Feels like spring

How lovely early spring is with occasional rain but no snow, cool but not frigid temperatures and cloudy but some sunny days.

Time to find the garden spade, uncover the kayak, change out the wardrobe.

Oh wait – it’s only January!

The unusually warm temperatures, lack of snow and general this-doesn’t-feel-like-winter outlook are confounding typical weather patterns.

“Yes, it is abnormally warm right now,” said Lee Hendricks, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh. “We are in a pattern where we have a continuous number of weather systems that are basically coming from the Midwest or up the Ohio Valley and that is not bringing a lot of cold air to this area.”

Normally, the January temperature range for northwestern Pennsylvania is a high of 34 to 35 degrees and lows in the lower 20s, said Hendricks. That has not been the case to date since the winter debut on Dec. 21 and may not change anytime soon.

“Overall, we’re looking at temperatures to average about the same in January with precipitation slightly below normal,” said the meteorologist. “So, a little bit warmer and a little bit drier this winter so far. But, beyond 72 hours out, so many things change in the model that is very difficult to have any confidence in predicting.”

The chances for snowfall are iffy at best, he said.

“At mid-month, we will have a period of very cold weather over the area and we could get some snow,” said Hendricks. “But trying to nail that to the wall is like nailing jello to the wall – it’s too far out so don’t count on it.”

The weather forecast over the next week calls for highs in the 40s and lows in the 30s with an exception for Sunday night when the temperature could drop to 20 degrees.

At this time of year, the conversation at the National Weather Service office in Pittsburgh also turns to ice covers on waterways that criss-cross the region.

“We’ve been talking about that,” said Hendricks. “If we don’t get a real strong shot of cold air that will stay over the region for four or five days and if the water temperature stays in the low 30s, it will be very hard to get ice to form. We’ll have to see.”

Snowfall is lax

While January typically boasts a total snowfall of 13.5 inches, there has been a dusting at most the first few days of the month.

“As to measurable snow, it’s just too warm for that and we are not really seeing anything soon,” said Hendricks. “You could, maybe, have a little snow Monday up north. And on Jan. 9, there could be reinforcement of cold air moving into the region and that could bring some measurable snow. Really, it comes down to ‘cold and a chance of snow’.”

The records

January is a month with extremes, according to historical weather data. The northwestern Pennsylvania records show an all-time low of 23 below zero in January 1963 with a top high temperature of 73 degrees in January 1950.

Tossed in among the fluctuating temperatures are years of frozen waterways bedeviled by ice jams and flooding along area creeks and the Allegheny River.

Overall, the 2018 weather stats for the state came under heavy revision in the record books. Pennsylvania recorded its highest total for rainfall in more than a century with 57.83 inches of rain. That included a dozen days last year when the daily rainfall measured one inch or more.

As to snow, 2018 registered 52.1 inches with the greatest one-day total pegged as 8.7 inches on March 21.

A meteorologist’s advice

Hendricks, the weatherman, offered some crisp advice for area residents perplexed by a seemingly spring-like season out there.

“Cross your fingers and your toes,” he said. “Let’s hope that January stays above normal temperatures. We should take it while we can get it.”