February looks Chillier than it did a couple of weeks ago

In mid-January, signs seemed to be pointing to a flatly milder than average February across the northern U.S. A still very strong El Nino looked to become the dominant player again, and colder periods tend to be less common in the north during strong el ninos. Now (the end of January), I am seeing signs more colder weather due to a ridge of high pressure in the west expected to develop, along with a trough in the east. That kind of pattern favors arctic air being redirected on a NW flow back into the upper midwest, the Great Lakes, and the NE. The ridge in the west can be a blocking mountain which forces the northern/polar jet stream to go around it, where it grabs onto arctic air over NW Canada (sometimes with Siberian origins). It then sends that cold air back to the SE. At this point, the pattern doesn’t look to be so extreme as to send us into the deep, deep freeze of last February–not even close. But after a few warm days at the start of the month, the pattern does seem sufficiently persistent to bring seasonable (low 30s) to seasonably cold (20s) high temperatures back to our region much of the time into the middle of the month. A southern branch of the jet stream will occasionally send storm systems across the Gulf states and toward the SE Atlantic seaboard. When these waves in the southern branch “phase” with waves in the northern branch, you can get the kind of nor’easter which spawned the Blizzard of 2016. Whether that happens again remains to be seen. However, in a mature but still strong El Nino such nor’easters can be favored to occur more than once during the mid and late winter. Such storms often leave WNY unscathed. If waves in the northern/polar jet stream stay dominant, then those northern low pressure systems can produce episodes of lake effect snow in the wake of their passage, so that will bear some watching as well. At this writing (January 29th), Lake Erie is still mostly open with a nearby lake temperature of 34 (up 2 from last week). It is looking to be an interesting weather month.

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