“Is it ever going to snow?” — Washingtonians, every day
Right now, at the very moment I write this, the sky is blue and the sun is shining, and I’m seriously considering eating my lunch on the rooftop deck. People are calling the weather “springlike,” and “unseasonable.” It’s strange, but all things considered, okay.
Still, everyone is wondering if it’s going to snow this winter. Reagan National Airport — D.C.’s official snow measuring location (for now?) — got one measly inch on Jan. 30. If we scrape together a couple other scant snow showers, the total nudges up to 1.4 inches.
It’s not just weird in Washington: From the Southeast to New England people are asking their meteorologist what’s going on.
“Well it’s been an interesting year,” said Eric Fisher, chief meteorologist at CBS Boston. “It started perfectly normal in December — typical cold, typical snow. Then we hit January and although it started cold we had a long, extended thaw period.”
|Location||Actual snow to-date||Average snow to-date|
|National Airport||1.4 inches||9.6 inches|
|Dulles||1 inch||12.9 inches|
|BWI||0.7 inches||11.9 inches|
Snow accumulation in Boston area is actually running pretty close to average, but the season still seems “off” to people. Even though parts of Massachusetts had three feet of snow at one point, everything melted quickly.
“We’re running way below average in terms of days with snow on the ground,” Fisher said. “We had a storm put 20 inches of snow down a few weeks ago, and it was like it was an afterthought.”
The Boston area is dealing with the same weather patterns as D.C. — we’ve had a couple storms this winter, but warm high pressure has returned almost immediately in between those events. Boston has received more snow because it’s farther north and colder, but once the storm is over, the snow vanishes under springlike sunshine.
Unlike last winter, you can’t blame this (or anything else) on El Niño. The Pacific Ocean is technically in La Niña, although it’s weak and is probably having very little influence on the weather in North America. This winter, it’s something else.
“A large contribution is coming from the North Pacific jet [stream],” says Jason Furtado, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Oklahoma. “We’ve been seeing a lot of episodes where the North Pacific jet is strong and extends across the Pacific, and that helps to pump moisture into the West Coast and warmth into North America.”
Interestingly, that’s kind of what we would expect during an El Niño. In fact, for the West Coast, this winter is more like what was expected during last year’s super-epic Godzilla El Niño (which they most certainly did not get).
It's almost 60 in downtown Washington on Feb. 6 at 2p. Tomorrow + Wed, we may be even warmer! pic.twitter.com/G47CQrUI9y
— Capital Weather Gang (@capitalweather) February 6, 2017
Furtado is also cautious to remind us that there have been cold shots on the East Coast, they just haven’t been sustained. That may have to do with what’s going onto our east.
“We’re not seeing blocking in the North Atlantic,” he noted. That’s critical for East Coast winter storms, which almost always require cold air to be “blocked” and held in place over the Northeast by strong high pressure over Greenland.
If there is no cold air dammed up and ready to go, the Mid-Atlantic is simply not going to see that much snow.
Both D.C. and Boston will get another shot at snow this week from Wednesday night into Thursday, although Boston’s chances are significantly higher. Fisher says they’re expecting around eight inches, which would bring snow totals to “average” in Beantown.
The way things stand now, D.C. will be lucky to get some slush.
“Warm” is the winter I’ve come to accept this year.