ITHACA, N.Y. — March comes in like a lion, right? Well, it sure seems that way this year. We’ll ring in the week with a coastal storm, and unseasonable cold will dominate the weather pattern before milder, more seasonable conditions return for the end of the week.
With Feburary closed out, here’s a look at how the month stacked up in the climate record when compared to previous Februaries. As always with the long-term data, these statistics come courtesy of the Northeast Regional Climate Center, based locally out of Cornell’s Bradfield Hall.
With an average temperature of 25.9 °F, February 2019 was just a hair above normal, +0.6 °F from the long-term average of 25.3 °F. For practical purposes, this would be considered “near average” in the climate record, and in the rankings, it was 43rd out of 120 valid years of data. Daily highs were +0.4 °F from the average, and daily lows were about +0.9 °F. The lowest temperature at their weather station on Game Farm Road in Dryden was -14 °F on February 1st, and the highest temperature was 61 °F on the 4th.
On the precipitation side, February was a relatively dry month. 1.28″ of liquid-equivalent precipitation was recorded, substantially less than the typical 1.98″. The amount of snowfall was on the low end as well – 7.3″, about half of the 1.42″ expected during the month of February.
In contrast to February, March will be cold and stormy to start. First comes the coastal system winding up tonight and moving out tomorrow, and then comes the wave of cold air that will keep temperatures well below normal for much of the week ahead.
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If you’ve been out traveling this Sunday evening, you’re already aware of the incoming storm system. An intensifying area of low pressure (the same system that triggered the deadly tornado outbreak in Alabama and Georgia this weekend) will move off the Carolina coast and continue to strengthen as it rides along the eastern seaboard. The storm track will keep the strongest areas of precipitation to the southeast of Ithaca and Tompkins County, and so only 2-3″ is expected overnight, with some locally elevated amount on hilltops south and east of the city. The snow should taper off before daybreak, giving the plows a chance to clear the roads before most of the commuters hit the streets.
With Tompkins County behind the low’s counterclockwise circulation, the northwest winds will kick up, and Monday will be a chilly day for March. Expect highs in the mid 20s under mostly cloudy skies. By Monday night, the winds will calm, but that will allow for the air to more efficiently cool off, and under partly cloudy skies, temperatures will fall into the upper single digits in Ithaca, and to a few degrees above zero in the outlying areas.
It will only be colder for the middle of the week. A large trough in the jet stream will allow an arctic high to slide in from Canada and remain in place over the Great Plains, and as it does, its clockwise circulation will tap into an offshoot of the polar vortex over Hudson Bay. This will sweep very cold, dry air into the Eastern United States, with temperatures well below normal. Expect partly cloudy skies Tuesday and highs in the mid 20s. A strengthening westerly wind Tuesday evening and night will make an already frigid period feel even colder; lows Tuesday night will be in the low teens and upper single digits, but the wind chill will be subzero.
Wednesday will be mostly cloudy and very cold, with highs only in the mid to upper teens with a stiff northwest wind. The angle of the wind will be conducive to pushing some lake effect snow bands from Lake Ontario over the Finger Lakes, so some light snowfall accumulations will be possible before the wind direction changes and the snow bands swing back northward late in the day. Wednesday night will be partly cloudy with a few isolated lake-enhanced snow showers, and lows in the single digits.
Thursday will be more of the same, perhaps slightly milder with a shift of the high pressure core to the southeastern United States and a slightly more mild if still cold northwest flow. Look for partly cloudy skies and highs in the mid 20s. Thursday night will be partly cloudy, a few isolated lake-enhanced snow showers, and lows in the 5 to 10 °F. Keep in mind, the average high for Ithaca on March 7th is 37 °F, with a low of 18 °F.
Friday will be a bit warmer as the high moves eastward to the Atlantic coast, allowing some milder air to be caught up in its circulation and advected northward. There will be a developing storm system over the Ohio River Valley, but the forecast models expect to stay just far enough south that we should avoid most if not all of its precipitation. For now, expect partly cloudy skies early with thickening clouds later on Friday, and a high in the low to mid 30s. Friday night will be partly cloudy with a low in the mid to upper teens.
The weekend will experience a strong flow of southerly air into the region, so temperature will actually be near to even a few degrees above normal. Saturday will be mostly sunny with highs in the upper 30s. Another system will move through the upper Great Lakes Saturday night into Sunday, which will place Tompkins County in the warm sector of the low, meaning a rain event. Expect cloudy skies and snow showers ahead of the system with lows in the mid 20s Saturday night, and mostly cloudy skies, scattered rain showers, and a high in the low 40s on Sunday.
It’s looking like a regime change might be in the cards for our weather pattern. The core of the jet stream trough will recede and retrograde westward by the end of the week, and going into the middle of March, it’s looking like a persistent in the jet will build in over the Eastern United States, creating unseasonably mild temperatures as we head towards St. Patrick’s Day. The tradeoff is that it might also be modestly wetter than normal, as storm systems ride up the west side of the ridge.