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The bitterly cold aftermath

The snow came…and accumulated less than expected. The snow left…and opened the floodgates to the promised Arctic blast. As far as official National Weather Service snow totals around the area the city of Fredericksburg recorded 3.5″ with 4.0″ reported in Hartwood, and 2.5″ was measured five miles south-southwest of the city by an observer in Spotsylvania county. Three inches was reported from Jersey in King George county as well.

These accumulation totals didn’t add up to expectations of forecasters (or snow lovers!) even though both Shannon Airport and the Stafford Regional Airport began recording light snowfall as early as noon yesterday. My thoughts as to why this happened are that the coastal storm – the system that was needed to wrap up and draw in moisture off the Atlantic – formed a bit farther east than the models projected. Even a jog of 50 miles or so affects snow depths around Fredericksburg since 0.1″ (one-tenth of an inch) of liquid moisture difference can lead to an inch or more of snow difference. The forecast models are just not finely detailed enough to predict low pressure location and formation with that sort of accuracy.

Be that as it may the main story of this week – the one that was obscured by the snow (pun intended) – is the very cold air and wind chills that have settled into the region. This morning’s low of 1 degree at the UMW weather station will likely not be the coldest reading this week, and the Arctic air will be reinforced several times over the next ten days or so. “High” temperatures the next few days won’t make it out of the 20s while the wind chills will hover at or below the zero degree level.

The overall weather pattern can be visualized via this Weather Prediction Center temperature probability graphic through the first week in February:814temp.new

Obviously the cold air will continue to blanket the eastern half of the nation. But look at the western U.S. and Alaska. They will be warmer than normal while we shiver. The reason is that a semi-permanent high pressure ridge has settled over them, blocking cold air and moisture from reaching them (hence the serious drought and wildfires out West).  The eastern edge of this ridge acts like a playground slide via which the frigid Arctic air rides “downhill” over us. As long as this situation remains we will stay cold and it looks like that will be the case through at least the first week in February.

So we have no other choice but to bundle up and wait out the cold. Hey, it IS winter after all and spring really isn’t that far away.

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Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/weather/2014/01/22/the-bitterly-cold-aftermath/

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