ITHACA, N.Y. — We’re in the heart of climatological winter, and it certainly feels cold. But if one thing has been lacking lately, and that’s snow. With the exception of last week’s lake effect and the brief showers of larger-scale systems passing overhead, the white stuff has been lacking in recent weeks, with just a thin layer on most of the hills, and just patches in the valleys. That doesn’t look likely to change this week, either.

Graphic courtesy of the National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center.

Weather Recap

Last week started off unsettled and with some mixed precipitation in the form of ice, and temperatures were fairly warm for Tuesday and Wednesday. The passage of a cold front, however, turned on the lake effect machine, and parts of Lansing, Groton and Dryden were predicted to see upwards of 6-8″. However, much of that did not pan out, and for where it did, those snowfall amounts very rapidly tapered off outside of the lake effect bands. The Northeast Regional Climate Center weather station on Dryden’s Game Farm Road saw less than 2″, and most areas south and west of Ithaca saw even less than that. The past few days have been calm but cold, with high pressures firmly in place overhead. This may be a curse in cold temperatures, but a blessing in that it forced a powerful winter storm to the south, sparing us and dropping as much as 18″ of snow over a swath of land from Kansas City to Washington D.C. The high pressure area was strong enough that the low-pressure winter storm had to flow around it, like water flowing around a rock in a stream. Sometimes, being in the cold dome isn’t a bad thing.

The quiet and the cold will continue through much of the week, so you likely won’t need the shovel much if at all, but keep the heavy coats and parkas handy.

Precipitation, mean sea level pressure and 1000-500 mb thickness (temperature proxy) for 7 AM Monday morning. Frigid air will persist over the region as an Arctic high pressure area passes to the north. GFS Model output courtesy tropicaltidbits.com.

Your Weekly Weather

With the area of high pressure still firmly in place as it slowly slides eastward from Ontario into Quebec, very dry and very cold air will continue to funnel into the Southern Tier. Skies will remain mostly clear with the lack of moisture, but the dry conditions will also allow for optimal radiational cooling during the overnight. For Sunday night, Ithaca proper will be between 0 and 5 above, as will most valley locations; however, hilltops and places north of Ithaca can expect temperatures to hover around zero or possibly go into subzero single digits during the overnight.

Monday will be quiet as the influence of the high pressure continues, though we should be on its periphery by the afternoon hours, so the flow of cold air will slacken. Mostly clear skies will turn partly cloudy as temperatures climb into the upper 20s. For Monday night, a very weak disturbance will pass through the region, but with little moisture and energy, conditions will remain dry, with partly cloudy skies and lows in the upper teens in Ithaca proper, and low to mid teens elsewhere.

Tuesday is also looking to be fairly dry and quiet, with another weak disturbance pushing into the region. This will usher in some clouds and some milder air, but conditions should remain dry. Expect mostly cloudy skies with highs in the mid 30s. Tuesday night will be mostly cloudy with lows in the mid 20s.

Wednesday is when things start to look a bit more active, as an “Alberta Clipper” type-low passes north of the region. Moisture to produce snow will still be limited, but with the instability provided by the clipper, some scattered flurries or light snow or rain showers are possible (accumulations will be less than an inch), especially north of Ithaca. Otherwise, expect mostly cloudy skies and a high in the upper 30s. Cold air will come in behind the low pressure’s counterclockwise rotation, so lows Wednesday night will fall steadily, into the low teens by daybreak Thursday morning.

Thursday is a return to the quiet and cold, as high pressure briefly builds in behind the clipper. Expect partly cloudy skies with a high in the mid 20s. Thursday night is looking unsettled as an eastward-moving cold front and a low pressure center moving in from the northeast will likely merge and develop into a potent coastal storm tracking along New Jersey into Cape Cod. For the Southern Tier, a period of snow is likely late Thursday night into Friday, though amounts will depend on how much moisture makes it this far north. For now, expect lighter accumulations of a couple inches or less, but that is subject to change. Lows Thursday night will be in the low 20s. Friday will see some warm air advection ahead of the low, and so temperatures should make it into the mid and upper 30s during the day.

For Friday night and the weekend, the picture is looking rather complicated. As that coastal low departs, another storm system will be developing along the southern branch of the jet stream. How this aligns with the northern branch will decide whether this strong and potentially high-impact storm passes over the Great Lakes to our west, or if it passes over the Eastern seaboard. A Western path would put Tompkins County on the warm side, with most of the precipitation coming as rain. An eastern path would put the county on the cold side of the storm, and significant snowfalls would be likely in that scenario. However, the models are not in good agreement on path at this time – so it will likely be a stormy weekend, but temperatures may end up below freezing with moderate to heavy snow, or above freezing with a wintry mix or rain. Keep an eye on the new for updates.

In either case for next weekend’s weather event, a brief but potent Arctic blast appears likely as the low passes eastward and cold air is shunted into the region. Also, a quick note of thanks to NWS Binghamton, as they continue to provide their forecasting expertise and weather model analysis even as the federal government shutdown continues.

Graphic courtesy of the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

Extended Outlook

Some like it cold. Those folks are going to get what they want, as a pronounced trough in the jet stream looks to maintain a grip over the Mississippi River Valley, and to a lesser extent the Great Plains and the Northeast. Thanks to daily variations with storm systems passing along the jet stream (and it is expected to be stormier than usual, as systems ride down the trough into the Eastern United States), the trough is likely to sway forward and backward at times, what is technically referred to as prograde and retrograde motion. But otherwise, the eastern two-thirds of the country looks to be in for a colder than normal late January.

Brian Crandall

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