A midwinter soaking is in store for many in the East as a shape-shifting area of low pressure continues east through the weekend. A warm, breezy rain is forecast for most from the Carolinas into Massachusetts, with any snow relegated to the highest elevations of northern New England and New York State.
This storm marks the start of an active weather pattern that will bring above-average precipitation to the Eastern Seaboard in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, snow from this system is already falling over parts of the Great Lakes. While not a blockbuster, a general accumulation of 2 to 4 inches is possible over northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. An isolated 5- to 6-inch total can’t be ruled out, either.
The storm has brought a slew of inclement weather to the Plains and Midwest. In Arkansas and Missouri, a localized ice storm struck the Ozark Plateau. Nearly three-quarters of an inch of icy glaze built up on surfaces, toppling trees and causing power outages.
In Kansas, there were dozens of car accidents Wednesday morning in the midst of steady snow. Multiple tractor-trailers jackknifed on treacherous highways.
As of dawn Friday, Chicago has experienced 28 straight hours of at least light precipitation, much of it in the form of light snow. On Friday night, snow will develop once again, falling at moderate to heavy rates at times. Up to six inches is possible by the time things wind down Saturday afternoon or evening, with the highest totals likely just west of the city.
Due to the uncertainty associated with this particular snowfall event, the National Weather Service in Chicago is “casting a wide net” with their forecasts, indicating that some lake-effect enhancement of snows west of and eventually southeast of Lake Michigan are possible Saturday as the system departs.
Meanwhile, the same system is handing off some of its energy to a secondary low center eyeing the Mid-Atlantic. This second system will bring a slug of precipitation to the East Coast, but will also drag a conveyor belt of warm air north ahead of it. That favors rain — rather than snow — in most areas.
The fledgling surface low will start to intensify over the Carolinas late Friday afternoon, sweeping a cold front through the Southeast and triggering a few late-day thunderstorms. One or two of these storms could become strong to locally severe.
The Storm Prediction Center has placed coastal regions under a marginal risk for severe weather. Behind the front, dew points — a measure of how much water vapor is in the air — will drop sharply, from the 60s to the 30s.
A line of heavy downpours will also work up to the northeast Friday night, from the Carolinas to the Canadian border. It will be heaviest farther south, arriving in the Interstate 81 corridor and the Blue Ridge Mountains around or just before midnight. That means if you’re in Washington, Baltimore or Philadelphia, you can probably enjoy Friday evening without worrying too much about a deluge (although an umbrella isn’t a bad idea, in case showers develop in advance of the main line).
But rain should arrive in the metro areas shortly after midnight.
That rain will linger through sunrise Saturday in the nation’s capital, while moving toward New Jersey and the Tri-State area in the afternoon. With colder air in place farther to the north, some high-elevation snow could fall in parts of northern Pennsylvania and western/Upstate New York. However, this will be isolated at best; predominantly rain is likely for most.
The remainder of New England will get its chance of precipitation overnight Saturday or early Sunday, exiting Maine by lunchtime Sunday.
The weather models have been about as enthusiastic about cold air as Florida iguanas, over time coming into agreement that there simply won’t be much, if any, snowfall from this system in the Northeast.
Because the surface low is an “inside runner” — meaning it will track inland rather than remaining just offshore — it will bring in milder air with easterly winds at the surface and south-southeasterly air flow at the mid-levels of the atmosphere.
Any rain that occurs in ski country could actually melt some of the snowpack that has built up there so far this year — despite the fact that it’s January, the climatologically most-favored time of year for snowfall and snow-making.
A small exception could be found over the Tug Hill Plateau east of Lake Ontario, where a few inches of snow could fall. In fact, up to half a foot immediately downwind of the lake isn’t out of the question. A few inches of snow are also possible east of Lake Erie.
In addition, the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont and perhaps Aroostook County, Maine, could see mountain snow Sunday. A few snow showers are possible in northern Maine on Monday as the low center pinwheels overhead.
Thereafter, an active weather pattern looks to continue with multiple weather systems coming down the pipeline. But the long-range forecast appears to be anomalously mild for the foreseeable future.