Potentially Significant Winter Storm Next Week

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North American 500mb Vorticy Valid 01/27/2016 MapBy now you’ve probably heard of the potentially major winter storm expected somewhere in the Midwest next week. This storm is still six days out, so a lot will change between now and then. This is especially true given that the two key pieces of energy for this storm are still in the middle of the, poorly sampled, Pacific Ocean. There seems to be a lot of hype developing over this storm, so I want to offer my opinion on how I feel this may play out and caution everyone details you hear this far in advance. My rule of thumb is that what you see on day five will change many times, sometimes in very significant ways, hence it would be foolish to discuss details for at least a few more days.

One of the biggest players in how the storm pans out won’t have anything to do with the storm itself. The area you see circled in the image on the left is the energy for a system that will impact parts of the region on Sunday with the energy for the bigger storm next week still out east of Japan. It is this system for Sunday that I will be watching closer than the Tuesday-Wednesday storm itself at this distance. You see, a cold front will pass thru the region on Saturday with an area of low pressure developing along the front on Sunday in response to this shortwave energy aloft. If this storm ends up stronger than what the models predict as of right now, the resulting baroclinic zone (a fancy term for a strong stationary front) will likely end up further south. On the flip-side, if the storm endsindex up weaker, the baroclinic zone will lie further north.

This is a critical component to the storm mid-week because it will ride along this baroclinic zone. Should the zone end up further north or south, so will the resulting mid-week storm. To the right, you will see a representation of how the weekend into next week pans out via the GFS model this afternoon. I like this representation, but until the energy I first circled in the image above comes onshore Friday evening, we are going to continue seeing lots of fluctuations in the models. Up until this point, we have seen everything from nothing more than light snow to one of the biggest storms we’ve experienced in many years. Unfortunately, the model-mayhem will continue the next couple of days with a firm grasp on the storm likely not coming until Sunday evening into Monday.

The models can be summed up with one word, chaos, and to show you just how chaotic things are I want to show you a couple of images. The images below show each of the GFS and European ensemble members snowfall outputs for this storm. See all of the different potential outcomes for the storm? There is not a whole lot of consistency in any way, shape, or form, which is something a forecaster wants to see to start having confidence in any one solution. However, over the past 24 hours, the general trend has been to take the storm on a path further southeast. Time will tell what will ultimately happen, so stay tuned to the Facebook page for the latest details!

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