ITHACA, N.Y. — Statistically speaking, we are at the coldest time of the year. The average high is 31°F, the average low a frosty 15°F. This week will be seasonable, with light to moderate snow, but it may be the chilling tip of a meteorological iceberg ahead.

Weather Recap

All things considered, it was a mild week for January – five of the past seven days had temperatures break into the 40s, and the airport briefly touched 50°F on Saturday afternoon. The snow has melted off in most places, hardly replenished by the 0.7″ recorded on the heels of last week’s Tuesday evening cold front. Not too shabby of a January thaw, right?

However, like an engrossing book or a wild night out, all good things must come to an end. This week looks to be cooler as a whole, though when averaged out it should be near or a little below the norms for the tail end of January.

Precipitation, mean sea level pressure and 1000-500 mb thickness (temperature proxy) for 7 AM Tuesday morning. The unstable air of upper-level trough will interact with the circulation of a coastal storm, converging and resulting in light to moderate snow. GFS Model output courtesy tropicaltidbits.com.

Your Weekly Forecast

It looks like the weather pattern will be fairly active this week, as a series of storms deliver glancing blows to Tompkins County. Right now, it’s a fairly pleasant January day, mix of sun and clouds, with most areas topping out in the mid 30s. However, there are a couple of areas of instability that are working their way towards the area. The first is a coastal storm riding up from the Carolinas to offshore of New England. This is likely to stall out.

Meanwhile, over the Great Lakes, we have an eastward-moving trough, an elongated area of low pressure, high up in the upper levels of the troposphere. Low pressure aloft draws up air from the surface, so it creates unstable conditions closer to ground level. The coastal system will help pull the trough eastward and the winds of the coastal surface low will converge with those of the upper-level trough, building up the atmosphere’s instability. TL;DR, a sizable if weak batch of snow is heading this way.

Graphic courtesy of NWSFO Binghamton.

So, here’s what we’re looking at. As we start the night, it will be mostly cloudy, and lows will slowly recede through the 20s, with snow likely to develop by daybreak. Your Tuesday morning commute will be a snowy one, with steady snows from about 6-10 AM, tapering to showers through the afternoon. Most of Tompkins County can expect to see 1-3″, with the most likely outcome about 2″. Temperatures will not recover, staying near 20°F as the winds shift to a stiff northwest breeze, with gusts to 25 MPH.

Things should clear out Tuesday night, but it will be cold – expect partly cloudy skies and temperature of 5-10°F, and near zero in the usually cooler rural areas. Wednesday will be more tranquil as high pressure builds in from the south, mostly cloudy with highs around 30°F.

Unfortunately, the calm weather is short lived as the high pressure moves away and into the Atlantic, and a potent low pressure center passes to our north over Ontario and Quebec. This is likely to swipe through the Southern Tier with a cold front that will send temperatures falling once again. As a strong low with counterclockwise flow, some warm air will be dragged (rather, advected) into the region ahead of the front. Lows Wednesday night will only drop to the mid and upper 20s, and Thursday will top out in the low 40s. But Thursday will be a very unsettled day – snow at first, changing over to rain as temps warm up ahead of the front, and then back to snow on the heels of the front (coming through around sunset). The National Weather Service’s Binghamton office notes the models do not have a strong consensus with snowfall amounts, so be mindful of at least a few inches possible. Thursday night, expect cloudy skies, some lingering showers and lake effect to the north and west, and temperatures falling into the low 20s.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday will mostly be a “wash, rinse, repeat” period with weak instability keeping skies grey with flurries abound. Friday, expect mostly cloudy skies, and highs in the upper teens and low 20s. Friday night will be mostly cloudy, with lows 5-10°F. Saturday, again mostly cloudy, with highs in the low 20s. Saturday night, still mostly cloudy, temperatures in the mid teens, and Sunday, yes, still mostly cloudy, highs slightly warmer in the mid 20s. It’s slightly warmer because another low pressure area is likely to bring in a bit of warm air as it heads toward the region by Sunday morning. It’s a little too far out to give specifics on the timing and amount of snow.

Graphic courtesy of the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

Extended Outlook

There’s no happy way to put this. It’s going to be cold. Probably for a long while.

The jet stream is expected to lock into a new regime in early February, where a persistent trough stays over the Eastern and Central U.S., and a ridge of warm air and high pressure sits over the West and Alaska. The exact same pattern we saw from Christmas until the middle of this month. Yes, it will be cold, and stormy too.

The pattern is not expected to change much heading through February, with perhaps drier conditions mid-month as the extended cold zapping the atmosphere of moisture, but otherwise temperatures are expected to average well below normal for the next few weeks while California dries out and bakes. Now might be a time to look into a time-share condo in Palm Springs.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.