ITHACA, N.Y. — This week will be getting off to a fairly mild start, but a cold front Tuesday will usher in cooler if still unusually warm March air for the remainder of the week. Look, if it isn’t snowing three feet, flooding rain and meltwater, or temperatures plunging below zero, then it’s good March weather.
With February’s data quality-controlled and in the record books, it looks like the second month of 2020 was a notch on the warm side. With an average temperature of 26.5°F at the Cornell/Northeast Regional Climate Center weather station on Game Farm Road in Dryden, February 2020 clocked in at a modestly warm 1.2°F above normal.
However, the Game Farm site seems to have been a relative cold spot compared to the rest of the Northeast. Temperatures were as much as 8°F above normal, and 25 of the 35 major climate sites in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic had one of the 20 warmest Februarys on record. Allentown, PA had their second-warmest February ever recorded, while Islip (Long Island), Boston, and Atlantic City had their third-warmest Februarys on record.
On the precipitation side, Tompkins County was well above normal. February is normally the driest month with 1.98″ of liquid or liquid-equivalent, but February 2020 recorded 2.69″ at the Game Farm Road weather station. This included 19.2″ of snow, about five inches above normal. 2.69″ is good enough for 28th wettest February on record in Ithaca, out of 118 years with complete data. So it was quite wet, but not extremely so.
The pattern was similar throughout much of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, with 28 of the 35 major regional climate sites recording wetter than normal Februarys, and six recorded a Top 20 wettest (the most extreme being Beckley, West Virginia, which had its second-wettest February ever 6.52″, compared to a normal of 2.76″).
So far, it looks like March is off to a warm and dry start, and thanks to the persistent jet stream ridge over the Eastern United States, we can expect that to continue – starting with a very warm Monday afternoon.
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The primary driver of our weather at the moment is large area of high pressure centered over the coast of the Carolinas. This system shifted eastward over the weekend, and as it did, its clockwise flow began to advect warmer air from the southwest into the Southern Tier. As a result, temperatures on Sunday were 15-20°F warmer than they were on Saturday, and Monday will be warmer still, as the flow is enhanced further, thanks to counterclockwise flow around the low pressure system that’ll be making its way in for Tuesday.
For tonight, it’s going to feel more like mid-April than mid-March, with mostly clear skies and lows in the low 40s in the urban areas in and around Ithaca and along the lake, and upper 30s in the outlying areas and higher elevations.
Monday will be nothing short of delight if you can make your way outdoors for part of your day. It will be mostly sunny, with a few passing clouds early and more widespread clouds by evening, with temperatures topping out in the mid 60s. Monday night will start off partly cloudy, but turn overcast by midnight as the low approaches from the Midwest. A few showers after midnight will likely give way to the first steady rains by Tuesday morning. Lows Monday night will be in the upper 40s.
Tuesday will be a grey, damp day, if still on the warm side for March. The low will pass eastward across Upstate New York during the day, with rainy conditions and highs in the upper 50s. Total rainfall amounts will be around one-quarter of an inch, so don’t expect any flooding risks with this event. The cold front will pass through around sunset Tuesday evening, and winds will turn to the northwest as the rain winds down by midnight, and dry, mostly cloudy conditions prevail for the rest of the night. With that cooler air making its way in, lows will be in the mid 30s.
A high pressure system passing eastward over Ontario and Quebec will allow for a return to drier weather Wednesday, and its clcokwise flow will bring down some cooler air, though temperatures will still be 5-10°F above normal. Plan for partly cloudy to mostly cloudy skies and highs in the upper 40s. Wednesday night could see a few rain or even snow showers as the high shifts eastward and a storm system to the south grazes Tompkins County, but anything that does fall will be scattered with no accumulations. Between those highly scattered showers, there will be mostly cloudy skies and lows Wednesday night will be in the mid 30s.
Thursday will be dry and a little warmer as a low pressure storm system passing over Ontario and Quebec draws in milder air in its counterclockwise circulation. Expect partly cloudy skies and a high in the low 50s. Thursday night into Friday may see some showers associated with that storm system as a cold front extends southward from its core and approaches our region. Any showers ahead of that front will quite late (3 AM onward), and lows will be in the low 40s under overcast skies.
Friday will be unsettled as that frontal boundary sweeps through Upstate New York, though the quick passage of the front will mean only limited precipitation (along with windy conditions), mostly during the mid and late morning hours. Apart from those rain showers, it will be breezy and mostly cloudy with highs in the low 50s. Friday night will see the winds calm somewhat as they turn to the northwest around sunset, and lows will fall back into the low and mid 30s with partly cloudy skies.
The weekend is looking fairly quiet thanks to Canadian high pressure, though that also means it will be on the cooler side as that high pumps in colder air from the north. Saturday and Sunday both look to be partly to mostly cloudy with highs in the mid 40s, and lows in the low 30s.
Looking ahead towards late March and the start of astronomical spring, the persistent ridge in the jet stream over the Eastern U.S. is expected to continue, with warmer than normal temperatures showing up in the medium and longer-range models practically through the end of the month, and only brief exceptions during the period. With the jet stream’s flow situated not too far to the west, it looks like the Southern Tier will see maginally wetter than normal conditions as well, as smaller-scale variations in the jet stream will allow storm systems to make their way into Ithaca and Tompkins County – nothing extreme and no snowstorms, though. March is our most changeable month from year-to-year, and it looks like this year has gifted us with a warm if unsettled temperament.