Is this the thaw before the big storm?

- Are there any big storms coming?  That is a question I am asked pretty much daily.  But the information we can give as responsible meteorologists is never what that person wants to hear.  They always want to hear a definitive answer of yes or no and then a detailed explanation of exactly what will play out.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.  As many times as we say it, it never seems to sink in, so just add this occasion to the list.  Weather is NOT an exact science.  Even if we were expecting a big storm tomorrow, we would have a forecast with our best educated guess, and that’s it.  We can’t know anything for sure because we aren’t magicians that can see the future.  But we use our education, physics, laws of thermodynamics, and forecasting experience to come up with the best idea of what will happen next.  Mother Nature then does what she wants.

Now that all of that has been said, let’s talk about what seems to be floating around on the internet.  A storm appears to be on the horizon for the central US but it is still SEVERAL DAYS AWAY.  Normally, we would anecdotally talk about the potential for some accumulating snow while breaking down the 7-day forecast and tell you to check back with us as next week approaches because we should know some more information by then.  But then social media came along and ruined it.  Certain people, and some meteorologists alike, post images of death and destruction with snow totals that are off the charts and it’s the snowpocalypse over and over and over.

So to combat that, and still give you some reasonable information, here is my solution…

This tells you pretty much everything we know.  That accumulating snow is possible in parts of the central US sometime in the middleish of next week.  The storm track is unknown.  The storm intensity is unknown.  The specific snowfall totals and timing are therefore unknown.  So why are there so many unknowns?  Why can’t we know more information than this when the storm is 5 or 6 days away??  Here’s some education…

Storm systems roll through the atmosphere like a row boat would float down the Mississippi.  The boat just rides the current, occasional getting stuck in an eddy, or floating from one side of the river to the other.  The difference is these storms are imbedded in that river, and show up at many or all levels of the atmosphere, from near the surface all the way to the stratosphere.  The best place to view the circulation of these storms (basically the true location of the low pressure) is at the middle levels of the atmosphere… we call it 500 millibars.

So here is what the “center” of this storm COULD look like Wednesday morning…