Ben Gelber: Expect February to bring back winter

COLUMBUS (WCMH)—  As we hunker down and brace for unrelenting 60-degree weather in late January this weekend, the inevitable question is: Are we going to pay for this warmer weather?

The answer is yes, though not with a polar vortex-type chill. However, typical February cold, with light amounts of snow, will put in an appearance beginning the last weekend in January. And more interestingly, long-range guidance is pointing to a pattern flip that may last for a couple of weeks, providing some semblance of winter that has been fleeting this season so far.

There are signals that the winds in the upper atmosphere in the polar region will weaken, which traditionally allows larger chunks of arctic cold air to break southward in eastern North America.

Snow has been mostly a no-show in January in Columbus, with less than inch falling, for a measly total of 6.3 inches for the season. January is normally our snowiest month, with upwards of 10 inches of snow. But this is not possible when the average temperature is running 6 degrees above normal and climbing, with another warm week ahead.

Among the many oddities of this winter—thunderstorm warnings, two days of record-breaking warmth in the 60s, frequent gray, rainy days—is the “atmospheric river” emanating from the tropics, which is responsible for a stormy pattern from California to the Plains.

Last year, El Nino (warming of the eastern tropical Pacific north of the equator) brought welcome rain to Northern California, but not enough to make a significant dent in the five-year drought.

This winter (2016-17) is something of a flip of El Nino—a pool of cooler water called La Nina—that favors a polar jet stream shunted into northwestern Canada, dipping southward to the Midwest, which brings bouts of arctic air to the northern Plains and Upper Midwest, and generally wetter, milder-than-average weather in the Ohio Valley.

The surprise has been the persistence of a powerful subtropical stream, threatening to bring a widespread severe weather outbreak and possible tornadoes in the Gulf states this weekend, and more rain and unseasonably mild weather here in Ohio.

Unlike last winter, which was very mild (fourth warmest on record statewide), this winter is likely to revert back to form—a moderately cold, February with periods of light snow as the calendar turns.

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