BOSTON (CBS) — It’s time to check your woodpile, make sure there’s still some gas in the snowplow and look at the schedule to see how long until pitchers and catchers show up. We are passing the midpoint of winter as daylight increases and average temperatures begin to slowly climb into spring and summer.
Of course, we all know that the process can take a while in New England. However, every year is different and it’s natural to start wondering what we’ll be up against during the second half.
We know that up to this point, it’s been a pretty lackluster season. December was one of the warmest on record in New England, with barely any snowfall and no lake or pond of ice to go outside. January brought us some snow, though Boston has still only managed three days with snow on the ground so far all season. The entire region remains below the average to date. However, winter can be fickle, coming in gusts and gusts. Sometimes it is December that is the distinctive month. Others January, and sometimes nothing happens until very late in February or March. Stats can change quickly depending on one or two big storms.
Temperatures have been typical for January so far, but we are about to embark on a very cold stretch to end the month. And it’s just in time for the bottom of the annual temperature curve here (technically that’s this week, but close enough). I think if we are going to catch up in the cold and snow department, a lot is going to have to happen during this period.
Looking ahead, let’s start with the relatively simple things. There is no doubt that the coldest part of winter will begin on Friday and will last about a week, with the number of days exceeding 20. It is not brutally cold, but it will be a period of colder than average weather that is constant. for more than one or two days at a time. Good news for anyone who has been waiting for better ice thickness to try some pond hockey or to cast a line into the cold water below. This is all courtesy of a large ridge in the jet stream that builds up in Alaska and the West Coast, allowing us to take advantage of the arctic cold to the north. It will be more than enough for January to be the first colder-than-average winter month for all of our local weather sites in years (last was January 2018).
I think there is reason to believe, given the expected changes in February, that this will be our coldest 7-day stretch for the entire winter of 2021-22. So if you charge through the remainder of January, you’ve made it through the coldest, darkest days of the season.
Now the more difficult questions. Will we get a lot of snow? That is a more difficult question to answer. We have a lot to see, but none of the systems in the works are guaranteed successes.
First up is a light snow band that should bring an inch or two to the area Thursday morning. We’re likely to get some ocean-effect snow showers on the South Coast up to Cape Cod on Friday. Neither is big, but they could add a touch of winter appeal to the landscape.
Then we have a larger coastal low moving south on Saturday. Right now it looks like this will be a bug for us as the pattern is too progressive without blocking to slow it down or lure it north.
After that, there are many more disturbances that dip through the depression to the east. A clipper has the potential to bring us a mix of snow and rain around Tuesday. But I think the period that may be most interesting is at the end of next week in the last days of January. This should end up being the point of a regime change in the pattern, and it is often during these transitions that storms churn.
Guaranteed to be a monster? No, there is no way of knowing how the intricate dance between jet streams and higher level energy will play out more than a few days in advance. But at least there’s potential in the pattern and the cold air in the place, which is more than we’ve had for most of the winter.
Will the window last? Signs point to a shift beginning in early February, resulting in milder conditions returning to the east and cooler conditions returning to the west. Let’s take a look at some large-scale patterns and what the guide shows below.
First of all, there is the polar vortex. This is more or less a dive. It is near record strong and not expected to change much in February. Nothing is happening across the hemisphere to significantly disrupt it, so you can trust that it won’t be too much of a factor during the last month of the season.
However, what we are beginning to see is that it will finally try to dock with the troposphere. Up to this point, the vortex has been strong but has not been connected to the flow through the troposphere where our weather occurs (this happened in 2019-20, which is why we had such a mild winter). This January has been good news for winter lovers, because at least it has opened the door to snow and cold. But as the last week of January progresses, the guidance points to a strong development of +AO. This is the switch to a low arctic setting (instead of a high arctic) that should turn off the constant cold spigot for us next month.
Also, we are entering a generally +NAO (no North Atlantic blockade) period. That’s not too surprising for two reasons. First of all, it is a state that we often see during February when La Niña conditions are present. Second, it is an indication that the strong polar vortex is taking more control.
To add to this, we are also seeing a change to -PNA (via West/Pacific Coast). Our best chances for a blizzard and cold snap generally occur when there is a ridge to the west, not a trough. December was full of -PNA, which is great for western snow lovers, but not so great on this side of the divide.
Finally, there is seasonal orientation. I try not to put too much stock on them too far in advance (more than a month or so). But for the curious, they show mild February in the east and cold returning to the west, similar to December.
Putting all of this together, how does our WBZ winter outlook shape up? From a temperature perspective, I think we are in good shape. We will be near average for December and January, with February looking milder than average. That produces an overall milder winter than usual.
For snow, it’s always a bit like snowballing in the dark. A couple of big storms can make the whole season. If we max out the potential in the pattern and get 1 or 2 in the next 10 days, then it is set for an average or above average winter. If they just slide a few dozen miles too far east or west, then you’re out of a lot. I still feel good about our below average call. But ask me again at the beginning of February!