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February 24, 2010

Complex storm could feature a lull between flakes

The winter storm headed for the Northeast early Thursday could bring 3 to 7 more inches of snow to Baltimore, capping a winter in which a few more inches hardly seems to matter anymore.

But this one will be different - one of the most complicated and unusual winter storms we've seen in quite a while. Maryland remains mostly on the southern and western fringes of the blast, which is expected to pound portions of New York and New England with heavy snow, tropical-storm-force winds and flooding. Philadelphians were told Wednesday to expect 8 to 12 inches. New York City could receive 7 to 13 inches, while Binghamton, in south-central New York State, could see as much as 12 to 18 inches.

Forecasters expect the tempest will drift up the coast Thursday, intensify, head inland into southern New York State, then turn west onto some kind of bizarre meteorological cloverleaf, moving west, then south into Pennsylvania, then east again before it finally heads out to sea off the New England coast this weekend.

AccuWeather.comAlong the way it looks like the storm will offer Baltimore rain; a rain/snow mix; then snow; then a lull in the action for a time Thursday afternoon; then more snow into Friday with a big helping of high winds.

For BWI-Marshall, the National Weather Service is calling for the storm to begin late Wednesday evening as rain and snow, turning to all snow after midnight as temperatures drop to freezing. Overnight accumulations could reach 1 to 3 inches of wet snow.

Winter Storm Watches, which mean 5 inches or more are possible by Friday morning, remained posted for Carroll, Baltimore, Harford countries, and Baltimore City. Farther south and west they were replaced Wednesday with Winter Weather Advisories, calling for 3 inches or less during the first phase of the storm.

After daybreak Thursday, the snow is forecast to continue until around 1 p.m., then quit for a time. That's the lull.

The break occurs as the storm intensifies off the coast, and drags dry air in from the southwest, cutting off theSNow and wind, Baltimore precipitation for much of the region. Portions in the mountains, the western shore of the bay and extreme northern Maryland may be slower to dry out, forecasters said.

Forecasters then expect the winds here will shift to the northwest and increase in speed, pulling colder air down from Canada around the west side of the low, which spins counter-clockwise. The highest winds will occur overnight Thursday into Friday, reaching 15 to 25 mph with gusts to 35 mph. 

The high winds, saturated soils and heavy, wet snow may lead to more downed libs and trees, and power outages, forecasters warned.

As the low moves into New York State, and begins to pivot to the west, then south into Central Pennsylvania, it is expected to trigger the third phase of the storm. The weather service says it will drive more snow into Maryland. Two to 5 more inches are possible at BWI before it all ends early Friday morning, according to the weather service.

"Considering the longevity of this system across the area, this period could possibly have the heaviest snows and highest accumulations for the Baltimore metro area and points northeast," said forecasters at AccuWeather.com. "Back into the DC Metro area and points northwest and southeast, lesser amounts expected, especially with wind-driven snow overnight and localized bands that may also be fairly short-lived."

Complicated enough? There's more. The blustery weather could continue through the weekend, with chances for light snow showers as a parting shot.

Here's AccuWeather.com's take on the storm. And here's FootsForecast.org, which predicts a total of 5 inches or more for Baltimore, and as much as 8 inches farther north and east in Maryland.

Eric the Red, a professional meteorologist in Baltimore, says:

"This is a very low confidence forecast, because the heavy snow will be just to our east and northeast, and any slight wobble could well result in blizzard conditions. My best early guess: Northern Va./D.C.:  1-2", perhaps less; Central Maryland: 2-4"; Northern Maryland:  3-6", perhaps as much as 8 inches."

Later, he said the potential for his forecast to "bust" was high:

"I'd place my money on the snow being less than advertised. The current 40-degree temperatures don't help either."

(SUN PHOTO/Amy Davis, March 2009)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:51 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Forecasts
        

Comments

Frank,
Really like reading your articles everyday. You're professional in all aspects. It's the NWS, Accuweather, Footsforecast, etc... folks who blow things out out of proportion and can't seem to predict things accurately as of late. Amazing how a 8-14 inch predicted snowfall for Forest Hill at 2pm can change to a 1-3 inch by 6pm, 4 hrs. later!!! All these sophisticated computers models aren't worth any more than cow manure in the pasture. BIG DADDY BUST!!! They get people all rowd up for nothing with all the hype. SAD!!!! Second blown call this season.

FR: Thanks. But meteorology is a tough business. Not for the faint of heart. All in all, I don't think these folks have done that badly in what has been an extraordinary winter for the mid-Atlantic ... always one of the most difficult places to forecast in winter. As for the models, they're not perfect, and often don't agree with each other, which is why forecasters often have to pick and choose, and average their predictions based on their own knowledge and experience. But forecasting would be worse without them. Nobody can manage all the variables, and weather stats, and visualizations, and then crunch the numbers in their head.

Just imagine what it was in the days of only the farmer's almanac: no radar, no computer models guessing, no internet to check. You head out into the field, unsuspecting. And a helluva storm blows in, you are a mile plus from home (this happened frequently to my grandfather, and even to my family not 30 years ago.) At least now, we have the capability to know something is brewing out west, then something is coming today, can head into work, bug out in advance of the storm and even have a vague idea of the range of inches to drop within 24 hours, so we can decide when to hole in or venture out. Kind of amazing, if you ask me.

I also like you colum with the different view points expressed. I live in Carroll County and this winter has sure been a difficult one. Thanks for all the good information! I have come to rely on it.

FR: Thanks!

Its been my experience that weather can be unpredictable and the forecasters are doing their best. In any event, even overestimating a storm will prompt people to at least make preparations. I live in Cecil County and we have only seen scattered flurries with strong winds. However, storms can change direction. I would not say that we are free and clear just yet. But I sure hope we are.

Thanks Frank for offering different views on the weather.

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About Frank Roylance
This site is the Maryland Weather archive. The current Maryland Weather blog can be found here.
Frank Roylance is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He came to Baltimore from New Bedford, Mass. in 1980 to join the old Evening Sun. He moved to the morning Sun when the papers merged in 1992, and has spent most of his time since covering science, including astronomy and the weather. One of The Baltimore Sun's first online Web logs, the Weather Blog debuted in October 2004. In June 2006 Frank also began writing comments on local weather and stargazing for The Baltimore Sun's print Weather Page. Frank also answers readers’ weather queries for the newspaper and the blog. Frank Roylance retired in October 2011. Maryland Weather is now being updated by members of The Baltimore Sun staff
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