our region; that’s looked likely for the end of January for about 10 days now. And I’m pretty confident we’ll see some snow to accompany the colder air. Will we see as much snow as it currently appears we might? Well, I guess we’ll have to wait and see. The picture should become much clearly over the next 48 hours.