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Severe cold coming in two fierce blows, Friday and Tuesday

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Some of the coldest weather the Washington, D.C. metro region has witnessed in recent years, and possibly decades is set to arrive in two punishing blasts – the first early Friday, and the second late Monday into Tuesday.

Both cold punches are brief but extremely sharp, especially considering recent mild winters.

The first cold snap crashes into the region tonight. Temperatures in the 30s this evening fall into mid-teens to near 20 by morning. With sustained winds over 20 mph (gusts over 30 mph), wind chills in the single digits are likely throughout the day Friday.

In some of the colder areas west and north of the District, sub-zero wind chills are possible Friday morning.

Models hold temperatures more or less steady during the day – not rising above the low-to-mid 20s with many spots stalled right around 20. These temperatures are about 20 degrees below normal.

Friday night also promises to be very cold, especially if there is snow cover. Temperatures are likely to reach single digits in the colder suburbs with low-to-mid teens around the city. A gradual moderation in temperatures is likely over the weekend before Monday’s arctic infiltration.

This first cold shot has impressive pedigree. In International Falls, Minnesota, it produced a record low of 42 below zero this morning (Thursday). In a small town called Embarrass, Minnesota, the mercury plunged to 46 below zero.

The next cold shot, likely more intense the first, rips into the region Monday, with falling temperatures. The bottom really drops out Monday night. Both the European and GFS models drop lows into the single digits to even near zero. Bear in mind, D.C. has experienced lows in the single digits only 5 times since 1990 (8 on 1/17/2009, 8 on 1/10/2004, 5 on 2/5/1996, 7 on 2/6/1995, -4 on 1/19/1994).

Incredibly, these models only show highs around 10 or possibly the teens during the day Tuesday, followed by another night single digits to near zero Tuesday night.

Sometimes, models “overdo” the intensity of cold, especially at longer ranges. In order for this cold to “achieve” these modeled levels, some snow cover would probably be necessary. The snow acts like a refrigerator and helps retain the cold. The GFS model wants to put down a bit of light snow as the Arctic front comes through Monday – but it’s not clear how much it will amount to (we’ll explore that in future posts).

Stay tuned for future posts which take a closer look at how these cold snaps stack up historically and also what you can do to prepare.