By Alex Sosnowski
Senior Expert Meteorologist
AccuWeather says that if you are thinking the stormy winter pattern will end soon over the Plains, Midwest and East, guess again. Things may get worse, if you don’t like snow and cold.
There have been many winters where there were only a handful of major storms the entire season. It seems this winter is taking the cake for frequent travel problems associated with multiple major and minor storms.
We have had two storm tracks thus far. One modest track brings storms in from the Pacific, then cross country over the Upper Midwest. A second track has had storms forming along the Gulf Coast then tracking up the Atlantic Seaboard.
Usually one or the other track will dominate. However, it seems we have been flipping back and forth between the two. The result has been light to moderate snow events over the Midwest and episodes of heavy snow along the Atlantic Seaboard.
Going on through early February, this pattern will continue. There is also the potential for the duo-storm track to phase along the East Coast, raising concerns for a couple more “blockbuster” storms through that period.
The storms frequenting the track have the potential to continue their pesky onslaught over the Midwest, while being far more disruptive in the East, when more cold air arrives on the scene.
Even some of the “snow holes” in portions of Pennsylvania, Maryland and the Virginias will likely be filled in with this pattern.
Most unfortunately, the pattern may prove to be very costly as far as snow removal and road treatment are concerned.
The risk of roof failure will continue to increase in portions of New England, where little or no melting following the frequent snowfall or mixed precipitation events will continue to add up.
With each passing week that the warmth fails to show over the Plains and East, more money is flying out the door in terms of heating your home or business and at the pump.
What is to Blame?
There obviously is more to pattern than the presence of a La Nina, a common anomaly in tropical Pacific Ocean temperature. The strength of the feature may perhaps have more say in the matter. Other oceans have their anomalies, as well.
According to Long Range Weather Pattern Expert Paul Pastelok, “If there is one big thing we could blame on the failure of winter to release its grip early in January, it would be the persistence of a feature known as the Greenland Block.”
This feature, a buckle in the jet stream, or the river of air high in the atmosphere in the vicinity of Greenland, typically shows up a couple of times a winter for a few weeks at a time. There can be some winters it never shows, or it could hang tough most of the season.
“Until recently the block has held fast,” Pastelok said.
Usually, its presence not only drives cold air into the eastern U.S. from central Canada, but also works against big storms running up the coast.
“Interestingly, this winter it has shifted its position just enough to allow most storms to run the Atlantic Coast, only to return to position, once each storm departs,” Pastelok added.
The Greenland Block is weaker now, but a new feature has emerged and is perhaps just as much of another troublemaker for shoving cold into the Plains and East.
This feature is a big northward bulge in the jet stream over the western U.S. and Canada and is associated with warm air in that region, but cold air farther east.
With a weaker block and now colder air present, the frequency of storms running the up the East Coast with snow will likely increase.