Will the pack survive?

Posted January 8th, 2013 by Bill Kardas. 53 comments

It's been a cold, snowy couple of weeks in Central New York, but things are about to change.  Before we look ahead, let's take a brief look back at some of the stats over the past 2 weeks:

Average high: 31
Average low:  15
Snowfall: 27.8"

Considering those stats, folks not familiar with CNY climate would be surprised to know that despite more than 2 feet of total snow & temperatures mainly below freezing, the pack rests at less than a foot here in the valley!  How does that happen?  Some of it was due to melting, but most of it was due to compression.  Compression happens when snowflakes pile on each other and the air between each flake is squeezed out (caused by gravity).  The more air between the flakes, the less overall addition to the pack. 

Compression is more dramatic in CNY compared to other climates due to the lakes.  About half of the recent snowfalls came from lake effect - extremely fluffy snow with lots of air packed between the flakes.  The high air content in the snow allows for 'super compaction'.  For example, two inches of lake effect earlier last week compressed to just a quarter of an inch by the end of the day.  Synoptic snowfall like nor'easters have much more water content and therefore much less compaction.  This type of snow sticks around much longer.  In a sense, lake effect snowfall artificially 'inflates' the numbers when compared to the actual snow pack.  A more leveled approach to collecting snowfall totals would be to measure after compaction, but that process takes time and would be considered highly unpopular.

The reason I spent so much time talking about compaction is because it will play a big role in how well we keep the snowpack this week.  The more the snow compresses, the more difficult it is to melt.  More energy is required to melt snow with high water content than with low water content.  The remaining snow in the area is dense and compact.  It will take a while to melt.  Still, if you've peaked at the ended outlook, everything points to an extended mild stretch of weather.  Upper 30s to low 40s won't kill the snow pack...but mid 40s with wind and high humidity will.  The outlook this weekend is calling for those conditions, so it's likely that most areas in CNY will lose the majority of remaining snow come the weekend.


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  1. sue (fairfield):

    low of 15 for me

    Posted January 8th at 9:10 AM

  2. Bill Kardas (WKTV):

    Wow we did NOT have an issue warming up today. Already above freezing in many areas before noon. It’s pretty amazing what a little bit of sunshine & dry warm front can do even in early January.

    Posted January 8th at 11:46 AM

  3. Rob (Whitesboro):

    It was 11 here this morning and 33 now. Looks like the front gets hung up on the GFS Monday. Hopefully we can get a big wave to ride up it. Although it colud be ice instead of snow. Looks brutal cold behind it.

    Posted January 8th at 12:00 PM

  4. sue (fairfield):

    i just limped up to 33 myself

    Posted January 8th at 12:04 PM

  5. MG (Point Rock):

    The NWS from Buffalo is making a big deal out of the next cold air push:

    Posted January 8th at 12:04 PM

  6. Bill Kardas (WKTV):

    Update for Friday morning – much lower chances for freezing rain on Friday as the precipitation is delayed until later in the day. This is good news for early travelers here on Friday. We’ll see if this trend holds.

    Posted January 8th at 12:06 PM

  7. Matt (Rochester):

    43 out here right now.

    Posted January 8th at 12:54 PM

  8. Gordon (Northwestern):

    I’ll try to post my snowpack each evening. It was at 18” yesterday morning. This evening it was still at 17 1/2”. Snowmobile trails from my area and North are still holding up good. Going south to areas like Rome, Stittville, and Holland Patent, they are getting a little thin.

    Posted January 8th at 6:40 PM

  9. Anthony (Oriskany 565 ft.):

    Bill, I would think a bit of the snow loss is also due to sublimation. As far as the rate snow melts, there are so many factors: temperature, wind, dew point, water content of snow, rainfall, and even the sun’s angle. I’m sure there are studies/models for this.

    Posted January 8th at 6:41 PM

  10. Mel (Westernville):

    Compacting is our major LES factor for losing depth but ask any ski area where they “compact” the snow with groomers and warm wind is the worst.

    Posted January 8th at 9:06 PM

  11. Rocino (N.Marcy):

    My met instructor at Oswego always said a stiff warm breeze out of the south they call the “snoweater” at NWS Buffalo where he used to work.

    Posted January 8th at 10:13 PM

  12. Rob (Whitesboro):

    850’s on the Euro are -38C just north of the border next week. That’s absolutely insane! With clear skies you could probably hit 60 to 70 below!

    Posted January 8th at 10:19 PM

  13. Matt (Rochester):

    Rob, with the warm air pushing in and eating the snowpack I would think it’s gonna be pretty hard to get down that cold. I know the pack is probably quite a bit deeper in Canada but if the lakes can manage to lose a little ice, I think 20-30 below will be a challenge.

    Posted January 9th at 1:38 AM

  14. Denys (East Winfield):

    21 degrees, clear with a lght breeze.

    Posted January 9th at 5:48 AM

  15. Norm (Floyd, NY):

    14* here this morning.

    The January Thaw?

    Posted January 9th at 6:52 AM

  16. MG (Point Rock):

    My low was +5. Snowpack 17”

    Posted January 9th at 8:02 AM

  17. Rob (Whitesboro):

    Matt we would never get that cold down here in the valley. Coldest temp in NY state is -52 in Old Forge back in February 1979. 850’s were -26C but high pressure was also at 1050mb.

    Posted January 9th at 8:22 AM

  18. Bill Kardas (WKTV):

    Good Wednesday morning! Brief update on some of the latest develops for the January thaw. First, we’ll likely climb above 40 degrees this afternoon ahead of a cold front. This would be the first time this has happened since December 19th! A brief rain/snow shower is possible this afternoon too, but shouldn’t amount to much. Temperatures will likely stay above freezing in the valley even into the evening, so the snow pack will shed a few inches by the end of the day.

    High pressure builds in tomorrow bringing sunshine and highs in the upper 30s. More snow melt, but with light winds and drier air, not as much as today. A warm front on Friday brings plain rain to the area, even in the colder pockets thanks to a decaying wave.

    HUGE surge of warm air over the weekend. Saturday looks to be the big snow meltdown. Should that be the case, we should have no problem getting to 50° by Sunday without a snow pack. The warmer spots will likely climb well into the 50s.

    As far as next week – cooler air eventually returns, but it’s going to be a process. The lack of a snow pack has to be accounted for in future forecasts (at least until we build it back – no concrete date on that yet).

    Posted January 9th at 8:59 AM

  19. sue (fairfield):

    have gotten as high as 36 so far this week which was yesterday and still only in the teens during the night…..would love to keep it that way…..only 28 here now

    Posted January 9th at 9:42 AM

  20. Rob (Whitesboro):

    Big difference in temp around here. 29 at my house and 39 at Tony’s,

    Posted January 9th at 11:53 AM

  21. Bill Kardas (WKTV):

    12z GFS MOS values are 51 on Saturday and 54 on Sunday for the high temperature. If this trend keeps up, one has to wonder if 60° is possible somewhere in our viewing area on Sunday.

    Posted January 9th at 12:08 PM

  22. Anthony (Oriskany 565 ft.):

    Rob – I just traveled on Judd Road/840. At the corner of Halsey my truck temp read 40F. By the time I got down and crossed the thruway it was 34F. When I got to Cider St it was 33F and finally at my house on Paradise Lane it was 31F. Can anyone explain this?

    Posted January 9th at 12:09 PM

  23. Rob (Whitesboro):

    I have no idea. The winds are from the south so it’s not an east wind deal. 925mb temps are well above freezing too.

    Posted January 9th at 12:15 PM

  24. Bill Kardas (WKTV):

    Anthony – most likely your area is in a sheltered spot. Advection is responsible for warming temperatures this afternoon.

    Posted January 9th at 12:21 PM

  25. sue (fairfield):

    I reached a high of 32 at 10:30 and now down to 28….odd

    Posted January 9th at 12:22 PM

  26. Anthony (Oriskany 565 ft.):

    Interesting. We do seem to be in a sheltered area and the wind is light.

    Posted January 9th at 12:23 PM

  27. Bill Kardas (WKTV):

    Sue – did your winds recently kick in from the east? The weather stations east of Utica are seeing the same effect. It’s caused by a tightening pressure gradient ahead of a warm front. The east wind captures cold air drainage from the Adirondacks.

    Posted January 9th at 12:35 PM

  28. Bill Kardas (WKTV):

    Delay tactics of warm air are in force across part of the region. The east wind and cold air drainage will keep areas east of Utica in the 30s this afternoon. Still think we make it close to 40 degrees in the Utica/Rome area.

    Keep in mind, it’s already above freezing across 90% of the viewing area.

    Posted January 9th at 12:56 PM

  29. Anthony (Oriskany 565 ft.):

    I’m stuck in the 10%.

    Posted January 9th at 1:45 PM

  30. Michael (Dolgeville):

    29 degrees here. Salt truck just went by.

    Posted January 9th at 2:16 PM

  31. JoMD (Fonda):

    Me too in the 10%...high of 27 today and on the way down :(

    Posted January 9th at 2:32 PM

  32. Bill Kardas (WKTV):

    Sun is out and it’s getting warm again in Utica. 38 and climbing fast

    Posted January 9th at 2:58 PM

  33. Anthony (Oriskany 565 ft.):

    Southerly wind started in Oriskany and temp is finally responding, over 40 now.

    Posted January 9th at 3:06 PM

  34. Bill Kardas (WKTV):

    45° here now and sunny. Snow is melting really fast! Already can see grassy spots developing on my lawn over the dog footprints.

    Posted January 9th at 4:02 PM

  35. Adam Musyt:

    Beautiful afternoon here at the station. Even here on the hill we are solidly 44 degrees. The hard pack snow and ice in our station parking lot is turning into a messy slush and mud – a sure sign that a thaw is well underway!

    Posted January 9th at 4:05 PM

  36. Rocino (N.Marcy):

    44 degrees….. snow is melting … not all that fast surprisingly … went outback in the yard and snowpack is down to 14”......

    Posted January 9th at 5:09 PM

  37. nugfin (Neil) (South Utica - Genesee St.):

    High of 46* here today – quite a bit of snowmelt and all the ice on the sidewalks and driveways is gone.

    Posted January 9th at 5:13 PM

  38. Gary (Schuyler):

    27 degrees in lowly Amsterdam at this hour (5:45 pm). And although not on local cable, Amsterdam, the significant other receives Ch. 2 very well via antenna.

    Posted January 9th at 5:54 PM

  39. sue (fairfield):

    winds have really kicked up, up here….peak gust of 51 about a half hour ago…..Bill was asking me about a wind shift earlier in the day which is possible but i wasn’t paying attention and when i tried to check out my wind direction trend, it’s all in numbers (don’t know how to read them)....anywho….hit another high of 44 at 4:41 this afternoon and down to 38 now

    Posted January 9th at 7:57 PM

  40. sue (fairfield):

    20’s and 30’s with gusts now in the 40’s…...batten down the hatches hahahahaha

    Posted January 9th at 8:32 PM

  41. Gordon (Northwestern):

    High of 39 today. Lost 1.4” on my snowpack. Down to 16.1”

    Posted January 9th at 9:34 PM

  42. Rob (Whitesboro):

    High here was 44 today. Squall line coming through N. Oneida with possibly 50mph winds and heavy rain/snow.

    Posted January 9th at 10:22 PM

  43. Adam Musyt:

    Front crossing the area now with a flare up of briefly heavier precipitation thanks to an upper level trough moving away.

    Couple lightning strikes possible with these gusty showers mainly north of the Thruway for the next hour.

    Posted January 9th at 10:26 PM

  44. sue (fairfield):

    just got a 58 mph gust…...dang!

    Posted January 9th at 10:48 PM

  45. sue (fairfield):

    make that 60 now

    Posted January 9th at 10:50 PM

  46. sue (fairfield):

    anyone getting any snow from this?

    Posted January 9th at 10:55 PM

  47. Rob (Whitesboro):

    There’s a few flakes here mixed in with rain. Gusted to 40mph so far.

    Posted January 9th at 11:00 PM

  48. sue (fairfield):

    just started getting snow now….temp is 38….

    Posted January 9th at 11:06 PM

  49. sue (fairfield):

    temp dropped down to 33 pretty fast….then again i thought i lost my wind speed…..graph dropped to 0 and i had to run to the window to see if it was still on the roof…...barely visible but it was dancing a bit in the wind…...phew !

    Posted January 9th at 11:10 PM

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