020518 Forecast

Mountain Area Forecast ( Feb 5-8 )

Current ALERTS

ALERT For Slick Patches Developing On Roadways With Dropping Temperatures Wednesday Evening

Caution is advised for those planning to travel through Wednesday Night with a combination of dropping temps and upslope snow showers and flurries.

ALERT For High Water Levels Along Creeks Draining The High Knob Massif Into Thursday Morning ( Feb 8 )

Big Stony Creek of High Knob Massif

The combination of significant rain and melting snow has pushed stream levels above flood stage in local areas, with ROARING whitewater along creeks draining the High Knob high country along both sides of the Wise-Scott border.

The Big Stony Creek stream gauge in northern Scott County crested 0.7 feet above flood stage, the highest level observed in 2018, and is expected to begin declining Wednesday evening as below freezing air increases and the freezing level drops.

Although snow cover continues to be solid across northern slopes at upper elevations, and patchy on south slopes, and air temperatures have now dropped below freezing again at upper elevations, run-off will maintain high but declining levels on creeks through Wednesday night.

Strong Rises On Creeks, Especially Those Draining The Snow Covered High Knob Massif, Will Become Possible By Wednesday Afternoon

Eagle Knob of High Knob Massif At 5:03 PM on Tuesday – February 6, 2018
A live view from Eagle Knob of the High Knob Massif shows that clouds are engulfing upper elevations.  Air temperatures have been below freezing all day until recently, with a climb to around and just above 32 degrees.

Substantial snow covering upper elevations across Black Mountain and the High Knob Massif will be melting with significant rain and dense fog into Wednesday.

People living along creeks draining the high country will need to remain ALERT for strong water level rises during Wednesday before colder air returns to diminish run-off.

Former Alert

 Alert For Strong SSE-SW Winds Developing During Tuesday Night Into Wednesday Morning

A tightening pressure gradient in advance of significant rains will generate strong winds at mid-upper elevations, beginning first in upper elevations and working downward through middle into the lower elevations ( especially locally where mountain waves form ) during Tuesday night into Wednesday morning.


Overnight Into Tuesday Morning

Increasing and lowering clouds overnight into morning with a small chance of light snow or mixed precipitation. Windy across higher mountain ridges.  Winds S-SW at 5-15 mph with higher gusts on mountain ridges-plateaus below 2700 feet.  Winds SW-WSW 15-25 mph, with higher gusts, on mountain ridges above 2700 feet.  Temps varying from 20 to 25 degrees to around 30 degrees, tending to rise overnight into morning.  Wind chills in the 10s and 20s, except single digits along highest mountain ridges.

Tuesday Afternoon

Mostly cloudy.  Chilly.  Generally light & variable winds.  Temperatures in the 30s to lower 40s ( struggling toward freezing at highest elevations ).  Wind chills in the 10s to lower 20s at highest elevations.

Tuesday Night Into Wednesday Morning

Rain developing.  Becoming windy.  Rain may be heavy at times overnight into morning.  A chance of thunder.  SSE to S winds 10-20 mph, with higher gusts, on mountain ridges-plateaus below 2700 feet.  Winds S-SSW 20-30 mph, with higher gusts, on mountain ridges above 2700 feet.  Temps near steady or slowly rising from the 30s to low-mid 40s.  Areas of dense fog, especially at upper elevations.  Wind chills in the 20s and 30s.  Nasty!

Wednesday Morning Through The Afternoon

Rain, heavy at times, tapering to showers and drizzle.  Turning colder.  Rain changing to snow showers or to freezing drizzle at by late afternoon.  Widespread dense fog at higher elevations.  SW winds shifting NW at 5 to 15 mph with higher gusts.  Temperatures  falling back through the 30s ( into 20s at upper elevations by mid-late afternoon ).  Wind chill factors dropping into 10s & 20s ( coldest at highest elevations ).

Wednesday Night Into Thursday Morning

Low clouds.  Turning colder with snow showers & flurries.  Snow accumulations mainly less than 1″, with some locally higher amounts possible.  Winds WNW to NW at 5-15 mph, with higher gusts.  Temps dropping into the low-mid 10s to low-mid 20s ( coldest at highest elevations ).  Low clouds with rime formation at upper elevations.  Wind chills dropping into the 10s to lower 20s, with single digits at upper elevations.


Hydrologic Outlook – A Heavy To Excessive Rainfall Pattern Will Be Developing From This Weekend Into Next Week.  Please Stay Tuned For Later Updates.

A Watch For A Major Arctic Outbreak Impacting The USA May Be Needed Within The Next Week To 10 Days ( refer to my weather discussion section for more details ).


Weather Discussion ( Volatile Pattern )

Wednesday Afternoon Update

High Knob Massif Webcam – University Of Virginia’s College At Wise

Falling temperatures ( 20s as of 5 PM at upper elevations in the High Knob Massif ) is causing a relatively rapid drop in freezing levels.  This is good to help reduce run-off where creeks draining the High Knob Massif are simply ROARING.  On the other hand, this is bad news since it will generate slick patches on area roadways.

Main concerns through Wednesday evening center around the possibility of slick conditions developing with freezing of moisture on roadways ( State Route 619 is already getting slick at highest elevations ), so caution is advised for those traveling, as well as for those who may live or be around the high water levels on creeks draining the massif along both sides of the Wise County-Scott County border.


Former Discussion

The most exciting period of Winter 2017-18 is upcoming, with a highly volatile pattern taking shape across the Northern Hemisphere through the next few weeks.

Heavy Snow – Eagle Knob of High Knob Massif at 5:53 AM on February 4, 2018

Really the excitement has already been observed, with up to 5″ of new snow falling at the summit level of the High Knob Massif during the predawn-morning hours of Sunday.

Conditions were wicked, with air temps in the low-mid 20s and strong S-SW wind gusts over 30 miles per hour.  Snow continued into mid-morning before changing to freezing rain and then rain.
Heavy Snow & ROARING SW Winds at 8:30 AM on February 4, 2018

Layton Gardner reported around 1″ of snow at his station near Lonesome Pine Airport, while I measured only 0.5″ in Clintwood as snow became mixed with sleet and freezing rain before changing to rain.

Heaviest snow in valleys actually fell along the windward side of the High Knob Massif with respect to S winds, with a corridor from the Duffield Valley to Fort Blackmore picking up significant snow as air was being forced to rise upward over not only the massif but an orographic standing wave which developed along the high country.

Although temperatures aloft were going above freezing to cause snow to transition to sleet, freezing rain, and rain in all locations surrounding the High Knob Massif in far southwestern Virginia, the formation of an orographic wave over & along the windward side of the massif forced air upward and over the wave, with this rising generating enough cooling to overcome the transport of warming air at and above the 875-825 MB layer.
Like water rolling off a breaking ocean wave approaching the beach, air was sinking upon crossing the wave crest and high country to generate a change into mixed precipitation toward Wise and Clintwood ( which received significantly less snow than Duffield and places on the Clinch River, in northern Scott County, which tend to be robbed of snowfall when air is flowing out of WNW to NE directions ( and sinking down off the high country ).
High Knob Massif Webcam – University Of Virginia’s College At Wise
A majestic sun dog, formed by the refraction & scattering of light through high altitude ice crystal clouds, produced a rainbow of beautiful color above UVA-Wise Monday afternoon.

The second part of this system, which appeared to be the easiest to forecast, actually ended up producing much less NW flow snow than predicted.  Joe Fields measured 0.5″ of new snow in the High Chaparral community, with around or just over 1″ on Eagle Knob, while much of the area had only a dusting.  Roads were still slick with freezing from lingering moisture and what little snow that did fall.

Deposition of cloud vapor ( below ) added to moisture in the high country where riming, as so often occurs, developed once again in sub-freezing air.  Deposition releases 680 calories of heat energy per gram into the atmosphere, so despite such cold conditions the process of rime formation is actually exothermic in nature and releases heat into the air ( perhaps a warming thought to keep in mind the next time you are up there and think “something” is just going to drop off your body in this dang cold air!!! ). 
Eagle Knob of High Knob Massif At 10:42 AM on February 5, 2018

Now attention turns toward another nasty looking system which will spread significant rain across the mountain area Tuesday Night into Wednesday as a band of heavy snow sets up along and north of the Ohio River.

A local concern is a significant amount of snow ( as noted above ) on the ground across the high country, with depths generally varying from 2″ to 3″ on southern slopes at the 3000 to 3300 foot level to 4″-8″+ above 3300 feet on north slopes and at highest elevations ( all slopes ).  The water content of this snowpack has had time to build, with the bottom oldest snow layer having been deposited during January 29-30 ( so rime + rain has been added over time ).

NAM 3 KM Model Total Precipitation Forecast – Next 48 Hours

Snow is deep enough to absorb quite a bit of rain and the melt period will be somewhat less than 24-hours before temperatures drop below freezing again.  Dense fog vapor, within orographic clouds; however, is always a concern.

*Latent heat of condensation can be a powerful agent applied to melting, so this situation will bear close watching with respect to run-off on Wednesday.

Latent heat of condensation releases 600 calories of heat energy per gram of water to the atmosphere.  In this case a combination of orographically forced rising of air and the movement of milder air across the cold, snow will generate latent heat release via condensation in the air and at the surface of the snowpack.  Rapid snow melt can occur in such cases.
Some energy; however, is absorbed at the same time, around 80 calories per gram, in the melting process to offset a little of the latent heat that is released with condensation at the snow surface.

Total precipitation in this area has been significantly above locations toward the south in the Tri-Cities, with January 1 to February 5 totals of 5.35″ at the City of Norton WP and between 6.00″ to 7.00″ across the High Knob high country versus 2.57″ measured officially at TRI ( Tri-City Airport ).

Long Ridge Orchard At 10:58 AM on February 2, 2018
This gorgeous photograph by my friend Wayne Riner shows as much snow on the ground across the Apple Orchard as the TRI officially has measured so far during the 2017-18 winter.
Snowfall atop the High Knob Massif has been 10 times greater than down in the TRI just since January 1 ( 30″ versus 3″ ).

Another system with potential to tap into a stronger feed of Gulf Moisture is expected by this weekend so elevated water level concerns may increase in the mountains.  It is all part of what is shaping up to be a volatile weather pattern.


Major Changes Across North America

European Model 10 MB Analysis At 7 AM on February 5, 2018

Looking ahead huge changes are underway across the Northern Hemisphere, with a Major Stratospheric Warming Event starting that is currently beginning to stretch out the Polar Vortex ( above ) at top of the stratosphere.

European Model 10 MB Forecast At 7 AM on February 15, 2018
Observe that a downward translation of the above flow pattern would suggest more zonal to even southwesterly flow aloft into the United States.  It is, in fact, not uncommon for milder periods to develop in wake of a Major SSW event, initially, prior to major arctic outbreaks following these episodes by a couple weeks.

Note the above pattern could have short-term help…

European Model Madden-Julian Oscillation ( MJO ) Forecast – CPC

It should be noted, before I continue on with a discussion of Polar Vortex changes, that the Madden-Julian Oscillation or MJO ( an eastward traveling tropical wave disturbance ) is forecast to leave Phase 7 and to enter Phase 8.

Composite of MJO Impacts On USA Temps By Phase During January-March
MJO Graphics Courtesy of The Climate Prediction Center.

Observe that Phase 7, the current MJO phase, favors milder than average conditions in the central-eastern USA while Phase 8 favors colder than average temperatures.  So any zonal to SW flow initially trying to be forced by changes in the Polar Vortex could be helped in the short-term by MJO Phase 7.  By mid-late February; however, if the MJO wave enters Phase 8 then colder conditions will be favored, and  IF changes in the Polar Vortex are favorable it could help enhance development of surges of late winter arctic cold.

If the MJO continues to progress from Phase 8 into Phases 1-3 that would be favorable for cold lasting into or through March, since at this time of year those tend to be cold phases for the eastern USA.  The bottom line, the MJO alone suggests there is much winter to come and only time will tell if these polar vortex changes will aid or work against the MJO forcing.  If both wave forcings from these should align to interfere in a constructive manner, then look out for big time wintry conditions to develop during the second part of February and March.  Remember the type of conditions occurring at any given place is due to the summation of all the atmospheric forcings and how they interact with each other ( all are essentially waves such that they can theoretically be thought of as working together to increase amplitude or working against each other to diminish the amplitude, or impact, of any particular pattern ).

Back to the polar vortex changes….

Although the outcome of SSW events are never certain, an increasingly volatile pattern is likely to generate forecast model chaos that translates to headaches for all forecasters during the next couple of weeks as the Polar Vortex splits and warming rotates around the great gyre.

Zonal Mean Zonal Wind At 60 North and 10 MB

This is currently forecast by the GFS and European models to become a Major SSW ( Sudden Stratospheric Warming ) event, with reversal of winds at 60 degrees North latitude and 10 MB from westerly to easterly ( above ) in direction.

Temperatures Above The North Pole At 10 MB

A temperature rise equivalent to 50-70+ degrees F is expected to rapidly occur during the coming week.

Not locally, or at the surface of the North Pole, but aloft where the air is being violently lifted by breaking tropospheric waves which will be breaking and releasing their contained momentum and energy to force dramatic changes in both atmospheric temperatures and wind speeds-directions.
Temperatures At 100 MB Above The North Pole

This is expected to span the depth of the Polar Stratosphere with strongest warming forecast to rotate around a main vortex lobe that splits off and moves over North America.

European Model Zonal Mean Temperature Analysis – 7 AM February 5, 2018

Another way to view these dramatic changes is via a model cross-section of temperature between the Equator and the North Pole, with the current situation ( above ) changing to a much different zonal profile ( below ).

Observe that the temperature change above 70-90 N, centered on 30 to 40 MB, rises by some 40 degrees Celsius ( 72 F degrees ) in the next 10 days ( between above and below graphics ).  That is HUGE.  Observe also that as the vertical temperature gradient weakens over the North Pole that it increases above Middle Latitudes!
European Model Zonal Mean Temp Cross-Section Forecast – 7 AM Feb 15

Yet another way to view these changes is by looking at a cross-section of atmospheric winds between the Equator and North Pole ( Northern Hemisphere ).

European Model Zonal Mean Wind Analysis At 7 AM on February 5, 2018

At the current time ( above ) both the Polar Night Jet over the Arctic and the Polar Front Jet Stream over the Middle Latitude are clearly visible ( both are westerly ).

Compare the current setting ( above ) to the forecast in ten days ( below ), with a shift to deep, strong Easterly winds throughout the vertical depth of the atmosphere over the  70-90 degree North latitude zone.  Easterly flow has also developed above 60 N at 10 MB to meet the official WMO criteria for a Major Sudden Stratospheric Warming.

Easterly flow near the surface, associated with the Trade Winds, can also be observed between the Equator and 28 degrees North. In addition, east flow associated with the Quasi-biennial Oscillation can be seen above the Equator ( this is a -QBO winter season ).
European Model Zonal Mean Wind Forecast At 7 AM February 15, 2018

So what does this all mean?

It means, at the least, a major atmospheric event is taking shape that will impact weather conditions across all of the Northern Hemisphere through coming weeks.

Historic Arctic Outbreak Of January 1985

While an Arctic Outbreak matching historic levels, as was experienced during January 1985, is not likely ( it can not be ruled out ) the odds of having outbreaks of arctic air will be increased by this event for portions of the middle latitudes.  The timing and regions of impact are yet to be determined, but it is a wonderful thing to live during a time in which knowledge has advanced enough to understand the potential implications of current changes.

To understand that the troposphere and stratosphere are not disconnected, separated entities that do not influence each other.  In fact, this event is being triggered by waves that originated in the troposphere and have propagated upward to the stratosphere where they, much like ocean waves rolling over onto a sandy beach, will break and release their contained momentum and energy to force changes in atmospheric conditions many miles above the surfaces upon which they originated.  In turn, these changes in the stratosphere will feedback to generate tropospheric changes ( impacting where you and I live ).

It is, of course, more complicated than what I have written but this captures the big picture idea of what is happening.

*These Sudden Stratospheric Warming Events are a normal part of atmospheric climatology and are not something new, and due to global warming.  Only in recent decades has recognition of these events increased enough to begin developing an understanding of how the troposphere and stratosphere can couple in such intimate ways to impact each other and all living things.