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Weather Journal: Next 2 weeks bring much wintry wondering, starting with potential weekend storm

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Jan 3 snow

The sun rises on heavy snow accumulation upon pine branches early on Jan. 4 in southwest Roanoke County, a day after our region saw anywhere from 1 to 7 inches of snow after a sudden shift from 60s and 70s highs over New Year's weekend. Additional rounds of Arctic cold and possibly snowfall appear to be on the way in the next couple of weeks.

Now that winter is off the ropes, it’s looking to land some more jabs.

A few days of cold but dry weather this week provide a good time to assess your preparedness and readiness for potential snow, ice and Arctic cold in the days ahead.

Locations in our region have received anywhere from 1 to 10 inches of snow total in two rounds last week — 1 to 7 inches on Jan. 3, zero to 3 inches on the following Thursday — after an overnight switch flip from holiday season warmth to full-on winter. New Year’s Day saw a high of 75 at Roanoke; exactly a week later brought single-digits and teens lows across the region.

The next two weeks or so, give or take a few days, promise periodic infusions of Arctic air and about a half-dozen shortwaves zipping through overhead, the first posing a strong chance of snow by this weekend.

Any or all of these shortwaves — cold swirls of fast-moving air high in the atmosphere — could trigger rounds of precipitation.

Before we get visions of snowstorm after snowstorm in our heads, be they dreams or nightmares, each individual system has to be tracked on its own parameters.

It is indeed possible that each and every one of these coming systems will deliver snowfall to our region, but it is also possible each and every one of them will find a way not to do so — miss us to the south, go too far north and cause rain, turn into mixy messes, dry up crossing the mountains, or get crushed and stretched into weakness by cold high pressure to the north.

There are historic examples, locally, of similar periods bringing frequent snowstorms and some that passed cold but almost totally dry.

The more likely result is somewhere in between, that some but not all of them bring snow or mixed wintry precipitation to our region, in light to moderate amounts, maybe a heavier one if the setup aligns just right or wrong, depending on your personal take on snow.

The first such system to watch is this weekend and, still a few days out, there are myriad questions about its track and intensity. At this point, odds would lean to a period of snow Saturday and/or Sunday as surface low-pressure tracks to the south of our region. Amounts and any possible tendency to mix with sleet or freezing rain are uncertain as of Tuesday and won’t become clearer for a couple of days.

The developing cold period does not mean every day will stay below freezing, but short moderating temperature periods will not last long and, before it is over, it is possible though not yet certain we will have a push of more extreme Arctic temperatures for a short time.

While the pattern with high pressure in the West is solid for driving cold air our way, the high pressure blocking to the north is not fully set up to trap the cold, so the coldest weather will tend to come and go a bit.

Once we are beyond this period, there some signals that it will eventually turn considerably milder by sometime in February, maybe as mild as late December was, though there is always great uncertainty on weather patterns more than a week out.

Winter will probably not be over if that happens, but may take some time to reload, and that would put us pretty late in the season.

So it may well be, for fans of wintry temperatures and snow in our region, that now to the end of January holds your best hopes, though far from certain ones, for another year. For everyone else, it is a period to endure until milder days inevitably arrive down the road.

Weather Journal appears on Wednesdays.

Contact Kevin Myatt at kevin.myatt@roanoke.com. Follow him on Twitter @kevinmyattwx.

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Since 2003, Kevin Myatt has penned the weekly Weather Journal column, and since 2006, the Weather Journal blog, which becomes particularly busy with snow. Kevin has edited a book on hurricanes and has helped lead Virginia Tech students on storm chases.

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