Still no sign of change for the winter that isn’t a winter

We took to calling Winter 2018-2019 the Winter That Wasn’t, and it looks like 2019-2020 is going to be another one of those winters. We’re about to enter the final third of what is officially the winter season, from a meteorological perspective, with still no signs of a true winter-like pattern on the horizon.

The question that seems to be on everyone’s minds is: “Is it ever going to snow?” And the answer is still: “Not anytime soon.”

January hasn’t been exceptionally warm, but it has been quite warm. The second half of the month was cooler than the first half of the month, as we had anticipated it would be. After the first half of the month, we were staring at one of the warmest starts to January on record in Oneida. As it stands, with two days left to go until the calendar flips to November, we’re averaging about 6 degrees warmer than normal for the month. That’s in spite of the arctic blast that dropped temperatures well into the teens from January 20 all the way through January 23.

In fact, 12 of the last 13 days have started off below freezing, with hard freezes on nine of those mornings. In spite of that, and mostly because of the warm start to the month, our average nighttime temperature has been 30.3 degrees — nearly 7 degrees above the normal January nightly low of 23.5 degrees.

In fact, January is going to come real close to featuring cooler temperatures than November, which almost never happens. Our average temperature in January, with two days remaining, has been 40.2 degrees. The average in November was 40.8 degrees.

I noted a couple of weeks ago, as we entered mid January and the warm pattern began to break down, that we were entering a neutral setup, as far as the teleconnections are concerned, meaning that just about anything could happen. As it’s turned out, “neutral” has meant “average.” The second half of January featured very average temperatures, with no extreme warmth and no extreme cold.

Now, as the calendar prepares to flip to February, it looks like the North Atlantic Oscillation will trend from neutral territory back into positive territory, and the Arctic Oscillation could spike into extreme positive territory. That’s not a good combination for folks looking for cold air in the Southeastern U.S. Additionally, the Pacific North American Ridge index remains fairly flat. And the Madden-Julian Oscillation forecast remains in unfavorable stages.

Add all of that together, and it’s a pretty solid indicator that we won’t see any arctic air outbreaks or snowstorms in the Mid-South for the next couple of weeks. And, that’s exactly what the medium-range models are showing. The GFS model, for example, had been showing an arctic outbreak about a week into February (or about the end of next week). It has taken that off the board, and it looks like average to above-average temperatures will reign supreme through the middle of February. That means highs primarily in the 40s and 50s, with lows primarily in the upper 20s and 30s.

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center reflects this in its forecast as well, projecting above-average temperatures for the Mid-South for the next 14 days, and keeping cold air confined to the northern latitudes for the next 3-4 weeks.

So, now that we can be reasonably sure what to expect into mid February — then what? Well, snow can and does occasionally happen in late February and even March, as I’ve pointed out multiple times this winter. Anyone who’s older than 30 well remembers the Blizzard of ’93. But, from a climatological perspective, chances for appreciable snow began to decline quickly as we go through February. The sun angle gets a little higher every day, which means lengthening daylight and warmer temperatures, and it also helps limit accumulation whenever snow does occur.

When the calendar flips to February 1 on Saturday, the average daily high in Oneida will be 46 degrees. Just one week after that, it’ll be 48, and one week after that it’ll be 49. That’ll put us at Valentines Day, or about the end of the current two-week outlook. In the next two weeks after that, our average temperature will increase another 4 degrees, to 53 degrees by March 1.

It’s still too soon to say winter is officially over, but chances for sustained cold and snow aren’t looking very good. With trees beginning to bud and flowers beginning to emerge from the soil, it’s soon going to be time to start worrying about the possibilities of a premature spring and a late, damaging freeze — which wouldn’t be altogether uncommon in the type of pattern we’re in.

One thing that does look for sure: our sufficiently wet pattern will continue. Current projections are for another 3-4 inches of rain between now and Valentines Day.

Ben Garrett

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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