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The streams aren’t crossing much this week.
Moisture is streaming across the South in waves this week, with ice and sleet pinging deep into the heart of Texas and coating much of the lower Mississippi River Valley.
Cold air is starting to ooze across the Appalachians into Virginia, too.
But not enough of the moisture is getting northward and not enough of the cold air is getting southward in time for the breakthrough snow event of the 2022-23 winter that many winter fans in Southwest and Southside Virginia are desperately yearning for, while winter haters are starting to seriously think a snowless run to an early spring may be in range. (The groundhog will weigh in on that Thursday.)
In this particular setup, even if it were colder and wetter all at once, we’d probably get more ice than snow, anyway.
Some places in the southwest corner of the state and near the West Virginia line saw some wintry mix and wet snow early Wednesday, and may again Thursday and early Friday. Some sleet or wet snow wouldn’t be entirely out of place even farther east and south and in lower elevations, but likely wouldn’t amount to much.
It’s the same marginal patchy wintry precipitation we’ve had intermittently through this extended November masquerading as a winter.
This weekend will act like winter, very briefly.
As projected last week in this space, a push of Arctic air will follow the groundhog’s shadowy prognostication on Thursday, settling in over the weekend. And it is a legitimately potent cold air mass.
You know it’s a serious Arctic air mass when Maine may possibly set record low temperatures 30 or 40 degrees below zero.
But it won’t be a long-lasting shot of cold air. Even in northern New England, it will be in and out in about three days. It will be much like the Christmas weekend Arctic blast was here.
Down this far south, we’ll be spared the brutal subzero cold, but many places in Southwest and Southside Virginia will drop into the teens on Saturday morning.
For a short window, strong high pressure over southeast Canada will be well placed to trap cold air against the mountains, like we discussed two weeks ago as something that could happen once or twice in the pattern ahead.
If there were a well-organized storm system tracking across the South this weekend, we would have that breakthrough winter storm, without a doubt. But there’s not.
A few forecast models have toyed with lifting some precipitation northward on Sunday, just as the cold air starts to depart. As with everything else involving wintry precipitation so far this winter, it looks very marginal, and possibly non-existent.
After that, all signs point to a resumption of the strong southeast U.S. ridge, fast westerly flow across the nation, and a tilt to milder than normal temperatures, at least through mid-month.
Having snow the rest of the winter will depend on short-fused setups favorable for it developing amid the milder pattern – we’ve seen that in some past winters, but not at all in this winter so far – or else a colder pattern developing in late February and/or March – many of our warmer and/or nearly snowless winters historically do seem to have March wintry periods.
Back on January 11 in this column, we considered the likelihood of six different scenarios for the remainder of winter.
Two of those – the second half of winter turning dramatically colder and snowier (5% chance back then), and a two-week period of pretty harsh cold and snow (25%) in January or February, are now off the table. The atmospheric dynamics that would make those possible are just not there and show no signs of being there anytime soon.
The four remaining scenarios listed then were normal to mild temperatures with a few cold shots and some snow (40% back then), normal to mild temperatures with one large winter storm (10%), a mild winter with almost no snow (10%), and winter coming in March (10%). Those are all still possible.
We’ll take a fresh look in two weeks at where the probabilities stand for these scenarios as we enter the stretch run of the winter season.
I said back then that I would consider a virtually snowless winter a serious possibility if we got to Valentine’s Day and there were no signs of a significant cold period or a reasonable snow chance on the horizon in the final two weeks of February.
I’ll stick to that, but can say that if we get past this weekend as expected without significant snowfall, the chance for an essentially snowless winter for everywhere in our region except the westernmost areas that have gotten some already will be something higher than 10%.
YEAR WITHOUT A SNOWFALL
Much of our region near and east of the Blue Ridge has now gone a full year without a substantial snowfall.
It has been 382 days since the last snowfall of 1 inch or more at Lynchburg and Danville, each site getting 3 to 4 inches in the areawide January 16, 2022, snow/sleet storm.
For Lynchburg, that is the seventh longest streak of days without an inch of snow. The longest stretch was very recent: 691 days, ending with 2.1 inches on Jan. 27-28, 2021, spanning the entire 2019-20 winter, which was the Hill City’s first without any accumulating snow at all since records began in 1893.
This winter, incidentally, will not be Lynchburg’s next one without any accumulating snow, by the book, even if no snow falls the rest of the season. Back on Jan. 8, Lynchburg got 0.1 inch of sleet, which counts officially in National Weather Service records as snowfall.
Roanoke’s last snow of 1 inch or more came 369 days ago on Jan. 28-29, 2022, when 1.1 inch fell.
Since that snow was divided between those dates (0.8 on Jan. 28, 0.3 on Jan. 29), the last calendar day with more than an inch of snowfall was the same Jan. 16 storm as Danville and Lynchburg, when the Star City got 8 inches of snow and sleet. So the current streak of 382 calendar days without getting at least an inch of snowfall is the sixth longest on record going back to 1912.
Roanoke’s longest streak without an inch of snow on any calendar day lasted 1,072 days from Feb. 2, 1918, to Jan. 10, 1921 – yes, nearly THREE YEARS. And there were no snows of less than one inch on any of those days, either, just some trace amounts. The consecutive 1918-19 and 1919-20 winters were the last winters on record at Roanoke without any accumulating snow. Roanoke has had only a trace of snowfall so far in the 2022-23 winter.
Blacksburg hasn’t reached a year yet since its last snowfall of 1 inch or more, getting 1.2 inches on March 12, 327 days ago. There are inconsistencies with Blacksburg’s historic snowfall data, but it would appear a 393-day stretch ending Jan. 25, 1992, may be the longest without an inch of snowfall.
Blacksburg did measure 0.1 inch from a brief snow squall on Dec. 23 with the pre-Christmas Arctic blast, so it doesn’t have a long streak going without any measurable snow.
It is worth noting in this age of climate change concerns that four of Lynchburg’s 10 longest streaks of days without an inch of snow have occurred since 2009, including three of the top four, with six of the top 10 having occurred since 1992, more than would likely occur randomly in 30 years of a period of record extending to 1893.
Likewise, four of Roanoke’s 10 longest streaks of less than 1 inch have occurred since 2009 and six of 10 since 1992. Roanoke’s period of record began in 1912.
In a December 2020 Weather Journal column I wrote for The Roanoke Times, I found that the frequency of Roanoke’s bigger snow events – 4+ inches, 8+ inches and 12+ inches – was still pretty much on historic norms, if not in some cases exceeding them slightly. This was even before Roanoke got another 5-inch snowfall in 2021 and an 8-inch storm in 2022.
These long gaps of not getting at least an inch would imply that there may be fewer small snows occurring between the bigger storms, at least over the last 15 years or so. That would be at least consistent with the idea of a slightly warmer overall climate keeping more borderline setups as rain or wintry mix rather than snow.
Larger snowfall events usually occur with more well-developed atmospheric systems that can better hold in or even generate necessary cold air.
In 2022-23, however, there has been nothing even remotely close to a bigger winter storm setup for our region so far, owing entirely to large-scale weather patterns focusing them elsewhere, and precious few marginal ones that could have become widespread light snowfalls of an inch or two with a couple tweaks.
In reality, winter still has a much bigger window than just this weekend to do its work, but the shutters are slowly closing on that window with each passing week.
Journalist Kevin Myatt has been writing about weather for 19 years. His weekly column is sponsored by Oakey’s, a family-run, locally-owned funeral home with locations throughout the Roanoke Valley.