By Chris Gilberti | December 6, 2021
As of Dec. 1, it is officially meteorological winter, and old man winter seems to have arrived just on time. Over Thanksgiving weekend, much of upstate New York saw its first measurable snowfall, and students returning to UAlbany last Sunday night were greeted with snow showers and freezing temperatures.
When compared to the unseasonably mild conditions observed throughout most of the fall, quite a shift has occurred, with temperatures finally reaching close to average in the Albany area and chances for snow increasing as well. Many may now be wondering how this winter will shape up in Albany and the northeast.
Numerous factors will affect how this winter plays out, one of the biggest being the strength of the La Niña in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Every year, the temperature of the waters in the Pacific Ocean plays a large role in the weather for the Continental United States. While it may seem unrelated, there can be significant differences in the weather due to water temperatures being below normal--a La Niña--or above normal--an El Niño.
La Niña’s are generally associated with below average temperatures in the Northeast United States and average to slightly above average snowfall. Last winter, 2020-2021, was also a La Niña, and Albany saw conditions as expected with colder than normal temperatures and above-average snowfall. This winter is also projected to be in a La Niña, so we can expect a similar outlook. However, its effects may start to wane towards the end of February, as the La Niña begins to weaken and temperatures moderate some.
One of the reasons the La Niña will have an effect is because it will lead to a change in the jet stream’s path, the flow of air across the continent. Generally, areas above the jet stream will have colder temperatures, and areas below will be warmer. In a La Niña like this year, the jet stream will likely be flowing from closer to the poles, dipping down across the east of the U.S. This means warmer air will be confined to the southern U.S., while much of the north will be colder. The jet stream will also likely track up the eastern seaboard, allowing for storms to come in from across the country, intensify off the east coast, and slam the northeast with wintry precipitation.
As anticipated for late-December to January, a La Niña pattern will continue, and we will see a period of colder temperatures and above-average precipitation, likely snow for most. It seems this pattern may be beginning, with colder air settling into the region and snow becoming more likely. This coming week specifically appears to be particularly active.
It seems that Monday will be an exception to the below-normal temperatures, with highs reaching the mid-fifties as a potent wind and rainstorm moves through the region. These warm temperatures will quickly come to an end as the storm departs, though leaving behind much colder air, setting the stage for a much more interesting event on Wednesday, Dec. 8.
After the cold behind Monday’s storm settles in, another storm will begin to track in from the west. This storm will likely have considerable cold air with it, giving it the possibility to drop a blanket of snow across part of the northeast. It is worth noting that there are considerable differences among computer model projections of where exactly snow will fall, if at all, making it difficult to predict where snow would be heaviest if it does snow.
The exact track of the storm will affect how much snow ends up falling in Albany, as a northern track would bring in more warm air and rain, although that seems highly unlikely at this point. It could also track over southern New England, allowing Albany to remain cold enough for snow while being close enough to the storm’s center to pick up considerable snow. While this seemed likely a few days ago, models have since trended away from this possibility. Finally, if it tracks further off the coast, areas closer to the coast will see the greatest snow, with Albany on the outskirts, perhaps seeing some light snow showers. Barring any major model changes over the next few days, it seems the third option is the most likely, meaning Albany likely will not see much in the way of wintry weather on Wednesday.
However, it is important to emphasize a lot may change as we get closer to the storm. Even just a small change in the projected strength of the storm or its track can turn this storm from being just a few snow showers to a powerful nor’easter.
Either way, it does seem as though winter is arriving just on cue here in the northeast.