Will NJ Really See a Major Winter Storm This Weekend? What We Know So Far
Another blast of arctic air will make for a few days of biting cold, with a potentially significant winter storm on the horizon for this weekend.
Here are your weather headlines for Monday, January 18, 2016:
Feeling Like Winter: Cold and Blustery
New Jersey was clipped by a storm system on Sunday, that brought our first solid snowfall of the season. While most of the state saw a healthy coating of white, areas along the southern coast were surprised by 1 to 3 inches of snow accumulation by the end of the day.
Now, the door to the arctic has reopened. And that, of course, means we have some bitter cold ahead. Temperatures this morning were in the upper 20s — and that is as high as thermometers will climb today. Meanwhile, a brisk west-northwest wind will pick up,. sustained around 20 mph with gusts to 40 mph. That will add the painful "blustery" characteristic to today's forecast. Wind chills will probably be stuck in the teens at best all day. A few snow showers and blowing snow will add to this arctic chill.
The even bigger issue, however, will come tonight as the gusty wind continues. So, as thermometers fall as low as 11 degrees tonight, the wind chill ("feels like") temperature will fall below zero for much of the state. Ouch.
Tuesday will bring more of the same — mostly sunny skies, a brisk wind, and cold temperatures. Highs should climb to about 30 degrees, but the wind chill will remain in the teens.
Looking Like Winter: Potential Winter Storm
Over the weekend, the internet was buzzing with murmurs of a significant winter storm for late this week. The potential for a major storm is definitely there, but the exact impacts are still very much up in the air.
Sometimes, I feel like I have to "play defense" as a meteorologist. I try to be the voice of reason in presenting your New Jersey weather forecast. I strive for accuracy and early notice of bad weather. But I am adamant about staying within the bounds of the inexact science of meteorology. More specifically, there are SO many variables surrounding winter storms, we can never offer a confident snow forecast more than 72 hours in advance. (And even then it can be a stretch.) So anyone currently offering a firm accumulation or timeline for this weekend's potential winter storm is a poor forecaster and a liar. Period.
Keeping that in mind, let's talk about what we know at this time.
Timing. Models agree that a sizable storm system will slide up the Atlantic coast late this week, impacting New Jersey from Friday evening through at least Saturday. The heaviest precipitation seems to be centered around Saturday morning.
Impacts. Both upper atmosphere and surface temperatures seem to be cold enough to sustain at least some wintry weather from this storm. However, this morning's GFS model shows a warmup well above freezing on Saturday, which would lend to a transition to rain for South Jersey and the Jersey Shore. (Note the extensive area of green/rain in the image above.) The rain-snow line could have a huge influence in ultimate snow totals.
Location. Everyone in New Jersey is prone to see significant impacts from this system, whether it's snow or rain or a little bit of both. As usual, North Jersey will be a bit colder, while South Jersey and the Jersey Shore will see temperatures a few degrees warmer. Those few degrees could make all the difference.
Accumulations. I have seen models spit out snowfall forecasts literally ranging between 0 and 25 inches of snow in New Jersey from this storm. (Yes, I realize how ridiculous that range is. Again, see my commentary above.) The precise storm track and exact temperatures will have a heavy influence on how much snow ends up on the ground - those are two big variables that we can not confidently forecast at this time. Double-digit snowfall totals are certainly possible according to the Euro model. But such extreme snowfall is far from a sure bet for now. (Both the GFS and Euro ensembles show several members with much lower snow totals for the Garden State.)
Action Steps. So what should you do now to prepare for this storm? Probably nothing - it's way too early to intelligently predict wintry impacts or snow totals. But anyone with outdoor activities or travel scheduled for this weekend should seriously consider backup plans now — dust in case that worst-case scenario plays out, in which snowfall would be in feet, not inches.
Of course, I'll be stocking up on bread and milk this afternoon — just in case.
Next forecast update will come Tuesday morning.