Tuesday, December 30, 2014

January 3-5 Potential Winter Storm & Ice Storm Threat

The tables have turned (yet again) on the forecast models, as guidance is favoring a northward track for this storm system. Additionally, some guidance is seeing a major ice storm threat.

The image above shows observed 500mb vorticity values and height contours as of this morning. We can see our primary piece of energy located in the West, digging to the south and slightly to the west as it begins to close off in the Southwest. Interestingly enough, this will be the same piece of energy that will bring the rare snowfall to the area that news agencies have been reporting on. Eventually, this energy will eject into the Plains, and that's where the real action begins.

By 102 hours out, we see our primary piece of energy has moving into the Midwest, and we also see another piece of energy diving south from the North Plains to interact with the primary energy. This interaction is critical to the evolution of this storm. If the system coming south from Canada is delayed, or speeds up, this storm will take on an entirely different approach, which is why model guidance still retains some problems with sorting this storm out. Lately, guidance has agreed on this storm being a "cutter" event, where the wintry precipitation will impact the Great Lakes, Plains and Midwest (those of you who read my previous post know this as the track I did not side with), but beyond that consensus, there isn't a whole lot of agreement.

We'll analyze three different model forecasts in today's discussion.

Tropical Tidbits
The above image shows the latest GFS model's forecast of accumulated snowfall out to next Monday. We see the track this storm has taken in this projection, with the bullseye of the snow hitting northeastern Missouri. A heavy swath of snowfall extends northeast from that corner of Missouri, where an additional 6"+ of snow is forecasted through the Quad Cities, Chicago, Milwaukee, and into North Michigan. This solution has been one that has shown up rather consistently, particularly in recent runs of all guidance, as the trend has been to go north. However, as was stated above, model disagreements are still evident.

Tropical Tidbits
The above image shows the snowfall forecast off the GFS-Parallel model, the incoming upgrade to the current GFS model. This forecast has one band of snow dropping about 6" or 7" in much of northern Illinois, while what may be a second band delivers similar amounts in central Wisconsin. The intriguing part about this model is its poor verification, especially as of late. It remains to be seen how this model does with this storm, but so far, recent history suggests one ought to be wary of this model's forecasts.

Lastly, but certainly not least, we need to discuss this ice storm threat.

The above image shows forecasted precipitation types from the Canadian GGEM model, valid for the morning of January 3rd. We initially see a swath of moderate to heavy rain across the southern Midwest into the Ohio Valley, but areas north (particularly the western Great Lakes into Indiana and Ohio) are under the gun for a significant ice storm. Earlier projections, made not even 24 hours ago, favored freezing rain accumulation of 0.8" in Chicago, IL, though this model has since lowered those totals to a "better" 0.4" outlook of freezing rain. The GGEM model isn't the best at verification, either, so I wouldn't get hung up on this forecast. I would, however, keep an eye on forecasts for the potential for an ice event, should these ominous outlooks continue to surface.

To summarize:

- Model guidance is coming into agreement on a winter storm impacting the Plains, Midwest and Great Lakes.
- Some forecasts are predicting a major winter storm to hit the aforementioned regions, while other forecasts favor rain. Still others favor a miss to the south.
- There is some indication of an ice storm threat, but due to model uncertainty I wouldn't begin worrying yet.