Monday-Tuesday looks wintry and messy, but don’t buy the ‘major storm’ hype
UPDATE... This article is outdated...
For the latest winter storm forecast information, please refer to my newest weather blog post.
UPDATE as of 5:00 p.m. Saturday...
I decided not to put together a full afternoon forecast update. But I did post the following to social media after perusing the afternoon model runs. No big changes in the big picture forecast.
style="color:#dd0000;">ORIGINAL POST from 11:40 a.m. Saturday...
Words matter. Especially in science. Especially in broadcasting.
If you're a regular reader of my weather content, you know that I always try to present an honest and realistic representation of the forecast. I'm very careful and deliberate about not only my forecasting technique, but also the words I use to communicate the weather.
Unquestionably, I would rather be right than first. I would much rather induce calm over panic. And I strive to offer a clear and open expert assessment of a weather situation, rather than one muddled with confusing second-hand analysis. I'd rather admit I don't know than make stuff up.
This week, you've probably seen headlines in your social media feeds warning of a "major" snow storm, a "huge" blast of winter, and even a "blizzard" for New Jersey. As I have discussed, there is indeed a storm system aiming for New Jersey in the Monday night to Tuesday time frame. And yes, it has the potential to bring wintry and messy conditions to the entire state. However, confidence continues to increase that snow accumulations and overall impacts will be limited.
A bread and milk storm this ain't.
We're now within 72 hours of the first flakes, and the forecast is taking shape. For the rest of this post, I want to outline what we know and what we don't about this winter storm. I'll offer some generalized details regarding timing and totals. We'll piece together more details (including a snowfall map, if justified) on Sunday.
What's the Deal?An area of low pressure will swing from the Southern Plains toward the Midwest on Monday. That storm system will then transfer its energy to a secondary low, forming off the North Carolina coast. Pretty typical wintertime storm setup so far.
You can thank a big dome of high pressure over Canada for keeping all that storm development south of New Jersey. The other piece of the puzzle missing here is a "wavy" atmosphere. (In other words, meridional flow and a deep negatively-tilted trough.) There's just no "highway in the sky" for that secondary storm to turn and parallel the Atlantic seaboard. (Like a classic nor'easter.)
The southern storm track presents a classic meteorological conundrum. Temperatures will be cold enough for "all snow" in North Jersey. But the most moisture and heaviest precipitation will fall in warmer South Jersey. Somewhere in the middle, there could be a sweet spot of messy and wintry weather. Especially if heavier mesoscale snow bands develop. But where? And how much? Welcome to my life.
Why Should You Care?
There are two primary reasons this storm deserves our close attention:
1.) Across the board, forecast models have been very consistent in bringing at least some snow/ice accumulation to New Jersey.
2.) Massive snow accumulation is not required for messy travel conditions here in the most densely populated state in the nation. (See #Brinegate, November 2018.)
Why I'm Not Concerned?
And here are four reasons why I believe the "major storm" prophecies will bust:
1.) As I mentioned, the center of the storm is expected to stay to our south, keeping the heaviest precipitation bands away too.
2.) A wall of dry air (especially north). Cold air is, by definitely, dry air. And it may become very difficult to squeeze out substantial snowflakes.
3.) Lots of mixing (especially south and coast). Any periods of sleet and/or rain would drastically cut into potential accumulations.
4.) There are hints the storm will fizzle on Tuesday. Initial predictions had bands of precipitation on top of us all day Tuesday. But now there are signs it will lose a lot of its "oomph" and progressively weaken.
Bottom Line #1: When?
--First flakes/drops look to push into southwestern New Jersey around the early evening hours on Monday (6 p.m.) Most likely a wintry mix initially. That will slowly spread north and east, potentially enveloping the entire state in some sort of precipitation (liquid, frozen or both) by early Tuesday morning (2 a.m.)
--The brunt of the storm (if you can call it that) with the heaviest snow/mix/rain and most accumulation looks to be Tuesday morning (2 a.m. to 10 a.m.)
--The end of the storm gets tricky. There's a chance that we'll taper to showers through Tuesday afternoon and night. But I'd put equal odds at another burst of (wintry) precipitation coming through at some point.
Bottom Line #2: How Much?
--The most-likely scenario puts about 1 to 3 inches of total snow accumulation across most of New Jersey. Less to the south and along the coast, where rain will be more prevalent. (Possibly even zero snowfall, in fact.) And the potential for more is there, if the storm overperforms and/or we get convective snow bands.
--The maximum snow scenario would be 6 or 8 inches, most likely in the northern half of the state. I don't think the current model guidance supports such big totals. But the possibility is certainly something we have to keep in mind.
--The minimum snow scenario would be no more than an inch of accumulation, due to the above-freezing temperatures and dry air concerns I shared above. Zero snowfall is absolutely on the table for any corner of the state.
--The potential for icing due to sleet and freezing rain is also something to watch, especially across the southern half of the state.
Bottom Line #3: Potential Impacts?
--Tuesday morning's commute will be the potentially tricky one. Messy road conditions could necessitate school delays or even closings (for those districts attending in-person).
--In NWS speak, this looks like an "advisory" level storm, if that. If the current forecast holds, I doubt warnings will be issued in NJ.
--Severe wind, coastal flooding, and dangerous cold are not expected at this time. Good.
But That's Not All!
I cautioned that our atmosphere was starting to fire up, with more active weather conditions ahead. Proof positive, there is another storm system we're monitoring around the Thursday time frame.
Previously, it looked like this one would completely miss us to the south, as we remain entrenched on the cold side of the jet stream. However, recent guidance has crept those snow bands closer and closer to New Jersey.
This one potentially looks stronger and more moisture-rich than the Monday-Tuesday storm. I'll even say it has "major winter storm" potential (>6 inches), if it gets close enough.
We're still 5-6 days away, so it remains in the "worth watching" category for now. We'll continue to update you on this late week storm too. But I doubt we'll have a clear forecast until the early week storm departs. (Forecast models perform best when handling one storm at a time.)
Next weather blog update is expected sometime Sunday morning. Until then, enjoy your weekend and stay warm!
Dan Zarrow is Chief Meteorologist for Townsquare Media New Jersey. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter for the latest forecast and realtime weather updates.