Winter Solstice 2013: Tornadoes (or Not) in Dixie Alley and Ice Storms North and West

It has finally arrived: Winter. Astronomical winter, that is. Meteorological winter has already been with us for three weeks, beginning December 1, and in my book, that is the more climatologically accurate date. Particularly this year. For the first time since 2009, we in Michigan have been experiencing a good, old-fashioned Great Lakes winter. Here in Caledonia, the snowfall has exceeded a foot, and Lisa, who arrived here from Missouri five years ago hating winter and now loves it, dotes on it, rejoices in it, has been having a high good time during her two daily walks, equipped with brand-new winter hiking boots and a warm, warm, waaarm and dry, dry, dry waterproof down coat. I am not so enthusiastic about all this white stuff as Lis is. My interaction with winter consists largely of sitting indoors at my work station, gazing out through the sliding door, watching the finches argue at the feeders and the woodpeckers whack away at the suet, and watching snowflakes pirouette gracefully out of the sky, and thinking, "Can we get this over with?" Yes we can, in a few more months. Because today at last we tip the scale, and from here on, daylight will be on the upswing. Two weeks ago, on December 8, the sun set in my town at 5:08 p.m. EST, just as it had been doing for the preceding four days, hovering within the eight-minutes-past-the-hour range but setting just a few seconds earlier each day. The 8th was the earliest sunset date of the year. From then on, sunset time would arrive incrementally later. For the next five days, through December 13, it would remain at 5:08, but instead of losing seconds, now it would begin to add them back until, on December 9, the sun would set at 5:09. The converse does not, however, hold true for the day's first light. The sun will continue to rise later and later until January 3 of the new year. By then, the sun will have been rising at 8:14 a.m. for five days until finally, on that date, the sunrise will, like the sunset, hit its own tipping point. From thenceforth, losing a few seconds each day, it will begin its slow march toward an earlier and earlier hour. On January 8, it will rise at 8:13 a.m.; on January 12, at 8:12; on the 14th, at 8:11; and so it will go, until on the 31st, it will rise at 7:59. By then, the sun will be rising approximately a minute earlier each day, and we will have gained fifteen minutes of sunrise time. Why, then,  is today, winter solstice, so special? Because today marks our shortest period of overall daylight, the narrowest space between sunrise and sunset. From tomorrow on, even though the sun will continue to rise later and later for a while, the sunset time will begin to outpace it and the gap between sunrise and sunset will broaden--slowly at first, then with increasing swiftness. By the end of December, we Grand Rapidians will have gained 41 seconds of daylight for a total of 9 hours, 14 minutes, and 16 seconds on December 31. By March 18, we'll be adding daylight at 2 minutes and 15 second per day, at which point we'll have maxed out and the gains, while still continuing up to the summer solstice, will become gradually less. You now know more about the winter solstice than you probably ever cared to. What makes this particular solstice even more interesting is the weather that's shaping up for it, which shows promise of making it a headliner with tornadoes in the deep South and ice storms to the north and west. Day 1 Winter Solstice 1630 Mod Risk 2013Here is the 1630Z convective outlook for today, depicting a moderate risk stretching from western Kentucky and Tennessee southwestward into Louisiana, with a 15 percent hatched area for tornadoes. Given the brevity of daylight, I find this situation interesting but not particularly appealing.  A look at forecast soundings suggests a crapload of rain, low CAPE, and high helicity, all driven by massive shear and Jackson MS 19Z RAP_Skew-Trocketing along through formidable terrain. A lot of chasers are out there, and I'm sure that if I lived in that area, I'd be among them, but looking at the Shreveport radar, I don't feel like I'm missing out on something. I got my fill of chasing fast-moving, rain-wrapped storms last November in optimal territory, and considering how that chase turned out, I think I'll be a lot more selective about such scenarios in the future. That said, I wish those who are out there good success. And safety. Drive carefully, mates and matesses. No storm is worth jeopardizing your safety over. As for me, I'm sitting well on the other side of the cold front, and freezing rain is in the forecast, though my local WFO has backed off on it in their forecast discussion. Lots of areas in the Midwest are getting hit with icy conditions, making for hazardous driving, power outages, downed tree limbs, and the like. The day grows later, and so far, glancing at the radar down south, I just don't see anything very exciting--just a messy-looking MCS with one cell south of Memphis showing a hint of rotation. Only wind reports so far, and I suspect that's how this thing will continue to play out. Tough for anyone who drove down there hoping for more; good for denizens of the region. And so enters the winter of 2013–14. Time to wrap up this post and get on with the rest of this afternoon.

Winter Arrives in Michigan

Today is the first day of meteorological winter. Since my post on this date last year explains why, from a weatherly perspective, winter begins on December 1 instead of December 22, there's no need for me to re-pave that same road here. However, the weather today is quite different from what it was a year ago. Back then, we were getting a pretty good dusting of lake effect snow, and I included a radar capture in that day's post to show what we could expect for the next four months. In contrast, today has dawned clear-skied, and this bright sun streaming through the sliding glass door directly onto my face is forcing me to squint with my left eye and prompting me to fetch my broad-brimmed Tilley hat directly after I dot this sentence. There, hat installed. Much better. Now, what was I saying? Oh, yeah ... unlike last year's snowy opener here in West Michigan, this winter is stepping in with a smile. But that signifieth nothing. Two days ago, on November 29, the state got its first taste of accumulation in a belt that slanted, roughly, from Coldwater up toward Saginaw. Here in my little town, what was initially forecast to be at least an inch of snow turned out to be just an errant flake or two. The payload didn't miss us by much, though; just a few miles to the east, the snow came down. Last night, driving home from a practice session with my sax in Clarksville, I noticed that the fields were covered. The satellite photo to your left shows what the actual accumulation looks like from above. (Thanks to my friend Mike Kovalchick for initially posting this image in Facebook.) Cold temperatures are becoming the norm. From here on, the forties will be a high, and anything in the fifties, a gift. We're in that transition zone between rain and snow, with snow becoming the dominant form of precipitation. More of it is in the forecast for this week, and I don't doubt that by the time the winter solstice arrives on December 22, meteorological winter will already have settled in with a smug grin on its face. Today, though, the sun is shining, and while this isn't exactly T-shirt weather, I'll take it. Time to sign off and get the rest of the day rolling. ------------------------------ PS  You might also enjoy reading my explanation of the meteorological seasons in  "Winter Comes Knocking," posted yesterday in my new blog, Fox's World.

First Day of Meteorological Winter

Some of you will greet the news with glee, others with a groan, but either way, today is the first day of meteorological winter. Right, we've still got another three weeks before the winter solstice, when the year's shortest period between sunrise and sunset marks the arrival of astronomical winter in the northern hemisphere. But it sure looks like winter right now to me, and that's what matters to meteorologists. For them, winter begins December 1, just as each of the other three seasons commences on the first day of its three-month block. Why? Because that arrangement corresponds better with how we experience seasonal weather in real life. Here in Michigan, we often get a pretty good hammering of snow in November, and by winter solstice on December 21 (or sometimes 22), we're already usually pretty well socked in. It seems almost laughable when someone announces on solstice that it's the first day of winter. Really? Could'a fooled us. We thought it began a month ago. I woke up this morning to be greeted, very appropriately, by the year's first snow accumulation. Yesterday temperatures opened in the low fifties, but they began dropping and the afternoon grew downright chilly. Today snow is falling, and out in the parking lot a woman is brushing the white stuff off of her car. It's almost like winter has been consulting its watch, waiting in the wings and then entering the stage exactly on cue with a bucketload of lake effect. The snow will be with us for a few days, now, and the radar will continue to look a lot like the image on this page. Click on it to enlarge it, and get used to it, because you'll be seeing a lot of similar pictures from now until meteorological spring arrives on March 1, 2011.

The First Day of Winter

As far as East Coasters are concerned, with 26 inches of snow falling on Long Island in yesterday's blizzard, winter has already arrived. For that matter, here in Michigan, you'd be hard put to convince anyone otherwise when it comes to the practical sense of the word winter. Look outside and what do you see? Snow, and lots of it. Sure looks like winter to me, and has looked that way for a good month. But today at 12:57 a.m. EST--less than three hours from now as I write these words--winter will become official. That is the precise minute of the winter solstice, the time when the sun reaches its southernmost position over the Tropic of Capricorn and begins its journey back north. From then on, the slow but steady pilgrimage toward spring will be underway. In my hometown of Caledonia, according to my sunrise/sunset calendar, the sun rose today at 8:09 a.m. and will set at 5:11 p.m. EST. That gives us nine hours and two minutes of daylight on the shortest day of the year. From this point, we'll struggle a bit trying to add those extra, tiny increments of daylight. The sun will set a little later each day, but it will also continue to rise a little later for a while, nibbling away another four minutes of dawn until January 7. That's the day when, after tipping above the horizon at 8:13 a.m. for seven days straight--the sun will finally rise at 8:12. We'll have added a minute in the morning and, by then, 14 minutes in the evening--a total of 15 minutes. By the end of January, we'll have gained 58 minutes of  daylight. Gray and cold though today may be, with a light snow falling steadily outside my deck door, winter solstice is nevertheless a welcome landmark. Its frozen arrival portends the lengthening of light and the certainty of spring. And this one comes with a visit from my brother Patrick, whom I haven't seen in several years. It's wonderful to see him; a more welcome Christmas gift I couldn't ask for. Whatever the winter brings--and with a strong El Nino in force, it could be a doozy for many--today is the time when the forces that conspire to create snow, ice, and bitter cold begin to lose their logistics. Winter's batteries may presently be charged to the max, but the countdown to storm season is about to begin.