Wednesday, December 24, 2008

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And Winter Came
Newly released title song from Enya's 2008 holiday album.

December 24, 2008: The recent two-week period has all but taken our breath away with coast-to-coast storms of ice, snow, wind, torrential downpours, thundersnow, tornadoes and winter weather in the most unlikely places. From a blanket of white on the beaches of Malibu to New Orleans to Las Vegas, some of us are left wondering if the best way to see a White Christmas is to head for the place you would least expect there to be snow! This year, Mother Nature sure has made it clear that the winter solstice is a time not to be taken lightly.

December 21, 2008: Seattle. Two Seattle residents enjoy impromptu sledding on Denny Way in Capitol Hill as the city kicks off winter with the most snow in over a decade. Photo credit: Mike Kane/Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Visit the storm gallery.

December 18: 2008: Las Vegas. Palm fronds buckle under the weight of a rare pre-season snowfall that was the most since February 1979. Photo credit: Robert LaRocca, who features more delightful pictures of this event on her Real Estate blog.

December 11, 2008: New Orleans. Charter school kindergarden students and their teacher revel in the first December snow they've ever seen in their lifetime, as the last measureable snowfall was December 2004. Heart-warming to see that something so short-lived can bring such wild smiles to children in such a weather-torn city. Photo credit: The New Orleans Times-Picayune, which features an article and gallery of the blanketed Big Easy. Some areas just a few miles from the city received a much heavier blanket (6-8 inches!) as seen below:

While this photo journey around the country may temporarily lift spirits of snow-starved East coast powderhounds, you are no doubt left wondering: When will we join the fun?
North America snowcover on the first day of winter:
North America snowcover 12-22-08
The encouraging indications I glean from this map are that:
1. For the first time since December 1971, Canada has snowcover coast-to coast. 2. Nearly half the continental US also reported measurable snow. 3. The albedo (reflectivity effect) of the white ground will chill the boundary layer of air, allowing for a large scale "recharge" of cold air to develop over the next 3-4 weeks. If that air remains locked in Canada, and the U.S. begin to experience a January thaw, I believe this will set the stage for a very cold and stormy period for the Midwest from mid January well into February.
So for those of us waiting to see "white in the winter night," your time to join in the fun is coming , it just may take a while for all the atmospheric dynamics to align just right. Until then, I might as well admit that I use songs from Enya on continuous play as a coping strategy during snow droughts. You couldn't tell though, right? Since I'm not ready to break this cycle of co-dependency, I have posted once more below for your holiday viewing pleasure our theme song from Enya's new album, And Winter Came:

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

lyrics and a single from Enya's And Winter Came

December 25, 2008: For Christmas Week, I have updated this post with a newer version of the music video I thought you might enjoy. This recently released single from Enya's new winter album is truly a heart-warming masterpiece of the simple things that make this time of year memorable and filled with anticipation. The lyrics and melody captured for me what it means to not only "honor the holidays" of all religions but to always observe the real reason behind the season.

If you are reading this, (while listening to the music), then you are likely among the nostalgia-smitten folks who on a Saturday night in early December felt that stirring inside upon discovering that it was actually snowing! and it stayed on the ground! These are the kinds of people who start playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving, and get all giddy when the calendar finally turns to December. They gaze longingly at Currier & Ives engravings, wondering when they'll ever see a wintery evening like that. Yes, I am one of them, so I can speak with authority on this subject. Our anticipation is so great we'll fall for any mention of it anywhere. At least once a year, we're hoodwinked by the oldest trick in the book, when someone pulls a convincing exclaim of "Look, it's snowing!" (complete with finger pointed at the window), followed by "Ha ha, made you look!" Then, some of us can't even think straight the first time it really is happening. Almost ritual-like, we go to the window, mouth agape - and then just walk out the front door - without a coat or even the thought of one. It's not enough to just see it, you have to go out and feel it, smell the pristine crispness of the air, and hear how it's falling seems to dampen out all the imperfections and busyness in this life- even if for a few moments.

You know the feeling, because there's something so refreshing and invigorating about snow falling right where you are. Although we all grumble at times about what it means for travel, when handed the surprise, I know some of you collar up the dog and go for a brisk walk. Others throw open all the drapes, brew a cup of Mocha and sit back to drink in the view of this pleasant gift from God's creation. For some of us, the feeling may not be joy, but rather sadness as snow this time of year can also reignite pain we thought had been extinguished. However, we all take a first glance outside at that first real snowfall, and feel a brief but collective sense of peace.

Who hasn't seen children of all creeds and colors instantly immerse themselves in the joy of a new snowfall, acting as if this moment was divinely fashioned just for them? The arrival of each newly fallen snow should reassure in our hearts the truth that God still loves us as his children, despite all our weaknesses and blemishes. Seeing "white in the winter night" last Saturday reminded me that despite the pain and conflict of this world, God covers all of us with a blanket of white, so he can share with us the purity of his love. Experiencing that love is so much more valuable than the gold, or the candlelight, the green or the mistletoe. While those time-honored traditions make the season special...what's better than any gift or intention, is the meaning behind "white in the winter night that everyone remembers."

It's because we have all felt the joy of seeing snow for the very first time, and maybe once, secretly believed it was sent especially for us. Truth be told, that snow was intended for you, in the same way God intended to send a helpless infant named Jesus to Earth 2,000 years ago to save all of us. Now that's what everyone remembers, and I hope you will too.

During this holiday season and in the winter to follow, I wish upon you and your family an opportunity to revel in the serenity of snow falling wherever you may be. When that time comes, perhaps you'll also hear a distant choir singing "Glory...Glory.....Glory" and know in your heart that the real glory of God is that he always has, and always will love you.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008



THU 12/17 UPDATE: The current US Hazards Assessment shows potential for a variety of significant winter events this weekend across two-thirds of the country, just in time for the arrival of... winter. Like it or not, most of the U.S. has entered a long duration period of cold and stormy weather that will extend into Christmas weekend.

If you are unable to view this site due to server issues at your place of work, please bookmark the text-only version: During a high-impact event, I realize many of you prefer to check for updates during the workday, so text of recent posts will be published at this alternate location.

Friday: Wintry precip stays out of central Maryland, with exception of areas along PA Boundary, northern Harford and Cecil. Most of PA will experience snow and sleet mixed, changing to freezing rain then rain, and by nightfall turning back to light snow before ending. Central and Northern PA into New York including the city should receive heavy snow with amounts ranging between 6 to 12 inches.

Saturday: Not much of a rose between two thorns, as scattered light freezing drizzle is expected in PA, with mixed light rain/sleet in MD. As evening approaches, a high pressure system in New England will wedge in cold air at the surface in advance of the next system. Light ssnow moves in overnight across most of West Virginia, central and western MD, Northern VA.

Sunday: Everything goes. Most of us in the Mid-Atlantic from west Virginia to New Jersey and everywhere in between will wake up to snow, mixing with sleet as the day progresses. A large area from the Philly suburbs south to Washington will experience a long duration period of light snow, sleet and freezing rain from mid-morning to early evening. There may even be a lull of saving grace for travelers Sunday afternoon, as a secondary low forms off the DelMarVa coast. Precip may end briefly as rain before colder air filters in behind the secondary, turning any remaining moisture over to light snow Sunday night.

Monday: Whatever fell on Sunday will have frozen over with overnight lows reaching the upper teens. This has potential to cause school and travel delays Monday morning. Temperatures may never climb above 32 across the region, and cold north winds will prevent melting. It'll be one of those rough "gotta scrap off the car" type mornings.

WED 12/17 UPDATE: The New England ice disaster was the start of several rapid fire storms occuring every few days, preceded by false warmups, followed by progressively colder conditions. Dare I say it, but if snow accumulates from any of these storms, the temperatures going into early next week will be cold enough to provide many of us with that elusive, highly-sought, nostalgic, holiday weather-related event. The Sterling, VA NWS is already beating the storm drum with this in their discussion:
For archival purposes, what was originally said on Thursday, 12/11/08 regarding the upcoming pattern:
" I have reason yet to "just believe" in the potential for a major snow and ice event for the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast corridor before December ends. Although I originally targeted the first week of December as the likely period, a slowing of the pattern progression has delayed this possibility by 2-3 weeks. That places the next period conducive for measureable, significant snow (greater than 4") or ice (greater than 1/4") to December 17-25."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008



NWS Baltimore-Washington 12-16-08

Maybe marginal temperatures this time will allow the forecast to more closely match reality, as last time both the NWS and I ended up with bungled calls. The last winter weather advisory for the Baltimore-DC Metro area didn't yield much. The difference this time? Cold air is at the helm, whereas last time, on going surges of warm moist tropical air aloft kept the cold air restricted to Pennsylvania. As you can plainly see from the radar to the is apparent the cold air is winning this battle. I will wait for evidence on the ground from your observations before I make a call. The oddity of this round of advisories is the text discusses a changeover of rain to freezing rain and snow, yet the NWS point-and-click forecasts for towns across the area show tonight's forecast to be plain rain. Check back around 9PM for a call on schools.

12-16-08 Radar

Based on my analysis of the "Nowcast" links, where I can perform a quick assessment of storm dynamics, it DOES NOT appear this will be a surprise ice storm for the Baltimore Metro region. Nor does it seem likely places like Southern Balto County, Howard, Anne Arundel or Montgomery will get any school delays out of this. Hereford Zone, Harford and Frederick might be the only ones this time. We have a classic "over-running" situation, (strong cold 1038mb high to the north, precip running over the cold air) but alas the surface/boundary layer cold air is too marginal this time. Sleet/freezing rain are "latent heat release" events, that tend to keep the temperature right at or just above 32. By contrast, snow is an evaporative cooling event, which pulls heat out of the atmosphere and thus chills it, thereby making the environment around the snow falling more conducive to producing additional snow. Despite your expectation of falling temps tonight, I think whatever they are right now will be exactly that by sunrise. That radar loop will look just about the same come morning I'll bet. A delay for all of BCPS could only occur if slightly more than half the county reporting areas observes slippery conditions by 5AM, which I doubt.

However, next week the drumbeats have already started on a major winter weather event taking shape for Saturday-Sunday. This looks to be the big kickoff I've been indicating for some time (just off on the timing!). More details about that Wednesday.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

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12/11 UPDATE: Forecast: New Orleans: Snow. Baltimore: Rain.
Are current anomalies indicators for the upcoming winter pattern?

I thought you might appreciate (or be jealous of) this unusual radar from the Southeast today, and powderhounds will no doubt wince at these hard facts: NWS reports accumulations of 2 to 8 inches throughout central and southern Louisiana. Here's "ground truth" proof. Scroll to end of the post for more details and links to news sites reporting on today's pre-season freak snow.

My analysis and forecast for the Northern Hemisphere seasonal pattern from December 1 to January 15. I realize the graphic below may be hard to read, so for those with unfiltered access to flickr, a copy of the image is available here. I will also post a written explanation of this graphic in the event you wish to use this as a teaching tool for your students. This approach enables climate teleconnection watchers to do exact comparison of the forecast versus the actual, as by the 15th it should become clear if this pattern I have laid out is developing or not.

The graphic above is why I have reason yet to "just believe" in the potential for a major snow and ice event for the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast corridor before December ends. Although I originally targeted the first week of December as the likely period, a slowing of the pattern progression has delayed this possibility by 2-3 weeks. That places the next period conducive for measureable, significant snow (greater than 4") or ice (greater than 1/4") to December 17-25. That does not automatically mean I am alluding to a white Christmas, so do not interpret this as a signal to activate false hopes. As you will read later, I am a lifelong skeptic of ever seeing the aforementioned highly-sought after winter weather event occur on a specific date so tied into our contemporary holiday lore. Not to dash you out of the snow, but my next essay in progress is titled: "Blame it on Dickens and Sunspots: The inconvenient truth about white Christmases." For now, you'll have to live vicariously through this video montage from the Polar Express, and ask yourself if you "believe."


Certainly, the folks along the Gulf coast must still believe, because it seems that if you want real measureable snow these days..forget Baltimore, Washington or New York. The place to find that wintery white stuff is in the usual spots, like Houston, Jackson, Miss. or New Orleans. Just take a look at the current NWS US watch and warning map. notice where the Winter Storm Warnings are? Yeah, where you'd expect them this time of year: Southeast Louisiana, southern Mississippi, places that are so accustomed to snow, it probably did not even make headlines. (Oh wait, that's in the alternate universe Ice Age version).

Looks like the NOLA Times-Picayune is reliving their inner childhood, because when you see "white in the 'not-even-winter-yet' night in a place like "Southtown", there's no better way to describe it than simply with the headline of: "It's Snowing!" 9:30 AM update: The editors have since changed that to "Snow falling throughout the metro area"




The current Baltimore/Washington watch & warning map shows the counties shown in purple-blue are under Winter Weather advisories from 4AM to 11AM Friday 12-11-08 (in addition to Flood Watches overnight). As you know, the counties shown in green have only flood watches at present. Based on past trends, and road conditions, I expect this Friday morning:

NO DELAY: Howard County. They have no days/hours built into the calendar, surface air cold is marginal, temps will remain above freezing, most of their paved surfaces are in suburban environments than more rural Carroll County. However Ho Co is under a Winter Weather advisory. If you are a teacher or student there, I suggest setting the alarm and just let go of any idea you're in for a delay. The same applies to Baltimore City, Anne Arundel County.

2 HOUR DELAY: Counties of Baltimore, Harford, Cecil, Carroll, Frederick. Rationale: Higher terrain and more than 1/2 of their geographical area will be affected by winter weather conditions in the crucial time from 4AM to 7AM. While accumulation on roads is unlikely, a quick burst of snow could easily produce many slippery spots. Sun angle has no bearing on this event, nor does surface temperatures. The deciding factor will be a short period of heavy wet snow that hinders visibility. I suspect these counties may have to wait until they see "ground truth" that the NWS forecast is verifying and what road conditions present at 5:30 A.M. So you had better SET THE ALARM regardless and tomorrow morning, closely monitor your news station (or radio if in the car). Last winter a 2-hour delay decision was changed to closed after I left the house, and though I have very little distance to travel, that was not the case for untold hundreds of teachers and parents who learned of the closing upon their arrival at schools.

CLOSED: Highly unlikely any of these counties will see the conditions that prevent school for the entire day, with temperatures remaining above freezing across Maryland except for far western areas.

New Orleans Snow Note: My overview of the Surprise Dixie Storm was moved back to draft status so I can add more pictures and clean up the formatting. Will re-post this Friday with my winter analysis writuep.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


Looking for snow in the near future?

As of December 8, all I can say is there soon may be...
Believe 3

from Saturday, November 29:

SAT AM UPDATE: I hope our tranquil Thanksgiving was enjoyable for you and your family, and gave you time to get "tanned, rested and ready" by Sunday, as we are heading full force into this season's first region-wide winter storm. However, coastal dwellers in the I-95 corridor will have to live vicariously through their interior Pennsylvania counterparts this time. This is yet another repeat of the storm dynamic the Northeast has had over the past 2 years: shallow fingers of cold surface air lodged in valleys over-ridden by warm moist air aloft. From Washington to Philadelphia and their metro regions, the cold layer is thin and will be scoured more quickly, turning a brief Sunday morning snowfall over to rain. The "kitchen sink" region will setup in the 219/220/99 corridor in western and central Pennsylvania from Johnstown to Altoona to State College. This area will see precip begin by dawn as light snow, and progress through the morning to sleet and possibly freezing rain depending on surface temperatures. North and west of this area should see mostly snow, but amounts will be limited to less than 4 inches until return flow in the storm's wake restarts the lake effect machine on Monday.

For the remainder of the Mid-Atlantic, east of I-81, morning snow mixed with sleet will prevent significant accumulation, but be enough to make roads challenging in the mid and late morning. Thus, if you are traveling Sunday, as I will be, my suggestion is to get on the road soon after sunrise when the precip will be light. I do not advise waiting to leave until you see a changeover to, as by then you'll have to negotiate a lot more slushy, slippery conditions and the bulk of holiday travelers returning home.

Passage of the primary low into western Pennsylvania, and the coastal low through Del-Mar-Va will change all precip over to rain by Sunday night - squashing any possibility of Maryland schools being closed on Monday, although some interior PA districts may have delays due to refreezing Sunday night.

Euro 0Z Mon 12-1

This current European model projection for 7PM Sunday night supports my adage for these types of storms: "The primary low stays stronger longer." A 990mb low in Ohio will track across Pennsylvania, enhanced by upper level short-wave energy while a weaker secondary low moves through the southeast. Also to note is the lack of a surface high to resupply with cold air. In this scenario, no high and the separation between the two lows will prevent this system from cranking into a widespread coastal snowstorm.

I believe the setup of this storm finally reveals the true indications for December's weather patterns: the deep 850 mb trough in the midwest (pointing to a negative NAO), the Pacific/western ridge (leading to a positive PNA), and a new reserve of cold air, while not extreme, is beginning to reload in northern Canada. The next section focuses on my forecast and analysis for December into January, and over this weekend will be adding graphics and links to support the discussion.