Graphic courtesy of NWS Binghamton.

ITHACA, N.Y. — As we approach the low point for annual average temperatures, it’s to be expected things will be on the cold and snowy side. This week will feature some of both, though nothing hefty – seasonable cold, a little snow, and then, what appears to be a very substantial warmup later in the month. In short, a wintry week ahead, followed by quite the “January thaw”.

Graphic courtesy of the Northeast Regional Climate Center.

Weather Recap

Since we just wrapped up 2019, let’s take a look at both the monthly and annual statistics

As a month, December was one of those rare winter cases where the temperature was actually, perfectly normal, according to the Northeast Regional Climate Center. The average temperature at the Cornell Game Farm Road was station for December is 28.7°F, and the average temperature for December 2019 was 28.7°F. If you want to be split hairs, average high temperatures were very slightly above normal, and average low temperatures were very slightly below normal. For all practical purposes, though, this is as “near normal” as a month can get.

Graphic courtesy of the Northeast Regional Climate Center.

On the precipitation side, overall total (rain and snow) and snowfall were modestly above normal. The total for December 2019 clocked in at 3.28″, above the normal of 2.40″, and 16.3″ of snow were reported, modestly above the December normal of 12.6″. Out of 126 years of valid precipitation records, that 3.28″ value is good enough for 23rd wettest – in other words, abnormally wet, but not extremely so.

Looking at the regional level, precipitation was more concentrated along the New England coast and Ohio River Valley, with near or below normal in-between, which tells you that the most common storm systems were coastal lows and lows that developed in the Ohio River Valley before transferring their energy to coastal lows. The temperature pattern speaks to the jet stream ridge over the Eastern U.S. and the path lows over the Midwest would take into Canada, driving warmer air up ahead of them.

Looking at the year, 2019 was actually a little below average for much of the interior Northeastern United States, but most of the population centers were warmer. 2019 ranked as the warmest year on record for one major recording site (Elkins, WV, at 3.3°F above normal), and average temperatures were among the 20 warmest years on record for another 19 of the 35 major climate sites. Only 5 of the 35 were at or below normal. Ithaca, which is not a primary recording site, was 45.7°F, -1.9°F from normal, which was far, far colder than any primary site. Congrats folks, you live in what was practically the icebox of the Northeast.

Meanwhile, on the precipitation side, most areas were a little or moderately above normal, thanks to the wet spring. 31 of the 35 major climate sites were wetter than normal, with 21 of them ranking 2019 among their 20 wettest years on record. Ithaca Game Farm recorded 41.48″, well above the annual average of 35.72″ and good enough for 16th wettest in the climate record.

Worldwide, temperatures were well above normal – 2019 numbers have until January 15th to be finalized by their respective national agencies, but it’s looking like it will be the second-warmest year on record. So it’s looking like the world was much warmer than average in 2019, regionally it was less anomalous but still warmer than average along with being wetter than average, and locally it was colder and wetter than average.

In case you’re wondering, on a decadal scale, we’re running above average, as is the planet. In the past ten years, the average global temperature has increased 0.29°F (57.97°F to 58.26°F) from the 2000-2009 average, and 0.77°F from the 1990s average (57.49°F to 58.26°F). Note that the greater warmth is not distributed equally – the north polar region and continental land masses are warming faster than oceans, based on both land/buoy observations and the decades of satellite data we’ve accumulated.

Anyway, before we go down the bleak, increasingly unavoidable path of rapid climate change and disruption, let’s take a look at the weather for next week.

Graphic courtesy of NWS Binghamton.

Your Weekly Weather

With this weekend’s system now well off the coast, we’ve entered brief space of high pressure and calmer conditions, though the strengthening of that low over the Atlantic has helped drive some gusty winds across the region this Sunday. Our lull will come to a swift end overnight as a trough associated with a Canadian low digs in from the northwest, coming through as a cold front during the overnight. This isn’t going to be an especially strong or persistent system, but expect an inch or so of snow between 9 PM through 4 AM, maybe two inches in some spots. It’s enough to brush off your car and make the roads slick, but otherwise nothing special. With the cloud cover and moisture, temperatures won’t fall much tonight, with overnight lows in the upper 20s in Ithaca and mid 20s in the outlying towns.

Monday will be quiet as we briefly find ourselves under the influence of high pressure building in from the the Mid-Atlantic coast, and that high will prevent the colder air from entering the Southern Tier. The last snow showers east of Ithaca will wither away and mostly cloudy skies during the morning will break up and become sunnier by afternoon, with highs in the mid to upper 30s. Monday night will be partly cloudy, with a low in the mid 20s.

Tuesday has been looking better in more recent model runs, as initial concerns about a developing coastal low have abated now that it seems more likely to take a more southeasterly track away from Tompkins County. Plan for partly to mostly cloudy skies, maybe overcast skies and a few snow showers south of the state line, and a high in the mid to upper 30s. Tuesday night will see a clipper-type low and its cold front push in from the northwest, and that storm system will trigger another round of light snow after midnight, as well as usher in some colder air. Lows will be in the upper 20s.

Wednesday morning’s commute could be a bit dicey as the clipper low plods through the Southern Tier, with the most persistent light to moderate snow showers occurring in the 6 AM to 12 PM period, dropping about an inch before they continue their jaunt eastward. Gusty northwest winds behind the cold front will make it an unpleasant day to be outdoors, with winds gusting up to 35 MPH and wind chills in the teens. Outside of those snow showers and gusty winds, it will be mostly cloudy, with a high in the low 30s. Wednesday night will see the winds steadily fade as the low moves further away, with mostly cloudy skies and a low in the mid to upper teens.

Thursday will be quiet as an expansive area of high pressure pushes in from the west. Its clockwise flow will keep things cool during the day, with mostly cloudy skies and a high in the mid 30s. A storm over the upper Midwest will ride around the high and into Canada, but at least the southern edge of it should be able to push into the Southern Tier late Thursday night into Friday morning. This places us firmly in the warm sector, and the combined flow of the low as well as the high to the east will drive a strong southerly flow of milder air into the region. Temperatures will climb from about 30°F late Thursday evening, to upper 30s by daybreak Friday morning, with overcast skies and rain showers building in around the time of the Friday morning commute.

Friday will seems more like an early spring day than a January day. It will be cloudy and rainy thanks to that low to the north, but the strong flow of mild air from the southwest will allow temperatures to climb into the upper 40s, maybe 50°F in some spots. Friday night will be cloudy and rainy, with a low in the mid 40s.

The weekend isn’t looking good, although it will be mild. Gulf of Mexico moisture and a rapidly strengthening low traveling from the lower Mississippi River Valley up through the Northeast will create a swath of persistent rain from Florida to Maine, with the cold air coming in behind the low Saturday night into Sunday. Saturday will be rainy and in the low 50s. Saturday night will be rain early, with snow mixing in late, and a low in the mid 30s. Sunday will be colder, with the remaining rain and snow showers ending by the afternoon, and highs in the upper 30s. There’s no substantial cold air behind this system, with zonal (west-east) flow likely resulting in seasonable temperatures for early next week. It doesn’t look like any cold snaps are in the cards for some time yet.

Graphic courtesy of the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

Extended Outlook

Looking ahead into the third week of January, the pattern of a jet stream ridge over the eastern United States, and a trough in the west looks to continue. This result in persistently warmer than normal air flowing in from our southwest. However, the jet stream will also tap into Gulf moisture frequently as low pressure storm systems ride up along the edge of the ridge. This likely means much wetter than normal conditions during this time period as well. Essentially, the whole country will be whacked by storm systems, whether from the Pacific-born lows coming in along the trough, or from the Gulf-fed lows traveling along the ridge’s length. So while it might be a “January thaw”, it just means you’ll be trading out the shovel for an umbrella.

Brian Crandall

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