Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Christmas Eve Potentially Significant Winter Storm

I'm watching the increasing potential for a significant winter storm in the Central US, created by what could be one of the strongest low pressure systems in the last few years, if not longer.

Instant Weather Maps
The above image shows 500mb geopotential height contours over the United States from the prestigious ECMWF model, valid for December 23rd. In this image, we see two pieces of energy in the Central US. One is a closed low, placed in the Northern Plains, while the other is a deepening trough in the Southern Plains, shown by the depression in contour lines. In a situation similar to that I described in my December 10th post, we see this trough begin to lift northward into the Central US, but not before the "bomb" goes off...
Instant Weather Maps
Just 24 hours later, on the morning of Christmas Eve, we find that the two pieces of energy have combined, and the trough as a whole has now attained a negative tilt, indicating it has reached its mature phase. As a result, the storm undergoes rapid strengthening, very near the criteria of bombogenesis. Bombogenesis is a meteorological term used to describe the phenomenon when extratropical cyclones rapidly strengthen, and their minimum central pressure values decrease by 24 millibars in a 24 hour period. Switching between December 23rd and 24th, we find that pressure values from the ECMWF lower by about 19.3 millibars, only a little ways off from being a true 'bomb'. Even though this storm doesn't fit the criteria, the strengthening is nothing to shake a stick at.

This solution is a tricky one. I don't have access to pay-to-view weather model graphics (yet), so I cannot see the precipitation pattern from this system. However, from what others are discussing, it appears that not only will the nearly-due-northward movement of this system foul up the precipitation shield, but temperature profiles are above freezing in many spots that would otherwise see snow. This could be placed on model error, or it may be a legitimate forecast. For now, it's just too far out to tell one way or another.

Weather Online
What is interesting, however, is the difference between the ECMWF model and the ECMWF ensembles. The above image shows mean sea level pressure values, valid on Christmas Eve (the same time as the second image we discussed). By simple comparison, note how the ECMWF model places the center of this storm somewhere in southern Ohio, while the ECMWF ensembles put northeastern Indiana in the center of this cyclone.

A further east track of this storm system could result in more of a snow impact to the Great Lakes, instead of primarily wind-driven snow in the Midwest and Ohio Valley from current runs of the ECMWF. But as I said earlier, we are still quite a while away from nailing down these details.

To summarize:

- Model guidance is beginning to sniff out a very strong storm system impacting most of the Central and East US on Christmas Eve into Christmas Day.
- This would severely impact travel.
- Snow would be confined primarily to the north-central Great Lakes into Canada.
- Very high uncertainty still exists.