Q & A with Gene Norman on recent winter weather

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Today, someone in the newsroom asked CBS42’s Chief Meteorologist Gene Norman five questions about the cold and snow that many will remember for a long time.  He did some digging and found some interesting facts.  They were good questions, so he wanted to share his answers.

1. How does this winter compare to the last 5?

Using average temperature, January 2014 goes down as the coldest in the last 5 years.  Here’s the ranking:

  1. Jan 2014 – 36.1°
  2. Jan 2010 – 38.9°
  3. Jan 2011 –  40.2°Snowfall
  4. Jan 2009 – 44.7°
  5. Jan 2013 – 48.3°

A typical average temperature in January is 44.6°

So far, this has been the second coldest February, but month is only half over.  I’m expecting a big warm up over the next few weeks, so it’s doubtful that it will even rank with regard to cold.


2. Is this considered to be out of the ordinary with the low temps and snow back to back?

That depends on what numbers you look at.  This is the third-snowiest year in the last 30 and 14th-snowiest ever on record.  However, we’ve had measurable snow in six out of the last seven years. So we’ve recently come to expect some snow in the winter time.

In each of those episodes, there were cold days around the time of the snow. What is unusual this winter is the sheer duration of the cold. A typical January sees 13 days with lows below 32°, this year we had 27, which is almost the entire month. Also, we had two long stretches where the temperature didn’t get above 32°: 60 hours from January 7-9 and from Jan 27-30 we didn’t get above freezing for 50 hours.  Neither of those are records, but it’s a long time.


3. Would you say we are done for this winter or could yet another Bitter Blast come?

The main culprit, the so-called “Polar Vortex”, a mass cold air circling the pole, is beginning to retreat.  Parts of the mid-west and northeast may continue to see occasional pushes of cold, but I don’t see the jet stream dipping this far south as it did the last two months. Over the next two weeks, long-rang models show a warming trend. Also, along with the cold, we’ve had a favorable positioning of the “sub-tropical” jet stream, which delivers the moisture needed to create snow.

I see that pattern changing as well.  A dip or trough in the jet stream will develop across the Rockies and central plains. That could mean a return of stormy weather to the middle of the country. Right now, most of that will remain east and north of us, so I don’t expect an early start to storm season.


4. Did we break any records? Only Jan 7 when we hit 7°.

As for snow, the 5″ we’ve seen over the last two episodes is the most in a year since Jan 2000. Over the past 30 years, we’ve averaged 1.6″ of snow per year.

However, over the last 10 years, we’ve averaged 1.2” compared to 1.8” in the prior decode (1993-2003) and 2.2″ from 1982-1992.  So it turns out previous years have been snowier, but few have had several high amounts so close together in a given year.


5. Any advice from the Chief Meteorologist?

I say we form a flash mob when Spring returns!  Seriously, the effect of the Polar Vortex has been amplified over this winter. There could always be a brief return before warmer weather returns for good.

Let’s hope we don’t challenge the latest date of a freeze, which was April 23, 1986.  Let’s also hope the pattern doesn’t become favorable for multiple severe weather episodes.  Long-range trends are hinting at a return of the El Niño phenomenon, which tends to allow for more severe weather in the southeast.



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