Today it’s supposed to reach 47 degrees at Farmers’ Almanac’s headquarters in Lewiston, Maine. Tomorrow the high expected is 17 with a wind chill of -3. Yes Virginia, winter is back.
But what’s with these extreme temperature extremes? Are they normal?
It has certainly been a while since we have seen this type of weather pattern. A polar vortex (an upper-level storm system) currently predominates over north-central Canada and is funneling very cold air down from the polar regions and directing it toward the central and eastern sections of Canada and the US. Such wild swings of thermometer are a bit unusual, though not particularly rare. We had a few of these episodes between 1995 and 2005.
Looking back a bit more, you may remember: Groundhog Day 1976 and January 28, 1977. In the first case, frigid Arctic air met up with a storm moving along the Eastern Seaboard during the early morning hours. When the cold air mixed into the warm/moist circulation of the storm, it was like pumping it with steroids; the storm literally exploded (what meteorologists refer to as “bombogenisis”). In the process it pulled very cold air down from northern Canada. New Yorkers who were up at the crack of dawn that morning saw rain and 45-degrees. Three hours later, it was snowing heavily and the temperature had dropped to 15! After another three hours, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and yet despite dazzling sunshine, the temperature was 5, and with winds gusting to 40 m.p.h., it felt more like 20 below zero.
The 1977 case was somewhat similar to what we are about to experience: A sharp cold front swept across the Northeast and dropped temperatures precipitously in just a few hours. In Buffalo, NY, and parts of the Ohio Valley, the lake-effect snows created severe blizzard conditions, in some parts of Buffalo, the snow depths that resulted were on the order of 3 to 5 feet!
For all those who had said going into this winter season that we don’t seem to see any “Old Fashioned Winters” anymore, we would like to remind you that we’re in the midst of one both in the US and Canada (which we did predict, by the way)!
So while these swings are odd, they do happen. But on a positive note, a protracted spell of milder weather will be settling in for a good portion of the country, (hopefully warming up for parts of Canada too) beginning later this week and will continue into much of next week; call it an early January thaw.