ITHACA, N.Y. — Back by (un)popular demand, it’s another episode of the “Ithaca Icebox”. Bundle up tight if you’ll be outdoors tonight or tomorrow; with wind chills of -25 °F possible tonight, it’s going to be dangerously cold in Tompkins County.
With the weekend snowstorm moving eastward out of the region, the storm reports have started coming in. Final numbers are not yet available, but from the morning and early afternoon reports collected by the National Weather Service Binghamton office (quick word of thanks to the NWS staff for their timely forecasts during the federal government shutdown), it looks like the 12-18 inches expected throughout much of Tompkins County was fairly accurate, given that these are a couple of inches likely yet to be tallied in the totals above.
While not a record-breaker, the storm does soak up most of the snowfall deficit Tompkins County had built up during the month of December and first half of January. Elsewhere, the storm wreaked havoc throughout the Midwest and Northeast, resulting in hundreds of car crashes, tens of thousands without power, and at least six fatalities.
For what it’s worth, nothing that severe appears to be in the forecast for the upcoming week. On the not-so-bright side is the extreme cold coming in for Sunday night through Tuesday morning.
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With the storm now centered off the coast of the Canadian Maritimes and moving rapidly to the east, its tight pressure gradient is drawing in frigid Arctic air and flinging it counterclockwise around the center, which for being on the back side of the storm, means that the Southern Tier is directly in the path of that flow of polar air. With the strong winds created by the pressure gradient between the storm and high pressure over the Great Lakes, the result is subzero temperatures and a dangerously cold wind chill to go with it.
A Wind Chill Warning is in effect until 7 PM Monday evening. Wind gusts of up to 35 MPH, and actual temperatures hovering around or below zero will result in wind chills that could approach -30 °F in some of the more exposed hilltops of Tompkins County, and -15 to -25 °F in the more sheltered valley locations. A Wind Chill Warning means that dangerously cold wind chills are expected during the advisory period. Frostbite can occur quickly, and hypothermia or death can result from prolonged exposure. As with any severe cold, take caution to cover up skin and limit time spent outdoors, make sure you have access to a heated space, and bring pets indoors.
Tonight will be frigid, but conditions should be quieting down as the snow showers wind down. Some additional lake effect snows will be possible during the overnight and into Monday morning, so another half inch is possible. Otherwise, expect cloudy skies and a low around 0 °F in Ithaca proper, and several degrees below zero in the outlying areas. Once again, be mindful of the strong northwest breeze and its bitterly cold gusts.
With those strong northwesterly winds, temperatures will hardly warm up on Monday, with most of the county in the upper single digits, maybe cracking 10 °F in Ithaca for a high temperature. Winds will continue to gust throughout the day, so the wind chill warning will remain in effect. Blowing and drifting snow will create travel hazards, and the northwest winds could help generate some lake effect snow showers off of Ontario, so another inch of snow is possible during the day, with cloudy skies that may start to break up before sunset. Monday night, skies will start to clear up in earnest, and the winds will calm as the high pressure moves overhead. Look for partly cloudy conditions and lows a few degrees above zero (urban Ithaca) or a few degrees below zero (outlying areas).
As the high pressure area shifts east of Tompkins County on Tuesday, winds will shift to light out of the south. That will allow temperatures to start warming up, though high temperatures will still be well below normal. Expect highs in the low to mid 20s with partly cloudy skies.
Tuesday night, things start to become more active as a new, weaker storm develops over the Northern Plains and slides into Southern Canada. This setup would allow for warm air to slide in in front of the system on southerly flow, and temperatures will warm up enough to allow a wintry mix. Precipitation will start as snow late Tuesday night, but as temperatures warm into the upper 20s and low 30s by daybreak Wednesday, it will transition over to sleet, and then finally a cold rain by noon, with highs in the upper 30s. Models are suggesting this could be a heavy rain, so if you have a flat roof, Tuesday might be a good day to clear the snow before it soaks up the rain and its increased weight starts to pose issues.
By late Wednesday night into early Thursday morning, the low should move northeast of the region, and cold air will begin to filter in, enough to make a transition back to snow. Snowfall amounts aren’t expected to be much, perhaps an inch or two by the Thursday morning commute. Lows Wednesday night will be in the low 30s, and Thursday should climb into the mid 30s, so some rain may mix in in the valleys. All areas should transition to show showers by Thursday night, with a low in the upper teens.
Friday will see a renewed push of Arctic air, though for now this isn’t looking as intense as the current Arctic air mass. Highs will be in the upper 20s with mostly cloud skies and a few lake effect snow showers from the northwest. Lows Friday night will be in the low to mid single digits. Saturday and Sunday are looking to be cold but generally quiet, with partly to mostly cloudy skies and a few lake effect snow showers. Highs will be in the upper teens to around 20 °F Saturday, and the mid 20s on Sunday, with lows in the upper single digits.
Who likes unusually cold weather and bitter winter temperatures? My poll of Ithaca Voice staff turns up nary a hand. But that’s what we’re in store for as a very deep and very pronounced trough in the jet stream sets itself over the Eastern half of the country. Your friends in Madison may not break zero degrees for a high temperature next weekend. Some of the model runs even show Miami coming close to the freezing point, and 20s in the Florida Panhandle. Oddly enough. while it is looking to be below average in Ithaca, it doesn’t look to be “extreme”. The core of the cold will sit over the Great Lakes and Ohio River Valley. Tuesday night or Wednesday night could dip into subzero territory, but it’s not like there’s a -20 in the forecast. Fingers crossed that it stays that way.