John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Frigid parts of the U.S. are warming up for a couple days, but don't get comfortable yet.
Today may be the first day of astronomical spring, but it just seems wrong to call it that considering the frigid weather that's in the pipeline. So let's decide on a new designation for this early part of the season – perhaps Winter 2014, the Bonus Track?
There's actually a spell of warmer weather gracing the U.S. Northeast these next few days. New York is predicted to be in the 50s until Saturday, and mid-60s are possible this weekend in Washington, D.C. The lukewarm but oh-so-welcome temperatures should last long enough that people stow their snow shovels, stick their heavy coats in closet bags, and develop a more positive mood. And then bam! That's when nature should drop another big load of freezing weather, sending people scurrying to retrieve their winter clothing and sacks of rock salt.
The incipient cold clobbering could spread over much of eastern America. Here are the probabilities of below-average temperatures in late March (darker blue regions have a higher chance of abnormal chilliness):
Numbers-heads might be interested to know that out of the 60 states and intrastate regions monitored by the federal Climate Prediction Center, 43 are looking at steep probabilities of colder-than-average weather. Only 14 have higher probabilities of above-average or average temperatures, with the vast majority located in the West and Alaska. (Go here for an explanation of this winter's Great East/West Temperature Battle.)
But hey, it won't only be cold! The rest of the month is expected to be streaked with wetness, too. The NWS says to expect a "fairly active storm pattern" next week over the eastern half of the continental U.S. This graphical forecast indeed shows jacked-up odds of precipitation, potentially ruining the arguments of optimists who like to point out that "at least it's not raining" (or snowing):
Given the stranglehold that Old Man Winter is exerting on America's throat, can we expect the summer to be uncharacteristically mild? Escaping the extreme urine-scented torridity of the East Coast's potent heat islands might make suffering through this unending cold slightly worth it. (Or not, depending on your tolerance for beard icicles.)
What's going to happen in the months ahead is up to debate. But D.C.'s Capital Weather Gang has laid out a scenario in which El Niño – if indeed it forms this year – keeps parts of the East swathed in coolness. Rick Grow writes:
If El Niño develops over the summer or by the early fall – as NOAA is hinting – the Mid-Atlantic could be in for a cool summer, relative to normal. For each of the three big cities in the region – D.C., Philadelphia and Richmond – most of the summers in which El Niño developed since 1950 have featured temperatures cooler than the 30-year average.
More interestingly, temperatures averaged either near normal or below normal for the seven summers in which El Niño developed slowly. El Niño development – if set to happen this summer or early fall – could similarly occur at a slow pace.
To shed historical perspective on America's epidemic of uncontrollable goosebumps, it was only the 34th-coldest winter in record books that go back 119 years. There were many snowstorms, and unusual downpours of freezing rain in the South, but on whole the country was only about 1 degree below average. That's because the West was doing its damnedest to warm things up. You can see how temperatures were split from December to the end of February in this new map from NASA – blue regions experienced anomalous cold, and red were relatively feverish:
Top image: Shoveled snow is piled up at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., after a St. Patrick's Day snowstorm that shut down the federal government and schools. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)