ITHACA, N.Y. — Here’s a change of pace for you all; temperatures warmer than normal. Much of the work week ahead will be comfortably above seasonal normals, giving a chance for Tompkins County to thaw out. However, it won’t be without its potential problems, including a chance for freezing rain Wednesday night into Thursday.

Image courtesy of the Northeast Regional Climate Center.

Weather Recap

January 2019 will go down as one of Ithaca’s colder and stormier winter months. According to the Northeast Regional Climate Center, the month finished 2.3 °F below normal, which made for a brisk 21.0 °F average temperature. Monthly averages in the winter tend to be more variable due to greater temperature differences between the tropics and the polar regions creating a much greater temperature gradient and stronger jet streams, so that chilly mean temperature is only good enough for a tie for 36th in Ithaca’s coldest Januaries (out of 120 on record). The coldest monthly January average was in 1977, with a frigid 13.1 °F, while 1932 was the warmest at 37.4 °F.

On the precipitation side, Ithaca received 3.22″ of liquid or liquid-equivalent precipitation, well above the normal of 2.08″. However, over an inch of that feel on January 20th as a soaking cold rain. Looking at the snowfall totals for January, they clock in right around average – 18.0″, just a smidgen above the 17.6″ to be expected during the month of January. To sum it up, January 2019 was colder than normal, wetter than normal, but not really a brutally cold or snowy month.

February got off to a cold start, but with the warmer temperatures of this past weekend (it hit 50 °F at the airport on Sunday, the first time since January 1st), and looking at the week ahead, temperatures should be warm enough to tip the region onto the warm side of normal, though a cold front late in the week with drop the thermometer back down to more seasonable values.

Precipitation, mean sea level pressure and 1000-500 mb thickness (temperature proxy) for 1 AM Tuesday morning. An area of low pressure to the northeast will bring light rain into the region. GFS Model output courtesy tropicaltidbits.com.

Your Weekly Weather

We’ll open the work week with a fairly warm start by February standards. A large area of high pressure situated over the Atlantic Ocean will continue advect warmer air into the region thanks to its clockwise circulation, and with the warm front now well to the north, the threat of precipitation is limited, with nothing more than some lingering clouds over Tompkins County. Temperatures will slip back into the mid 30s, but with the snowpack as cold as it is, some near-surface fog is likely in the valley areas, so be careful coming home from your Super Bowl / Puppy Bowl festivities.

Given the several inches of snow pack and thick ice over local creeks and streams, ice jams and localized flooding have been a risk for the past few days, but the weekend’s warmth has melted away many of the highest risk areas. However, with Monday’s warm temperatures encouraging further rapid melting, there will be a continued risk, so if you live in a low-lying area near a stream or creek, keep an eye on the water levels.

With southwesterly flow remaining in place for Monday, temperatures will be quite warm, with low to mid 50s expected under partly cloudy skies. If you’ve waiting until after the cold snap to take care of errands, Monday will be a great day to be outdoors. However, after sunset, clouds will thicken ahead of the next storm system. The low pressure center will be weak and pass to the north, but expect some rain by late evening, with the bulk of it before midnight and scattered showers through Tuesday morning. With the thick cloud cover and high humidity, temperatures will only bottom out in the low 40s.

For Tuesday, some cold air will wrap around behind the storm system, so while the day will start off mostly cloudy and in the low 40s, temperatures will fall back to the mid 30s by sunset with a northwesterly breeze adding some extra chill to the air. Tuesday night will be cold but dry, with partly cloudy skies, slackening winds, and temperatures in the low 20s.

Wednesday will be dry as well, though clouds will increase ahead of the next low, this time coming out of the Ohio River Valley. With light southerly winds, temperatures will climb into the upper 30s with mostly cloudy skies. By sunset, a few rain showers will be in the area, and a more steady rain will spread over the region by late evening. Temperatures will be in the mid 30s overnight with periods of rain and cloudy skies, and it’s looking like it will stay warm enough to keep this an all-rain event for Tompkins County, though on the hills, it may be possible for some freezing rain as temperatures near the surface hover just below freezing. If you live in a area, be careful on the roads Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

Thursday will be a rainy, cloudy day, though warmer than normal as moisture and milder air continue to push in on the warm side of the low. Temperatures should top out in the low 40s. The primary weather forecasting models are in a bit of conflict here, with the European (ECMWF) model predicting a stronger storm and more warm air in the region, while the American (GFS) model forecasts a weaker system with cooler. Both do see Thursday as all-rain, and temperatures Thursday night will stay in the mid to upper 30s under rainy conditions and cloud skies.

The cold front associated with the storm will swing through around lunch hour Friday, and while the rain should taper off before sunset, the air will also cool off, with rain showers turning to snow showers as temperatures fall below freezing Friday evening. Expect an early high in the low 40s, with upper 30s during the afternoon. Friday night will cool off substantially, with mostly cloudy skies, a few lingering snow showers, and lows in the mid to upper teens (which is seasonable).

The weekend is looking seasonably cold but quiet. A few lake-enhanced snow showers will develop, but otherwise it will be partly to mostly cloudy, with highs in the upper 20s Saturday, and around 30 °F Sunday, with lows in the mid teens.

Image courtesy of the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

Extended Outlook

Looking ahead towards mid February and Valentine’s Day, it’s looking like temperatures will likely be a bit cooler than normal. A jet stream ridge pushing into Alaska and a deep trough in the Western United States will displace potent polar air over much of the West and Central U.S., but a downstream jet stream ridge will keep the Southeast warm, while creating variable conditions for Texas, the Ohio River Valley and the Mid-Atlantic. It looks like Tompkins County will be on the cooler side of that, but it’s going to vary from day to day. With the jet stream overhead, storm systems will be more likely to pass through the region, so precipitation chances will be elevated.

Brian Crandall

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