A pattern change is in the works; what will it mean for cold and snow?

Last week, I wrote about how Winter 2019-2020 has been a dud so far, and how we’re going to be at risk of it ending without ever getting started if we don’t start to see signs of a pattern change emerge soon.

Well, as we enter the second half of January, a pattern change is emerging, though it isn’t yet clear what that’s going to mean for sustained cold, or snow chances. Both have been MIA so far this winter.

After very warm temperatures again on Wednesday, January 15, a cold front is going to move through the region and begin to usher in colder air, and it’s going to be much colder by this weekend, after a stronger cold front passes through on Saturday. The high on Sunday looks to be right around the freezing mark, and then it gets even colder. By the first of next week, we could see isolated locations in favored areas of the northern Cumberland Plateau flirt with single-digit temperatures for the first time this winter.

This is probably the most impressive shot of cold air that we’ve seen so far this year. There won’t be a threat of snow accompanying it, but it’s still going to feel a lot different than what we’ve been accustomed to in a January that’s running a whopping 10 degrees above normal so far.

(Regarding January, here are some interesting numbers through the first half of the month: We’re exactly 10.0 degrees above average [54.2 degrees], and we’ve received exactly twice the normal amount of rain [4.10 inches]. The pattern change means we should be somewhat drier the rest of the month, so we aren’t going to flirt with record rainfall. And with temperatures turning much cooler, we should also get back in line in that regard, as well. But if the month ended today, it would be the warmest January on record, beating out 1974.)

The cold wave that is going to settle in on Sunday isn’t going to be sustained, and we’ll be well into a warming trend by the middle of next week. But we aren’t going to return to temps in the 60s and 70s anytime soon.

As for what happens in the extended pattern, only time will tell. The teleconnections are pretty much neutral across the board. I wrote last week about the positive North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), the positive Arctic Oscillation (AO) and the negative Pacific North American (PNA) ridge index, and how all of those lend themselves towards warmer-than-average conditions in our region. Now the NAO, AO and PNA are all trending towards neutral territory. The Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO), which was also briefly touched on in the last post, is moving into more favorable regions but not the regions that correspond to the coldest weather for our region — at least not yet. All of that adds up to a weather pattern that doesn’t really have a driver. At face value, you could say there are equal chances for above-average or below-average temperatures as long as this pattern is in place, with no strong signs for either extreme warmth or extreme cold. In such a pattern, if I had to bet for one or the other, I’d bet for cold over warmth.

Right now, the next storm system looks like it’ll impact us around January 24-26. There have been some winter storm signals with this one; it’s primarily going to depend on the track of the storm, assuming it does develop. However, the cold air that’s going to be in place in advance of the storm will be rapidly eroding, and at first glance there doesn’t appear to be an impressive reinforcing shot of arctic air coming down the pipes, so don’t be surprised if this storm winds up too far north, or without enough cold air, to produce snow for our region.

The next shot of real cold air after the week upcoming looks like it’ll settle in around January 28-31. That may again be a transient shot of cold air without a turn to sustained cold in the Mid-South region.

So the bottom line is that conditions are becoming more favorable for winter weather that actually feels like winter. But if you’re looking for snow, there’s still nothing on the horizon worth talking about as we move rapidly through the heart of winter. Remember, our average daily high is 44 degrees on January 15, but it’s increasing slightly every day. By February 1, it’ll be 46 degrees. By February 10, it’ll be 48 degrees. And by February 18, it’ll be 50 degrees. So if you don’t want cold or snow, take heart. Winter may be finally showing up, but spring is right around the corner.

Ben Garrett is a journalist from East Tennessee. He is publisher of the Independent Herald, a weekly newspaper serving the Big South Fork region of the Cumberland Plateau, with a sideline in website development and digital marketing. He is also an erstwhile blogger.

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