The northern Cumberland Plateau’s third snowfall of the 2020-2021 winter season was not a big deal last night. In general, an inch or two of snow fell across Scott County (with most locations being on the low side of that total) during the overnight hours. There were scattered problem areas on roadways, but those quickly cleared this morning, with temperatures rising to the freezing mark by lunchtime.
Now that the third snowfall of the season is out of the way, it’s time to look to the fourth. When, and how much? Unlike some recent winters, where snow threats have been hard to come by, this winter is proving to be one that features revolving threats. There hasn’t been a major winter storm yet, and there may well not be, but the pattern for at least the rest of January continues to look like cold air will be plentiful, the pattern will be stormy, and that’s generally a setup that means there will be threats of snow.
As I wrote in an earlier blog post, you don’t walk into a kitchen and get a cake just because you have flour, sugar and milk. But the ingredients are in the pantry, and now we wait to see if mother nature decides to bake a cake.
As it turns out, we won’t have too long to wait for the next snow threat. I’ll preface that by saying that it currently doesn’t look like this next threat will pan out, but it’s worth keeping an eye on. Next Tuesday, a low pressure system will slide across the Southeast, hugging the Gulf Coast, and it’s going to bring snow to its north side.
The issue is that the storm track currently looks like it’ll be too far south to generate snow here on the northern Cumberland Plateau. It looks like a major winter storm could be taking shape for parts of East Texas, northern Louisiana and central Mississippi. But once it gets further into the Deep South, the storm looks like a non-factor for anyone outside the mountains of far East Tennessee and western North Carolina.
Here is the latest run of the GFS global model, and while you can see those hefty snow totals that are currently being projected for northeastern Texas and northern Louisiana, it doesn’t translate into a winter storm once it gets east of the Mississippi River Valley. But it’s close enough, and temperatures are going to be close enough, that it’s worth keeping an eye on for the next couple of days to see how it evolves. We aren’t likely to see a major snowfall from this system early next week, but I wouldn’t write it off just yet.
Even if next week’s storm winds up being close enough to throw precipitation our way, it could very well turn out that temperatures are a little too warm and we wind up with rain. As of right now, the GFS model has temperatures aloft cold enough to support snow formation, but temperatures at the surface are in the mid 30s for the duration of the precipitation.
So, for now it’s just a storm that’s worth keeping an eye on through the weekend to see how it evolves.
Further down the road is perhaps what we should be most interested in, anyway. The pattern still isn’t too conducive for snowfall in East Tennessee, but it’s moving in that direction. By the end of next week, we should be firmly entrenched in a pattern that can deliver cold air to our region. That doesn’t mean we’re going to be consistently cold for the next two weeks, but there’s a chance that we could see some real cold air. In fact, the latest run of the GFS is actually depicting that. This is one run of one model, so it may very well change within six hours and not show such a cold look again. But it’s currently showing sub-zero temperatures for our region, and if that happens it would be the first time in six years.
Taken verbatim, that same run of the GFS shows several chances for light snow over the next couple of weeks, but no major winter storms. That’s actually not inconceivable. Although the pattern is going to be favorable for winter weather, if we see cold air really entrench itself over the eastern U.S., the storm track will be shoved further south and the storms will be shunted into the Gulf of Mexico. In that case, any snowfall that occurs here on the northern plateau would be minor disturbances in the northwest flow, and those are always light, dry snows.
For now it’s a waiting game to see how it all evolves. The main takeaway, though, is that we should have opportunities to see both snow and cold air over the next couple of weeks.