Ulysses: The Storm Before the Calm Before the Storm

Ulysses is centered on the North Carolina coast Friday morning. Most of the precipitation is rain. Map courtesy of NOAA.

Ulysses is centered on the North Carolina coast Friday morning. Most of the precipitation is rain. Map courtesy of NOAA.

The Weather Channel stretched a bit to name Ulysses, which will be mostly rain except for some freezing rain in north-central North Carolina and south-central Virginia – as well as up to half a foot of snow in the mountains.

All forms of frozen precipitation should end by early afternoon today, and everything will move out to sea by Saturday, setting the stage for a warm and pleasant weekend and early next week for most of the eastern half of the United States.

By Tuesday, however, the polar vortex will return, possibly setting the stage for the next storm.

The Drainage Effect of the Appalachians

Ulysses has been set up by a shallow surge of cold air moving southward east of the mountains in Virginia and North Carolina. This is a fairly typical occurrence which results in the possibility of freezing rain. The dense, cold air can be very hard to displace, even when warmer air is streaming north only a few hundred feet above the ground.

As the warm air rides over the cold, the lifting causes moisture to be squeezed out in the form of rain. The cold air layer is shallow enough for the liquid drops to pass through without freezing, but they freeze on contact with the ground. When the cold layer is thicker, the raindrops re-freeze in the air and fall as sleet.

The intensity and duration of the freezing rain determines how much damage they do. Less than one-tenth of an inch just ices over untreated roadways. More than a quarter of an inch can break small branches, and over half an inch will bring down large tree limbs and cause widespread power outages. The area between Greensboro, N.C. and Roanoke, Va. is likely to see damaging accumulations of ice from Ulysses.

Winter Storm Ulysses Moves On

Ulysses will move out to sea on Saturday, and milder air will provide a fine weekend in much of the beleaguered midwest and east. But residents of these areas should not be complacent. All forecasts call for the polar vortex to make yet another foray into the heartland and east coast, setting the stage for a storm next Wednesday and Thursday. It should be named Vicky.

The National Weather Service forecast for Wednesday shows a storm (Vicky?) in the midwest. Map courtesy of NOAA.

The National Weather Service forecast for Wednesday shows a storm (Vicky?) in the midwest. Map courtesy of NOAA.

Who Will Get the Worst of Vicky?

Medium-range forecasts show the jet stream buckling again, with a ridge in the west and a trough in the east. Winter Storm Vicky could form anywhere from the Texas coast to the Mississippi Valley.

The storm could also develop a second center off the Atlantic coast, which might deepen into a strong low pressure center with a lot of wind. At this time of year, more of the precipitation will fall as rain than earlier in the winter, but there should be a band of snow — possibly heavy — on the northwest side of the storm.

Winter Storms: A Note About Names

The Weather Channel will name the V storm ‘Winter Storm Vulcan.’ The Association of Decoded Scientists (ADS) deems this name inappropriate and will use the name ‘Winter Storm Vicky’ instead.

After all, Vulcan is the Roman god of fire, so the name should be reserved for volcanoes or forest fires. In addition, there could be confusion because of the Star Trek connection. There is no reason to bring Mr. Spock into a discussion of terrestrial weather.

© Copyright 2014 Jon Plotkin, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Science

Resources for this article

National Weather Service. Active Weather Alerts. (2014). Accessed on March 07, 2014

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  1. says

    I can hardly stomach The Weather Channel (TWC) anymore … which bugs me because I’ve always been fascinated by meteorology. I used to watch TWC a LOT. I appreciated the fact that they would focus on the weather … and ONLY the weather … in a clearheaded, dignified way.

    But then TWC was purchased by NBC-Universal, and suddenly the channel went into a tailspin. First came “Wake Up With Al” featuring Al Roker’s relentless clowning and self-glorification. Then came the cheesy reality shows about rock hounds and people doing ridiculous stunts. The last straw was when TWC, in what can only be described as some kind of shameless publicity stunt, started NAMING snow events!

    Last week, on TWC’s website, was this headline: “Asteroid Headed Toward Earth Today!” The accompanying video started with a photograph of Vesta, which is over 300 miles wide. The average person, who knows next to nothing about astronomy, would look at that headline and assume that THE END OF THE WORLD was at hand! But in fact, not only was the rock in question less than 100 feet wide, but it was nearly as far away as the Moon when it zipped by.

    I don’t need Hollywood gossip, stock market reports, and lurid headlines about things that have NOTHING to do with the weather. And yet TWC has become less about the weather, and more about personalities and sensationalism.

    On one commercial, Sam Champion gushes, “Morning television can be the most FUN television of the day!” Well for heaven’s sake, Sam, if I want FUN I’ll watch a sitcom or a comedy special. Why can’t TWC be about the WEATHER? The next time a hurricane blows up the East Coast and kills hundreds of people, I don’t want Al Roker saying, “Hey gang, let’s have some FUN!”

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