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Chris’ Weather Corner - “Weather Whiplash: Warmth and Rain to Cold and Snow”

By Chris Gilberti | February 21, 2022

A mid winter warm-up brought by a strong storm that stretched across half the country has come just after a cold spell, leaving many across the northeast what season it even is. The month of February has featured it all, from cold, snow, and ice to unseasonable warmth, rain, and wind. The storm and warmth from last week came after an extended period of cold, meaning many areas coated in snow and ice saw sudden melting, leading to widespread flooding.

Flooding was such a problem with this storm because of the previous cold conditions. Rainfall struggled to be absorbed by the ground which was still frozen for a large area, causing many to experience runoff flooding. In addition to this, many rivers and streams that were frozen began to melt. As melting began, large chunks of ice began to flow down these rivers and streams, often becoming stuck and causing the rivers to clog. This phenomenon known as “ice jamming” can be particularly dangerous, as water stuck behind ice obstructions can quickly flood areas upstream of the block, and then when the jam melts, areas downstream face a flood of water that was earlier held back. The National Weather Service issued flood watches and warnings for a large swath of the northeast and Ohio Valley as a result of this flooding event.

Ice jams, like this one on the Bighorn River in Wyoming, can divert the flow of a river and cause major flooding.

Credit: NOAA

While flooding was a major concern with this event in the northeast, strong winds and thunderstorms were also a major concern. National Weather Service issued wind advisories stretched all the way from the Gulf Coast through New England, and tornado watches and severe thunderstorm watches were hoisted for a large portion of the south from Oklahoma through Tennessee and Alabama. Computer models picked up on the dangerous situation these storms were expected to bring to the south almost two weeks before the event, so luckily many had ample time to prepare for the numerous tornadoes and severe storms reported across the region.

For many across the northeast this month, the main weather story recently has been the record warmth. 60 degree and even higher temperatures were recorded in the NYC metro, and widespread mid-fifties were felt more than once further upstate. Although cold air is settling back in behind this storm and many saw heavy snow squalls this weekend, more warm air will return this week preluding a similar storm that will occur on wednesday, with rain possibly causing even more flooding, accompanied by temperatures in the mid-fifties. The question then arises: Are these warm, wet conditions just a “fool's spring”, or is this a sign that true spring is on the horizon?

Well, while this winter has made a point of trying to prove forecasters wrong, it seems that after this Wednesday's upcoming storm, cold air will try to re-stake its claim over the northeast yet again. Another storm will move into the area Thursday night into Friday, and it seems possible that this storm could break the trend of warmer storms, as an arctic high pressure will push colder air further south, allowing much of New York to see an extended period of snow. While the details of this system remain highly in question, the initial forecast does show at least a chance for a moderate snowfall for places such as Albany, which has seen less than half of its expected snowfall for this point in the season. After this colder storm system, it is possible an overall cooler pattern settles in, bringing more cold air and the potential for some more snow.

Either way, it seems the foreseeable future will feature a continuation of the harsh weather whiplash the northeast has experienced since last week.


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