Both Punxsutawney Phil and Washington, D.C.’s home-grown Groundhog “Potomac Phil” have pronounced we are sentenced to 6 more weeks of winter. And they are not alone. Human forecasters join the plucky marmots in forming a strong consensus that more blasts of bitter cold and perhaps some snow are in our future.
“While I usually do not get into debates about over-hyped, over-publicized rodents, I essentially agree with Phil’s six week pronouncement,” says Larry Cosgrove, chief meteorologist for WEATHERAmerica Consulting, based in Houston. “Deep trough in the East brings a chill to the Beltway!”
Matt Rogers, president for the Bethesda-based Commodity Weather Group (and also a Capital Weather Gang contributor), points to a big area of high pressure over Alaska will help channel Arctic air towards eastern North America later this month.
“All three sets of computer model guidance [the American, European and Canadian] are in good agreement,” Rogers says. “By President’s Day weekend, they show a redeveloping big high pressure ridge over Alaska. That would suggest more significant cold air transport to eastern North America during the second half of February.”
Rogers predicts that February will be colder than January – relative to normal – in Washington, D.C..
The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center forecast for February also supports this chilly idea. It favors below normal temperatures for the month of February in the eastern U.S.
Forecasters are less confident about prospects for snow than they are for cold. The Climate Prediction Center assigns equal chances to above or below normal precipitation.
“We’re still struggling with the snow issue,” Rogers said. “We don’t have a good Greenland Block [an area of high pressure over Greenland that helps to hold in cold air over the Mid-Atlantic in East Coast snowstorms].”
Adds meteorologist Michael Ventrice of Weather Services International: “This is a … pattern that often generates coastal low pressure systems that can impact much of the coastal eastern U.S., including the D.C. area. While these coastal low pressure systems can often produce hefty snowfall amounts for the Northeast, the D.C. metro area will often struggle to experience big snowfall events since temperatures are often border-line too warm and thus many storms will transition to more rain-based.”
Despite the challenges the pattern poses for snow-making in Washington, Rogers believes February will be snowier in Washington than January. He says whether wintry conditions extend into March “is a tough call at this point.”
Some seasonal outlooks – issued in the fall – called for a back-loaded winter, with a tame start and harsh finish.
“We have predicted that the back half of winter would likely be the coldest part of winter (relative to normal) since November,” says Judah Cohen, lead seasonal forecaster at AER, inc. “So I would say rather than our forecast agreeing with the groundhog, the groundhog is agreeing with us.”
Related: Judah Cohen winter outlook