Graphic courtesy of NWS Binghamton.

ITHACA, N.Y. – According to astronomical calendars, the Vernal Equinox, also known as Spring, officially starts at 12:15 PM tomorrow. One could be forgiven for thinking otherwise, given the chill and snow in the air as of late.

On the bright side, we’ll have plenty of bright sun, even as temperatures continue to run below average. That will pretty much be the story for this week.

Weather Recap

According to the Northeast Regional Climate Center, the Game Farm Road weather station has picked up 20.9″ of snow so far this month. That ranks 2018 17th in the 110 or so years of valid snow accumulations recorded in Ithaca. We just surpassed 2017, which as folks may recall, was another winter where it seemed like March and February were switched.

In a paper published in the scientific journal Nature last week, a group of atmospheric scientists argued that climate change may be resulting in an increased frequency of severe late-winter cold spells and storm events for the Eastern United States. The argument that they make from analyzing decades of observations is that the mid-latitude jet stream is weakening – the jet stream is maintained by temperature and pressure gradients between warmer mid-latitude and colder polar regions, so as the Arctic warms faster than everywhere else, the temperature gradient and jet stream weaken, causing it to meander and letting cold surges and storms shape more of its path. Even among atmospheric and climate scientists, the study is controversial – not the climate change part, but rather, if jet stream behavior is actually directed by Arctic warming. As statisticians say, correlation doesn’t mean causation.

Regardless of what’s driving what, the impacts are clear – several schools cancelled classes last week due to lake-enhanced snow bands, and travel was difficult in many areas, to say the least.

Now for some good news – that won’t be an issue. In fact, it’s looking pretty good.

Graphic courtesy of NWS Binghamton.

Your Weekly Forecast

The big newsmaker of the week really won’t be a newsmaker if things hold out for us. Currently, Tompkins County and most of upstate New York is seated under a cold, dry high pressure air mass. The skies in most places are a bright blue this afternoon, with hardly a cloud to be seen.

While temperatures are uncomfortably brisk, around 30 °F and 10-15 degrees below normal, it’s this same mass that’s keeping a developing storm system and its precipitation well to the south of Ithaca.

The Nor’Easter will be what the research meteorologists call a “Miller Type B”storm event  – a developing low pressure area passing over the Ohio River Valley collides with the Appalachians, transfers its energy to a developing secondary coastal low, and that secondary low rapidly strengthens over the Gulf Stream offshore. It builds a sizable precipitation shield with ocean moisture, and clobbers the Northeast.

What does that mean? Well, if you’re in Washington D.C. or Philadelphia tomorrow, or New York City or Boston Wednesday, it’s going to be rough travels – mixed precipitation and perhaps even heavy snow. But, that cold, bone-dry air over us is going to eat away at any snow bands trying to work their way north and west – they’ll be dried right out of existence, and little if any precipitation is going to survive the trip.

There remains the small possibility that enough of the storm shifts northward to produce accumulations Tuesday night into Wednesday, but the current thinking from NWS Binghamton and its sister offices is that it’s very unlikely. It looks like we’ll get out of this Nor’Easter unscathed.

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So here’s the forecast – tonight, clear and cold. Bundle up tight! With calm winds and clear skies, temperatures quickly cool into the lower teens and single digits in rural and more elevated areas. Tomorrow, expect partly cloudy skies, and temperatures rising with that March sun on your first chilly day of Spring, with highs in the low to mid 30s.

Tuesday night, look for partly cloudy skies, and those near the Pennsylvania line might still see a weak snow shower or two from the storm further south. Temperatures will be in the mid teens. Wednesday, look for partly to mostly cloudy skies, and highs in the low to mid 30s. Wednesday night will be mostly cloudy, maybe a flurry or two, no accumulations, and lows around 20 °F.

Thursday will be quiet as any storm concerns move far out to sea. Expect mostly cloudy skies and a high in the low to mid 30s. Thursday night, mostly cloudy with lows in the low 20s. Friday will be slightly more mild as the air mass moderates a bit, partly cloudy with highs in the mid and upper 30s. Friday night will be mostly clear with lows in the low 20s, and Saturday will be partly sunny and in the upper 30s. A mixed-precipitation storm may move in towards the end of the weekend, although it’s a little early to state specifics. Overall, expect fair skies and below-normal temperatures.

Graphic courtesy of the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

Extended Outlook

It looks like spring is going to take its sweet time coming this year – persistent troughs in the jet stream are expected to allow for colder-than-normal conditions to persist through the end of the month, with roughly normal amounts of precipitation. A pronounced ridge of heat will be entrenched over the lower Mississippi river Valley, while California gets slammed with a fire hose of moisture, which will result in some impressive precipitation totals – several feet of snow would be possible in the Sierra Nevadas, and mudslide risks in some of the wildfire-damaged areas will be elevated.

It’s nice to have a quiet week for a change. It may not be very warm, but take what once can get during this last winter hurrah.

Brian Crandall

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