Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Unbelievable Great Lakes Ice Time lapse

One of the most impressive time lapses I've seen in a long time. This is from WGN-TV Hancock camera earlier this week (February 21). Look how quickly the ice opens up over Lake Michigan as the winds shift and the temperatures rise. If this doesn't cause you to rethink walking on the ice I don't know what will.

Cracks in the ice are VERY common especially this time of year. Fluctuations in air temperature, wind direction and intensity drive the shifting ice making it more unstable.

Ice coverage across the Great Lakes have reached their peak and are now falling.

LAKE SUPERIOR:   51% on Feb 19th

LAKE MICHIGAN:  335 on Feb 18th

LAKE HURON:     48%  on Feb 20th
LAKE ERIE:           86% on Feb 20th
LAKE ONTARIO:  21% on Feb 18th 

Lake Erie, the shallowest of the lakes is showing significant ice breakup.






The ice movement forecast through early next week.

Compare this year to the last 2 years:

I checked the years since 2000 that had at least 50% ice coverage on March 1st. The average date where we drop to under 25% ice cover is during the last week of March. This is directly connected to the air temperatures. Based on the long range outlook through the first 7-10 days of March, the ice loss should be gradual.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Why Didn't Monday's Snowfall Pan Out?

My cardinal rule is NEVER post snowfall numbers further out than 48 hours. Way too much uncertainty especially with panhandle systems. Nothing exemplifies this prime directive more than what happened over the last 24 hours.  Let's set the stage.

Willard, Ohio - Tuesday Morning 2-16-2021

Winter storm watches then warnings were issued Sunday across more than 600,000 square miles of the US.  The largest single winter warning map since 2011.

The future radar track (HRRR) took the bulk of the snow through Ohio over a 10-12 hour period. Now watch the mixed precipitation area (orange/purple/pink) try to inch into east central Ohio.  A common occurrence with panhandle storm systems. 

This is what I mentioned during the Monday morning 40+ weather segments as a REAL possibility given the conditions. At the time did I think it would reduce the snowfall forecast in half? Nope.  So what happened? 

I captured the Monday model projections from 1am,7am, 1pm and 7pm time periods for comparison on how the event evolved over time.

Model output

Notice how the LOW made some subtle shifts. Originally it was east of Columbus with the early Monday morning projection. It started to shift more north the south again with the 3rd and 4th projection (see below).

These small scale shifts gave us some indication that the warmer air was influencing the movement. The temperatures at 5000 feet was WARMER than the air closer to the surface in eastern/SE Ohio.

The total liquid precipitation projected earlier in the day was substantial and widespread.

It wasn't until early Monday evening where the precipitation projection went down. (See below and right)

The precipitation type was always in question across extreme southern counties. Bottom graphic below shows a last-minute shift with sleet/freezing rain north and a westward shift in the heavier snow.

The future radar also depicted the same late afternoon/early evening changes to the position of the wintery mix & heavy snow.

Snowfall projections were consistent through noon/early afternoon...

As the warm air became more influential, the snowfall output shifted into NW Ohio and was greatly reduced south of Akron.

Our initial snowfall forecast issued Monday morning based on little warm air influence

The snowfall totals as of 10am Tuesday morning from the NWS in Cleveland. 7-12" totals from western Huron/Erie counties into NW Ohio.

Sandusky, Ohio

Monday, February 08, 2021

How Does This Winter's Consistent COLD Compared To Recent Years?

Lake Erie from 30,000 feet (February 5, 2021)

One of the biggest canned responses I get when I mention winter cold is "Winter is supposed to be cold. What's so special about the cold?".  My qualifying reply usually mentions the fact that it's not the average cold we address in the forecast, it's the extreme cold that is the biggest concern for people. This winter since January 1 has been unusual in that we haven't had much extreme cold (until now, February 7).

I checked the high temperature for each of the last 5 winters from January 1 to February 7. This graphic below first shows the last 4 winters (minus 2021). Notice the ups and downs. Blue and red dots denotes the days above 50. Red dots are highs below 20. Blue curved line are the 2021 high temperatures. Notice how much flatter the curve is this year.  No extremes either way. Just consistent cold...until now.

Interestingly, the last time we had a high temperatures above 50 degrees was early Christmas Eve (before the holiday snow). 

Here is the list of longest stretches WITHOUT reaching 50. Some of these started in November and December. The blue asterisk denotes years (8 total) that didn't reach their first 50 under AFTER February 15th. Only 4 made it into March without a 50 degree day: 1963 (March 11), 1978 (March 19), 1940 (March 17) and 2003 (March 7). It's looking more likely we won't see a 50 until at the earliest, the last week of February.

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Lake Erie Ice Update. Could Lake Ice Shut Down Lake Effect Snow?

Lake Erie ice coverage has bounced from under 5% last week to just over 20% this past weekend. Now its down to 10%.

Crib Cam - February 2, 2021

Ice thickness is mainly under an inch

The water temperature is much lower than 3 weeks ago so it won't take much nudging for ice to develop.

The last time we went from very little ice to over 80% in a week's time was in 2016.

Look at the temperatures vs normal across the US over that period in early February 2016. The high and low temperatures in Cleveland were in the teens and single digits overall.

The forecast temperatures from this weekend through late next week will be WELL BELOW NORMAL across the northern half of the US.  This image looks similar to the one above.

So I would expect Lake Erie ice coverage to increase to 50-60% by next Wednesday minimum.

Here is an experimental forecast from the GLERL (Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab)

Could we see this again along the northcoast before the end of the month?  Could ice cover significantly impact lake effect snow development in the next 2 weeks?  You bet.