ITHACA, N.Y. –– The sun might be setting after 5 PM again, but we have a ways to go with meteorological winter. A pronounced trough in the jet stream will allow for multiple storm systems to skirt the Southern Tier this week, though nothing looks particularly alarming. A branch of the polar vortex will descend into the central part of the continental United States later in the week, sending temperatures plunging across the nation, though the worst of it looks to avoid Tompkins County.

Graphic courtesy of the Northeast Regional Climate Center.

Weather Recap

Even with the cold snap at the end of the month, January 2021 finished above average temperature-wise, at 25.7°F, 2.4°F above normal. Even though the highest temperature recorded at the Northeast Regional Climate Center’s Game Farm Road site in Dryden was an almighty 42°F, the persistent, heavy cloud cover experience for much of the month kept low temperatures much warmer than usual.

The story was similar across much of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. All 35 of the primary weather stations recorded January temperatures above normal. Two stations – both in Maine, Portland and Caribou – recorded top-ten warmest Januaries on record, 7th warmest and 2nd warmest respectively.

Graphic courtesy of the Northeast Regional Climate Center.

On the precipitation side, even with all the cloudiness, it was a little on the dry side, with 1.84″ of recorded rain and melted snow liquid-equivalent, marginally lower than the usual 2.08″ we see in January. The same was true with snowfall, with 14.9″ recorded in January vs. the normal of 17.6″. Fun fact, January and February are Ithaca’s driest months, but snow does a pretty good job masking that with its 10:1 and 15:1 ratios for inches of snow to melted equivalent. The cold is an effective distraction as well, because who’s paying attention to how dry it is when you’re freezing your keister off?

Regionwide, 32 of the 35 primary weather stations recorded drier-than-normal Januaries. Apart from a few localized areas (Appalachian Virginia, Lake Champlain) most of the area was moderately to well below normal in precipitation.

Should any of these areas be worried about a lack of watershed replenishment, fear not, the weather this upcoming week will offer plenty of opportunities to eat into their precipitation deficits, as well as cold air to keep the snow around for a while yet.

Your Weekly Weather

It’s been a cloudy Sunday with some scattered light snow showers, the result of a coastal storm system gathering strength south of Long Island. The storm is far enough to the south and east that it’s not really affecting the local weather much, though if you’re traveling to New York or coastal New England, expect some travel hangups as those areas are expected to receive several inches of snow.

As that storm continues to lift off to the northeast, the snow showers will wind down with perhaps another coating at most, and some breaks of blue sky may make an appearance before sunset, particularly if you’re west of Ithaca. With winds out of the northwest behind the coastal low and partly cloudy skies overnight, afternoon highs of around 30°F will drop off quickly, and winds settling towards sunrise will allow for optimal cooling. Lows will make it down to the upper single digits in Ithaca, and some rural hilltops could get close to zero before daybreak.

Monday will be quiet as high pressure briefly builds in from the southeast. Partly cloudy skies in the morning hours will turn mostly cloudy during the afternoon ahead of the next storm system. It will be on the cool side, with highs in the mid 20s. A shortwave (pulse of atmospheric instability) begins to make its way in after sunset Monday, and an evening low temperature in the upper teens will begin to rise as southerly flow kicks in ahead of the shortwave. Temperatures will be in the mid 20s by morning, and snow showers are likely to enter into the region from the west after the midnight, and become widespread towards sunrise Tuesday.

The shortwave will pass through mid and late morning Tuesday, and that’s when the snow showers will be at their strongest and most widespread. Most areas can expect an inch or two of new snow before the snow begins to winds down during the afternoon hours as the shortwave continues to head eastward. Highs will be in the low to mid 30s Tuesday. Tuesday night will be quiet and cold as northwest winds pick up again behind the shortwave, with mostly cloudy skies in Ithaca and perhaps a few lake enhanced showers to the north as one gets closer to Lake Ontario. Lows will be in the lower teens.

Wednesday will be another quiet day as high pressure briefly builds in from the west. Plan for partly cloudy skies and highs in the mid 20s. Wednesday night will be mostly cloudy with lows in the lower teens.

Thursday will start off quiet, but a low pressure system will make its way through the Ohio River Valley and pass to the south. localized instability will enhance a shortwave and result in some measurable snow overnight, with mid-range quantified precipitation forecasts currently suggesting something in the ballpark of 2-5″, so by no means a major event. Expect mostly cloudy skies during the morning to turn overcast by afternoon, with snow showers by late afternoon and steadier light snows from about 7 PM to 5 AM. Highs will be in the low 30s, and with the precipitation and clouds, overnight lows will be on the milder side for February, in the mid 20s.

Friday will see a chance for snow showers throughout the day, first from the lingering snow showers of the Thursday night low-shortwave combo, and later from lake enhanced bands fed by northwest winds behind the low. However, these are not likely to result in substantial accumulations. It will be mostly cloudy with highs in the low 30s. Friday night will see a few weak lake effect snow showers and partly cloudy skies with lows in the mid teens.

For your weekend, at this point it’s looking rather cold and cloudy, with a few scattered snow showers around but nothing serious. Highs both Saturday and Sunday will be in the mid 20s, with lows in the mid teens.

Extended Outlook

No sugarcoating this mess. A portion of the polar vortex is breaking off and will plunge into the Central United States over the next several days, and persist throughout much of the month until it wears itself out and recedes back towards the poles (of course, this means that Northern Canada is going to be 20+ degrees above normal, because we in the continental U.S. will be having what they usually have claim to). Deep cold will envelop most of the country, though the Northeast and the Southern Tier will be on the fringe of it, the way one might get splashed by a swimming pool cannon ball while those closer get absolutely soaked.

This poses some major risks, though not particularly for Tompkins County. Models show sub-freezing temperatures as far south as San Antonio and temperatures of up to 40 degrees below normal in parts of the Northern Great Plains, which means far below zero and enough to pose an immediate danger to health with just a few minutes of unprotected exposure.

The shoving of the jet stream south in a broad trough will encourage two areas of storm activity along its preceding ridge and succeeding ridge, meaning the Pacific Northwest and the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic. Storm activity is likely to be above normal, and the pattern would be favorable for the development of some types of Nor’Easters. Sit tight, folks, winter’s not done with us yet.

Brian Crandall

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