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Eye to the Sky: A lot of rain is headed our way

It’s been a dry fall in East Tennessee, but that’s set to change — at least temporarily — this weekend, as a major storm system impacts the eastern United States. In fact, there’s a possibility that we could see more rain fall in Scott County this weekend than we saw during the entire month of November.

After a very wet month of October, relative to normal, there has been only 2.23 inches of rainfall in Oneida since Nov. 1. But there could be as much as three inches of rain in a two-day period Friday and Saturday.

A strong storm system

The setup is a dynamic storm system that will move out of the Rockies and into the Great Lakes region as we close out the week. While it’s cold and dry across much of Tennessee today, that will change later in the week, as a southerly flow sets up and begins to pump mild and moist air into the region from the Gulf of Mexico. Stiff southerly winds will develop during the day on Thursday, and the high temperature on Friday could approach 70°.

Wind shear will increase ahead of a cold front that will be associated with the storm system to our north, completing the dynamics that will be needed for copious amounts of rain and the potential for some strong thunderstorms.

As of now, it looks like the threat for organized severe weather will be to our west. Parts of the Mississippi Valley may be under the gun, and that threat may extend into West Tennessee and perhaps even Middle Tennessee. But chances for severe thunderstorms are lower on the Cumberland Plateau and points east.

But that doesn’t mean we won’t see windy weather. A wind advisory is likely to be issued by the National Weather Service as we head into the end of the week, if current trends hold. It seems possible — if not likely — that we see widespread wind gusts in the 40 mph to 50 mph range late Friday into Saturday.

A lot of rain

A lack of severe weather also doesn’t mean we’ll escape the rainfall. As of now, it appears that two to three inches of rain will fall, beginning Friday and continuing through the day on Saturday. Most of the rain will come on Saturday, as things currently stand. And there could be some isolated flooding issues if the higher rain totals actually occur.

The rain isn’t a bad thing, of course. It’s unusually dry for this time of year. Rainfall associated with the cold front that moved through the region Sunday night and Monday increased the streamflow of the Big South Fork River to 550 cubic feet per second (cfs) as of Tuesday afternoon, but that is still well below normal for this time of year. By the second week of December, the BSF is typically flowing above 1,300 cfs.

A big cool-down

Things will cool off quickly behind the storm system. Our wind chill is likely to be well down into the 20s by Sunday morning, and we could even see precipitation end Saturday night as a little bit of inconsequential snow. The high temperature on Sunday may not get out of the 30s.

The cold snap won’t last, though. We’ll quickly rebound into the 50s next week, and the current consensus is that the general theme of a mild-to-warm December will continue for at least most of the month.

A cool-down for Christmas?

If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, you probably shouldn’t hold your breath … but you may not want to completely give up hope, at least not just yet. There are some signs that a colder pattern may develop as we head into the holiday period, though it’s too soon to say for sure that will happen.

What long-range forecasters are keeping an eye on is something called the Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO). This is a measure of the weather in the tropics. The MJO is currently in Phase 6, which typically means warm winter weather for us in the eastern U.S., and that’s exactly what we’re seeing. But both the GFS and the ECMWF models take the MJO into Phase 7 as we move through the next few weeks, and the ECMWF even tries to take it into Phase 8. Phase 7 typically brings colder weather to our region, and Phase 8 brings even colder weather still to our region.

It’s too soon to say that these model projections will prove to be correct, of course. But if the MJO does indeed progress into Phases 7 and 8, we’re probably going to see a big switch to colder weather for a couple of weeks in what is otherwise looking like a very mild winter overall.

Eye to the Sky is a weather blog of the Independent Herald, written primarily by IH publisher Ben Garrett. Views expressed here are those of the authors and should not be considered substitute for official advisories, watches or warnings from the National Weather Service. For the latest, most up-to-date forecast information, see weather.gov/mrx.
Ben Garrett
Ben Garrett is Independent Herald editor. Contact him at bgarrett@ihoneida.com. Follow him on Twitter, @benwgarrett.

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