ITHACA, N.Y. — It’s that time of the year for major snowmakers, and this week will deliver the first taste of what winter offers as a developing low pressure storm system strengthens off the Atlantic Coast and delivers a volley of snow Wednesday night. As far as the model runs indicate, though, this falls on the lower side of the hype scale, but will serve as a reminder to have your shovels, rock salt and snow chains prepared accordingly. After all, Mother Nature doesn’t always give a glancing blow before she delivers a sucker punch. Warmer (i.e. less cold, it’s December folks) and drier conditions will be on tap for next weekend.
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We’re finishing out this weekend on a cloudy note as an area of low pressure passes to the north over Ontario and Quebec. While the precipitation has been too far north to impact the Southern Tier, the cold front associated with that counterclockwise-spinning low has been pushing through during the late morning and afternoon, and the relatively mild low 50s we saw yesterday and last night is shifting out as colder air comes in on the backside of the low. A steady if light northwest wind should continue for the next few hours with mostly cloudy to overcast skies, but it will remain dry as we fall through the 30s to about the low 30s by morning, with the persistent cloud cover limiting the cooling.
Monday will continue to be cloudy as a storm system passes the Southern Tier once again, this time from the south with a quickly-moving area of low pressure moving northwest from the Deep South, into the Mid-Atlantic and out into the ocean. This system will barely graze Tompkins County as it passes well to the southeast, but those heading down Route 17 to New York will want to tread carefully as the storm will likely drop plowable snowfall amounts over the Catskills. Temperatures will top out in the upper 30s with a few scattered light rain and showers. Some light lake effect snow is possible on the backside of that low with northerly winds over Lake Ontario, but these are unlikely to drop anything more than a thin coating at most. It will be mostly cloudy Monday night with lows in the mid 20s.
Tuesday will be quieter as high pressure passes to the north over Canada, stabilizing our local column of the atmosphere. The high will funnel in cold polar air, so while it will be partly cloudy Tuesday, it will be chilly, with highs in the upper 20s. Tuesday night will see that high shift further east and provide for a very cold night as winds calm, with lows in the mid teens under mostly cloudy skies.
Wednesday starts off cloudy and dry with highs in the upper 20s, but the developing storm system should begin to spread snow into Tompkins County on the northern edge of its precipitation shield by early afternoon. Looking at the European (ECMWF) and United States (GFS) model runs and the ensemble, it looks like a solid bet that Ithaca and Tompkins County will see at least a few inches out of this system.
However, the models are fairly consistent in that the areas of highest impact will be to the southeast, over Southeastern Pennsylvania, Downstate New York, and into Connecticut, Rhode Island and the Boston area. If you’re heading to/through those places late Wednesday or Thursday, be prepared for delays and other weather-related travel problems. But for Tompkins County, we’re really only looking at something in the 3-6″ range – you’ll need the shovel and the four-wheel drive may come in handy, but otherwise this isn’t a high-impact event for Ithaca. Towns north and west of Ithaca will see a little less snow, areas south and east a little more.
The primary period of snowfall is going to after sunset Wednesday, and you can expect a steady light to moderate snow through the overnight hours into Thursday morning, with lows in the low 20s. This storm should be moving out by about sunrise Thursday, with some lingering showers in the later morning, but partly sunny skies and highs in the low 30s during the afternoon. Thursday night will be cold but dry, with mostly cloudy skies and lows in the mid teens.
Friday will be a quiet if cold day as high pressure digs in from the northeast and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. There will be only a few passing clouds with highs in the low to mid 30s. Friday night will be partly cloudy with lows in the upper teens.
The weekend will be a little warmer, if rather unsettled with a sprawling frontal boundary pushing across the eastern U.S. Sunday morning. This should churn northward enough milder air ahead of it that the bulk of precipitation will fall as rain rather than snow. Saturday will be dry with mostly cloudy skies and highs in the upper 30s, and Saturday night will be mostly cloudy with a few snow showers towards Sunday morning, with lows in the mid to upper 20s. Sunday will see morning snow showers change over to scattered rain showers for the duration of the day, with cloudy skies otherwise and highs around 40 °F.
Looking ahead into the week of Christmas, if you’re hoping for a snowy white holiday in the vein of Bing Crosby, this isn’t looking like your year. A ridge in the jet stream over the central part of the continental United States is expected eastward as the month progresses. While there is an elevated chance for precipitation, temperatures are looking likely to be in the 40s for highs for much of the time period, which isn’t that warm in the grand scheme of things meteorologically, but it will hamper the development of snow, and should any fall, it will melt it away fairly quickly. Sorry folks, nature can be fickle.