The hits just keep coming as Mother Nature prepares to throw down her gloves and send bare-knuckled punch after punch of winter weather to the eastern half of the United States. Following a blockbuster snowstorm to start the month of February and another weekend snow event, residents of the Midwest and Northeast have barely had time to catch their breath this month.
The weather pattern is beginning to sound like a broken record for many residents of the eastern half of the U.S. as snowy and cold weather shows no signs of letting up anytime soon thanks to the displaced polar vortex and brutally cold Arctic air in place.
Following a storm that spread minor snow accumulations across the Midwest Monday and pushed into the Northeast Tuesday, some residents will have to quickly ready themselves for another, more potent, storm that will deliver a mix of rain, ice and snow to some places, thunderstorms and rain farther to the south, and all-out snow to points farther to the north across a 1,500-mile stretch of the country.
Unlike the early-week, quick-hitting storm for the eastern U.S., this next system is expected to take its time and become a long-duration snow and ice event.
Another deviation from the pattern during other storms this month will be a surge of cold air farther to the south. That will usher in the opportunity for snow and ice into parts of Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas as early as Tuesday afternoon. However, the bulk of the precipitation with this storm will really begin to get going by Wednesday morning.
“As the storm moves eastward through Wednesday and Wednesday night, the threat for snow and ice will expand through the Ohio Valley,” Senior Meteorologist Courtney Travis said. As snow and ice expand to the east, winter weather will also be slow to retreat on the western side of the storm. This can allow some areas to experience at least 24 hours of persistent wintry precipitation.
Periods of snow and ice will continue to trudge eastward Wednesday night and are set to engulf much of the central Appalachians and mid-Atlantic by the end of the day Thursday.
The storm could bring another snow event to parts of the Northeast that were already crushed by snow earlier in the month. Portions of eastern Pennsylvania, northern New Jersey and southern New York recorded widespread snow totals between 24 and 36 inches from the blockbuster storm at the start of February.
Crews already overwhelmed by the monumental task of removing up to 3 feet of snow from densely populated areas like Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, which includes the cities of Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton, will face another cleanup job later this week, although the hard-hit region may catch a break from the heaviest totals this time around.
The heaviest snow, 6 to 12 inches of snow can bury parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and northwestern Virginia.
Major cities along the Interstate 95 corridor like Philadelphia and New York City are currently forecast to pick up accumulating snowfall. Forecasters say Philadelphia is expected to receive another 3 to 6 inches of snow from the storm. However, dry air may substantially limit the amount of snow that falls on northern Pennsylvania, northern New Jersey, southeastern New York state and southern New England.
“New York City could catch a break from the storm in that respect if a wedge of dry air does indeed cause snow to dwindle,” Senior Meteorologist Dave Dombek said.
New York City has already surpassed the city’s seasonal average snowfall of 28.5 inches, as 32.5 inches of snow have fallen in the city so far in the 2020-2021 season. This season’s total is just over 2 feet more than the total for the 2019-20 season in which New York City officially recorded just 4.8 inches of snow.
Meanwhile, while Philadelphia has not quite eclipsed the city’s seasonal average snowfall this season, it has already received just over 55 times as much snow as it did last season. In the 2019-20 season, the City of Brotherly Love recorded a mere 0.3 of an inch of snow. So far this season, Philadelphia’s snow total is up to 16.6 inches, less than 7 inches shy of the seasonal annual snowfall of 23.2 inches.
The storm may end up being a double-barreled system that could unleash two rounds of precipitation with a significant pause in between the storms on Thursday from parts of Ohio to southeastern New York state. Dry Arctic air to the north may suppress snowfall along the northern edge initially, but the second round may reach areas farther to the north than the first part of the system.
“In some locations across the southern part of the storm zone, it may snow at varying intensity for two days with the potential for more than a foot of snow and locally higher amounts where the perfect blend of Arctic air and moisture occur. It is looking like the zone for the heaviest snow will be around the panhandles of Maryland and West Virginia to northern Virginia,” Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said.
Pittsburgh is forecast to pick up 3-6 inches of snow from this storm, and meteorologists are also predicting 3 to 6 inches of snow in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore with heavier snow just northwest of these two Interstate 95 cities.
Ice can mix in with snow at times in the nation’s capital, adding to the travel hazards, but more significant ice accumulations could occur for areas to the south of D.C. Rounds of freezing rain can lead to significant ice concerns with this storm, especially from southern Missouri and northern Arkansas to parts of West Virginia, Virginia and northwestern North Carolina.
Forecasters say a majority of the state of Kentucky and parts of West Virginia and Virginia are at risk for ice accumulations of more than a quarter of an inch to perhaps half an inch in some spots. That accrual of ice can lead to very dangerous travel conditions across the state, in addition to causing other threats.
“Ice accumulations of 0.25 of an inch or greater are enough to break tree limbs and lead to significant power outages,” Sosnowski said.
As a result of this far-reaching, long-duration storm, air travel in major cities like Chicago, St. Louis, D.C., Philadelphia and Boston could all be impacted. Major interstates such as 40, 64, 70, 80 could have several days of dangerous road conditions. COVID-19 vaccine distribution could also be impacted.
“The amount of ice along stretches of I-77 and I-81 in the southern Appalachians could potentially shut down portions of those highways for an extended period,” Senior Meteorologist Paul Walker said.
Plunging temperatures in the wake of the storm could make areas of slush freeze solid, making it very difficult to remove.
It is possible that this impactful storm might not be the last in this train of wintry weather so far in February. Meteorologists are monitoring the potential for another storm that could bring another dose of ice and snow in time for Valentine’s Day.