Weather Recap

Last week was something of a roller coaster weather-wise. Thanks to the southerly flow ahead of Friday’s potent area of low pressure, after a few days of quiet conditions and seasonable cold in the upper 20s and 30s, temperatures surged into the 40s for Thursday and into the 50s and 60s for Friday. The high at the Ithaca-Tompkins airport on Friday reached an impressive 61 °F (one degree short of the record high of 62 °F in 1895), and the Cornell-Northeast Regional Climate Center weather station at Game Farm Road in Dryden recorded a high temperature of 55 °F.

However, not unlike gravity, what goes up, must come down. Very high water content in that unseasonably mild air resulted in some heavy downpours during the day and into the evening on Friday, which overwhelmed local creeks and streams and led to a number of road closures and the flooding of some local homes and businesses. The video above, from Voice videographer Jacob Mroczek, was taken from the intersection of Mill Street and Main Street in Newfield Friday evening. The cold front that passed in late Friday and through the day Saturday brought winter’s icy reign back into the region, with wind gusts from the northwest exceeding 35 MPH at the airport.

Also last week, the astronomical first day of winter, which officially began at 5:23 PM on the 21st, and with that day was the shortest length of daylight for any day of the year, at nine hours, four minutes and four seconds (7:32 AM sunrise, 4:36 PM sunset). Fun fact for your holiday conversations, the latest sunset of the year is nearly two weeks before the winter solstice (about 4:32 PM on the 8th and 9th), and the latest sunrise is nearly two weeks after the solstice (about 7:35 AM on January 2nd/3rd). The reason for that is that a solar day isn’t exactly 24 hours due to Earth’s slightly elliptical orbit and axial tilt, so that creates an offset from our standardized measurements of time.

Anyway, looking towards this last week of the calendar year, the weather pattern will be unsettled, though nothing appears especially hazardous and likely to cause travel issues. The forecast for a white Christmas is really hit-or-miss here – there’s a good chance for at least a light coat of snow in most areas prior to Christmas morning, but with temperatures above freezing during Christmas Eve, how much snow will remain on the ground when the kids are waking up Tuesday is something of a question mark.

Graphic courtesy of NWS Binghamton.

Your Weekly Weather

Looking overnight tonight and tomorrow, a pair of systems look to contribute to the possibility of a light snowfall before Christmas Day. This pair consists of  a quick and weak clipper-type low pressure area passing into the region from Canada, and a wave of moisture over the Mid-Atlantic trekking to the northeast. These will pass through during the overnight and drop anywhere from a dusting to up to inch. Generally speaking, because of the clipper’s passage north of Ithaca, and the mid-Atlantic system passing to the east of Tompkins County, areas north and east of Ithaca are likely to see a little more snow than areas south and west. Lows Sunday night will be in the upper 20s, enough for any snow falling to stick – at least, initially.

Christmas Eve, however, will make it into the upper 30s in Ithaca and mid 30s even in the higher elevations, allowing for some snowmelt. There will be partly cloudy skies earlier in the day, with thickening clouds and snow showers as we go through the afternoon hours. Most of these will be to the north of Ithaca, fed by cooler air from the northwest passing over the relatively warm waters of Lake Ontario, and the atmosphere would allow for the formation of stronger showers and perhaps even snow squalls accompanied with gusty winds. These could leave another inch or two in impacted areas, but otherwise most places are unlikely to see much in the way of new snow on Monday. Monday night will be mostly cloudy, scattered snow showers to the north, and lows in the mid 20s.

If you’re north of Ithaca, east of Ithaca, or at a higher elevation, your chances for a white Christmas are good. If you’re in Ithaca proper or another low-lying valley, or otherwise south or west of the city of gorges, your chances are not so good.

For Christmas itself, it will be seasonable and generally quiet for the holiday – expect mostly cloudy skies with scattered snow showers primarily in the morning, and highs in the mid 30s. Christmas night will be mostly cloudy, dry and with lows in the upper 20s.

Wednesday will be a tad warmer but otherwise no real change, with northwest winds, mostly cloudy skies and highs in the upper 30s. Wednesday night will be partly cloudy with lows in the low 20s.

Thursday is when conditions start to really change, as a large and strong low pressure storm system strengthens over the Mississippi River Valley. Its counterclockwise circulation will tap into milder, moist air over the southern United States and channel it northward, meaning another mild but rainy spell is in store for the end of the week. Thursday itself, expect northwest winds to shift to the south early in the morning, and partly cloudy skies will dominate through most of the day with highs in the upper 30s, with clouds thickening by sunset. By late Thursday evening though, rain will move in, maybe with a brief wintry mix to start in colder spots, but everyone will switch over to rain through the night with lows only falling back to the mid 30s.

Friday will be cloudy with periods of rain as the low passes west and north of the Southern Tier,. It will be mild, with highs in the upper 40s. However, as the low pressure center passes Ithaca’s longitude to our north, the cold air will begin to filter down around its backside, and temperatures will begin to cool off once again. Friday night will be mostly cloudy with some lingering showers and low in the upper 30s, but by Saturday, the cold air will be filtering in enough that temperatures will only climb a few degrees into the lower 40s under mostly cloudy skies. Saturday is looking mostly cloudy with a few lake-enhanced snow showers and lows in the mid 20s, and Sunday will be mostly cloudy with highs around 32 °F.

Graphic courtesy of the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

Extended Outlook

Looking towards New Year’s and any potential celebrations being planned, we can assured that it won’t be as cold as last year. A deep trough will freeze out much of the Western United State, but the corresponding downstream ridge over the Eastern United States isn’t likely to reach far enough north to boost our temperatures beyond anything seasonable in the mid or upper 30s. Precipitation-wise, chances of rain or snow are slightly elevated (the ridge is likely to tap into not just warm air, but moist air), but nothing especially notable. Expect to have a good thick coat if outdoors New Year’s Eve, but it will not be as bitterly cold as last year.

Brian Crandall

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