It is the custom to retire the names of significant storms. Therefore the name of last week’s storm, properly called Vicky and incorrectly named Vulcan by the Weather Channel, will be permanently retired.
Many residents of the central and eastern United States wish that this winter could be permanently retired also, but the polar vortex has continued to march to the same drummer. The beat goes on, and Winter Storm Waldo may be dancing in for St. Patrick’s Day.
Recapping Vicky’s Widespread Wild Weather
- Sharon, Vermont measured 26 inches of snow.
- Rochester, N.Y. got 15 inches of snow, the 7th heaviest single-day amount for March, and wind gusts to 52 miles per hour.
- The Presidential retreat of Camp David, MD measured a sustained wind of 66 miles per hour.
- Wind gusted to 86 miles per hour at Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina
Enough of Vicky; Where’s Waldo?
The Weather Channel will name the next storm Wiley. Decoded Science considers this name suitable only for coyotes and will call the storm Waldo. Whatever his name, Waldo could bring messy conditions to Washington, D.C. and severe weather to the south.
What’s the Most Likely Scenario for Waldo?
As has been the case for the entire winter, the polar vortex lurks over Canada, well south of its normal position.When it dips into the U.S., cold arctic air establishes a position over the midwest and northeast. Low pressure develops somewhere along the leading edge of the cold air (cold front). Waldo will likely develop in Arkansas and move east-northeast.
As Waldo gets organized, warm air will still cover much of the midwest and snow will be confined to Iowa. As the storm moves east and the cold air becomes established, a band of heavy snow is likely through Pennsylvania and Maryland, including Philadelphia. Washington, right near the rain-snow line, could get mostly one or the other (ain’t that just like a meteorologist?). In addition, thunderstorms will form in the warm air, primarily in Alabama and Mississippi, with tornadoes possible, as a dry westerly flow of air aloft overlies the humid air.
The Mechanism for Vicky and the Other Winter Storms
For this entire winter, the temperature has been well below normal in the midwest and above normal in the southeast. This is a state of high potential energy, and the energy can be released at any time if the air masses move so that cold air ends up on top of warm. The circulation of a low pressure system accomplishes this mixing.
The trip for the release of the potential energy is a wave in the jet stream — the greater the amplitude of the wave, the stronger the storm. Think of a rock on top of a mountain. The rock possesses potential energy, but the energy stays locked up in the rock until a bear comes along and gives it a push. Then the rock rolls down the mountain and the potential energy is converted to kinetic energy of motion.
Similarly, when a storm unleashes the potential energy of side-by-side air masses, the energy is converted to the kinetic energy of wind. Rain, sleet, and snow are by-products of this process.
Will There Be More Storms?
Medium range forecasts indicate no change in the weather pattern. Another storm is possible as early as next Thursday. If the X storm does receive a name, Decoded Science will accept the Weather Channel’s designation of Xenia (We couldn’t think of another name that begins with X).
Spring Storms Are Different
As we move deeper into what is supposed to be spring, the character of storms changes, though the overall jet stream configuration remains in place. As temperatures warm to the south of the polar front, conditions become more favorable for severe weather, including tornadoes.
March Could Go Out Like a Lamb
Longer range forecasts show a weakening of the polar vortex and a more seasonable and reasonable weather pattern developing around the end of the month. Take it as a possibility, not a promise.