Chilly pattern with spotty snow may be harbinger of bigger storm to come

Alex Sosnowski
·7 min read

It's the middle of January, and true Arctic air hasn't been felt across much of the Midwest and Northeast yet this month. However, AccuWeather forecasters say that's about to change. The weather pattern will usher in rounds of chilly air typical for late January, and it is projected to trigger rounds of lake-effect snow and snow showers into the weekend. The cold air could set the stage for a more extensive snow and ice storm across the Midwest and mid-Atlantic by early next week -- and the potential for serious cold after it's over.

It will be colder than it has been in recent weeks, and temperatures can even dip below average on occasion into this weekend.

"Prior to Friday, fresh snow cover on the ground will allow temperatures to drop into the single digits and teens across the interior Northeast," AccuWeather's Lead Long-Range Meteorologist Paul Pastelok said.

Intertwined in the colder weather pattern will be weak and fast-moving storms that will swing from the northern Plains of the United States and southern Canada Prairies to southeastern Canada and the northeastern U.S. in the short-term.

This radar image from Wednesday morning, Jan. 20, 2020, shows bands of lake-effect snow, flurries and heavier snow showers lingering in the wake of a recent clipper storm that moved off the Atlantic coast Tuesday night. Snow is shown in blue and rain is depicted in green. (AccuWeather)

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Each of these Alberta clipper-style storms, which are weak and quick-moving storm systems, will not have a chance to tap into Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean moisture, but they can grab a small amount of moisture from the open waters of the Great Lakes. The effect could be for local enhancement of precipitation.

Usually, at this point of the winter, there is a significant amount of ice on the lakes, but so far this winter, these waterways are mainly free of ice. As of Jan. 20, the ice cover is less than 4% but gaining, according to the National Weather Service. Ice cover typically reaches its maximum in February.

As the clipper storms swing through the region, brief bursts of snow, flurries, and snow squalls will roll through parts of the Midwest and interior Northeast. On a couple of occasions, a bit of snow can extend all the way to the mid-Atlantic and New England coasts.

One such clipper storm progressed across the central Appalachians and Great Lakes region on Tuesday. Some flurries or spotty light snow from the system extended to the Interstate 95 corridor and even some East Coast beaches on Wednesday morning.

The nuisance hits from winter weather won't stop after that.

Another clipper storm is forecast to travel eastward late this week and into the first part of the weekend. This clipper is expected to be a bit stronger than the first, but it will also track farther to the north. This setup should keep steady snow associated with it near the U.S./Canada border.

A round of lake-effect snow is predicted to immediately trail this storm into the weekend, and it may be somewhat more intense than during the lake-effect from the first part of this week.

The rounds of lake-effect alone into Friday night can unleash up to a couple of feet of snow in some areas downwind of the Great Lakes. Only the shifting nature of the lake-effect snow bands may prevent amounts from doubling.

The pattern will bring periodic flurries, snow showers and heavier snow squalls that can migrate well away from the Great Lakes and cause trouble on highways in parts of the Ohio Valley and central Appalachians to interior New England. A quick burst of snow and the sudden change in visibility and road condition can be very dangerous for motorists traveling at highway speeds.

"Temperature departures will average 6-12 degrees Fahrenheit below normal from the Upper Midwest to the northern tier of the Northeast this weekend, in the wake of that stronger clipper storm," Pastelok said.

This weekend, normal low temperatures will range from 7 below zero in International Falls, Minnesota, and zero in Caribou, Maine, to 16 in Chicago and 27 in New York City.

Temperature departures will diminish around the Ohio Valley and coastal mid-Atlantic regions, but it will still feel colder, according to AccuWeather meteorologists.

Adding to the overall colder weather pattern, breezy to windy conditions will develop at times, which will result in AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperatures that could drop 10-20 degrees lower than the actual temperature.

The push of colder air in the wake of the stronger clipper storm this weekend will help set the stage for trouble with wintry precipitation in a large area of the Midwest and Northeast as a bigger storm is expected to brew over the South-Central states late in the week and push eastward from Sunday night to Tuesday.

"The way the atmosphere seems to be stacking up in terms of temperatures at different layers would suggest that sleet and freezing rain will be involved with this storm as well as snow from parts of the central Plains to the Ohio Valley, central Appalachians and mid-Atlantic," said AccuWeather Senior Storm Warning Meteorologist Eddie Walker.

There is likely to be a second storm system farther north that would tend to move along at a swift pace. This northern feature is likely to bring a fast-moving batch of light to moderate snow that scoots across the northern Plains and Great Lakes region this weekend.

Precipitation with the pair of storms has the potential to affect NFL conference championship games in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Kansas City, Missouri, on Sunday. Snow is favored to be falling or moving out in Green Bay during Sunday afternoon, while it could be a close call between rain and a wintry mix lingering around Kansas City on Sunday evening.

The exact timing and precipitation amounts from the storms, which are still several days away, are still coming into focus. There is some question as to how far north the southern storm will travel before it will be pushed eastward.

"The jet stream setup shaping up for this weekend to early next week suggests an atmospheric road block may prevent the southern storm and its substantial precipitation from advancing too far to the north in the Midwest and the Northeast," AccuWeather Forecasting Manager Dan DePodwin said.

However, Arctic cold, which has been largely absent from the picture thus far this winter, may hold its ground and bring a troublesome amount of wintry mix to the Ohio Valley, central Appalachians and mid-Atlantic region.

Meanwhile, the fast-moving northern storm, which is likely to run on a schedule about 12-24 hours ahead of the southern storm, has the potential to extend a period of snow all the way from the Dakotas on Saturday to the Great Lakes on Sunday and then parts of the central Appalachians and upper mid-Atlantic region by early Monday.

"Severe weather has also been somewhat lacking with most storms this winter, but there is a chance this storm may be potent enough to trigger a round of severe weather across the South Central and Southeast states as it moves along," DePodwin said.

Chillier-than-average Gulf of Mexico waters have likely been playing a role in limiting severe weather in the Deep South thus far.

Within a few days after the departure of the large storm next week, there is the potential for some of the coldest air of the season so far to empty southward from Canada and into part of the Midwest and Northeast prior to the end of January.

The late-month pattern may feature below-zero temperatures in part of the interior Northeast in places where very cold air has been absent. For example, Burlington, Vermont, has not dipped below zero yet this winter and could be one location where the temperature does so during the last few days of the month.

AccuWeather will continue to provide updates on lake-effect snow showers and the potential for a major storm with snow and ice from later this weekend to early next week.

Keep checking back on AccuWeather.com and stay tuned to the AccuWeather Network on DirecTV, Frontier and Verizon Fios.