Brilliant blue skies. Temperatures soaring to near 60. Consecutive days of dry weather after months of wet weather. The end of February just two days away.
Spring is at hand, right?
If meteorologists are right, mother nature is about to throw a curve ball, with a winter feel set to surge back in just as spring arrives.
On the calendar, spring arrives with the equinox on March 20 — the point at which the day and night are equal lengths. For now, our nights are still longer than our days, if just barely. After March 20, our days will be longer than our nights. But from a meteorological standpoint, spring begins when the calendar flips from February to March.
Early March isn't going to feel much like spring, though, as an arctic cold front delivers true winter temperatures to the doorsteps of the Cumberland Plateau this weekend. In fact, as we prepare to close out what has been an abnormally mild (not to mention snowless) winter, the looming temperatures may be some of the coldest experienced this season.
There's a major caveat here. While colder air will settle across the region on Sunday, with temperatures on Monday nearly 15 degrees below normal for this time of year, the truly cold air keeps getting pushed back by weather models. Just a few days ago, it looked like we wouldn't get out of the 20s on Monday, with lows in the single digits on Monday morning and Tuesday morning. Now it looks like we will be near 40 on Monday, with lows in the mid 20s.
The GFS forecast model, a global model employed by the National Weather Service, is bringing in a stronger wave of cold air by the middle of next week, with temperatures only getting into the 20s on Wednesday and bottoming out in the single digits on Thursday morning, March 7.
The hope, obviously, is that because the models are pushing back the arrival of the cold air, they're going to be ultimately wrong. The cold air won't penetrate this far south or will at least moderate before it does so.
And that's a very real possibility, but the bottom line is that it's going to be much colder — relative to normal — in early March than it was for much of January or February. Keep in mind that "below-normal" temperatures in March and "below-normal" temperatures in January are two different things. "Normal" right now is about 53 degrees. Normal two months ago was 44 — a difference of almost 10 degrees. Still, the first week or two of March look quite chilly.
There have even been hints that we might have to deal with the dreaded "S" word that our region managed to avoid so well in the heart of winter. This morning's run of the GFS model is showing 3-4 inches of snow across the northern Cumberland Plateau, and has support from its global counterpart, the European model.
The good news, if you hate snow and are ready for spring, is that while both models are hinting at snow next week, there has been little run-to-run consistency. For example, the GFS's second run today showed less than an inch of snow for the northern plateau after the preceding run showed 3-4 inches. And the fourth and final run of the model on Monday showed 1-3 inches of snow while the run before that showed generally less than an inch. In other words: don't polish up the sled just yet! Yes, accumulating snow can happen in March; anyone who is under the age of 30 remembers very well the Blizzard of '93, after all. But climatology argues strongly against it. Ol' Man Winter has to thread a needle to produce accumulating snow in the Mid-South any time of the year, and it just becomes so much more difficult as the sun starts to climb higher into the sky as we get into March.
But whether or not it snows, and obviously it probably won't, it's going to be cold.
The good news? It looks like warmer weather returns by the middle of March — meaning that no matter what mischief Ol' Man Winter has up his sleeve, he's living on borrowed time.