By Chris Gilberti | January 25, 2022
Over the past few weeks, winter has truly settled in across the state of New York, with those from Buffalo, to Albany, and to New York City all experiencing freezing to sub-zero temperatures, as well as widespread snowfall. Record setting lake effect snowfall has blanketed much of western New York near the Great Lakes, while storms riding up along the East Coast brought the first significant snows to the rest of the state, and even as far south as the Carolinas.
This cold and snow is thanks to the pattern that we have been in for much of the month of January, which has featured a ridge of the jet stream over the western U.S. and a trough over the eastern U.S. Those under the ridge in the west are experiencing mild temperatures influenced by the tropics, while the East Coast has been feeling shots of cold air that originated at the North Pole where it is as cold as 40 degrees or more below zero, and have brought freezing temperatures as far south as northern Florida. This deep trough bringing plummeting temperatures to the deep south has meant snow in places where it is not typical. Nashville, Tennessee for example has seen over a foot of snow so far this winter, and parts of South Carolina have had as much as a half-foot of snowfall so far. Heading further north, parts of Virginia have been crippled with heavy snow, and Washington, D.C. is over six inches above their average snowfall for this time of year.
Photo Caption: Trough (dip) in the jet stream surging cold air into the northeast (Credit: Climate.gov)
While this deep trough in the jet stream has meant very cold conditions for the entire east coast, one of the other effects of this has been a suppression of snowstorms to areas south of the northeast and New York State. This trough has taken snowstorms in the southeast and driven them far out to sea leaving minimal to no impact along the coast, and dry conditions inland.
Because of this, while the south has had no shortage of snow this year, cities in the New York State are lagging behind. New York City is about a half foot below average so far this year, and Albany is about a foot below average. One has to drive out to western New York towards Rochester and Buffalo to see average snowfall amounts thanks to recent lake effect snow events.
To close out the month of January, New York State will remain under the frigid air mass of the trough in the jet stream, which has continually pushed “shortwaves,” or small weather disturbances into the northeast, as well as occasional stronger storms that have dropped snow in the mid-Atlantic. Multiple of those smaller weather disturbances have impacted the Albany area recently, with snow showers falling for many during their move back to campus. Looking forward, it seems there is finally a good chance of a strong nor’easter forming off the east coast on Jan. 29. While the exact track remains uncertain at the moment, it is possible that a quite historic storm could impact parts of New England and or New York State. As is typical with these types of storms, a track further out over the ocean will mean greater impacts along the I-95 corridor and the big cities, such as Boston and New York City, while a track further inland would suggest greater snowfall inland including in the Albany area. Computer model guidance is continuing to struggle with exactly which track it will take, so significant changes are certainly still possible. Again though, it is becoming increasingly likely that at least some in the northeast will see a significant snowfall event this weekend.
Beyond then, into the month of February, it is hard to say if this pattern will stick around. Current guidance would suggest that the possible nor’easter Jan. 29 could usher in a pattern change, allowing the ridge in the west to shift and bring warmer air to enter the northeast. If it does, we can expect temperatures to begin to warm some as we head into the second half of the winter, while if the cold settles back in, we can expect more of the same for the foreseeable future. Perhaps we will have to leave that part up to Punxsutawney Phil to figure out on Groundhog Day, which falls on Feb. 2.
Whichever way it goes, keep your winter coats, hats, and gloves handy, as frigid temperatures and possibly some snow are here to stay in Albany for at least the near future.