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Surging cold air to trigger accumulating snow in northeastern US

·7 min read

A persistently cold weather pattern in the Northeast in the days after Thanksgiving will make it feel like Christmas has arrived several weeks early, and forecasters are tracking multiple scenarios in which some locations could receive the first snow of the season.

Old Man Winter has been serving up some hors d'oeuvres in the temperature department for much of the region and even in the snow department around the Great Lakes. However, the bite-sized samples of winter cold will transition to more of a main course by early next week.

The reason for the coming stretch of unseasonably low temperatures is a result of weather factors north of the United States border.

A widespread snowpack exists in Canada from the Rockies to western Quebec, and it will give a little kick to the cold shots, AccuWeather Lead Long-Range Meteorologist Paul Pastelok said. When cold air passes over a frozen surface such as snow cover, it cannot absorb the warmth as it could when the ground is bare.

People in the Northeast have certainly been shivering this week with actual temperatures dipping to 8-15 degrees Fahrenheit below normal Tuesday and Wednesday, according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Dean DeVore. Even though the cold has eased a bit for Thanksgiving Day in the Appalachians and coastal areas, blasts of cold air will return by the weekend.

Following a strong cold front that moved along the Atlantic coast Friday morning, temperatures more typical of mid- to late December are in store for the Northeast and will generally range from 10-20 degrees below normal. Typical highs in late November range from the mid-30s in northern Maine to the upper 50s in southeastern Virginia with lows ranging from the mid-20s to the lower 40s, respectively.

With the latest cold discharge from Canada, gusty winds and dry air will allow AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperatures to frequent the single digits, teens and lower 20s over the central and northern Appalachians and the teens, 20s and lower 30s along the Interstate 95 corridor from Friday afternoon to Sunday.

RealFeel Temperatures in Philadelphia, New York City and Washington, D.C., are forecast to dip to the mid-teens Friday night compared to a normal low temperature in the mid-30s. In Boston, the normal low is in the mid-30s, but RealFeel Temperatures are projected to plunge to around 8 degrees.

Most of the region has not experienced conditions this cold since late last winter. Pedestrians, people waiting for mass transit or shoppers hitting the stores, where there might be some waiting outside involved, should bundle up this weekend. The worst of the cold winds will continue into Saturday night.

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The discharge of cold air from Canada will lead to locally heavy bands of lake-effect snow this weekend, especially downwind of lakes Huron, Erie and Ontario, where local snowfall amounts into Sunday morning can approach a foot. The transition to the new blast of cold conditions can trigger isolated snow showers that wander well away from the lakes over the interior Northeast. These fast-hitting snow showers can lead to not only a sudden drop in visibility and temperature but also slippery conditions.

There is another side effect of the cold weather pattern in this case. Disturbances remain active over the northern Pacific, and these will move inland over western Canada. These storms are referred to as Alberta clippers as they sometimes originate from the Canadian province of Alberta and tend to move swiftly along in the southward dip of the jet stream around the Great Lakes and Northeast.

AccuWeather meteorologists have had their eye on one particular clipper storm that will drop across the Midwest from Saturday into Saturday evening and produce accumulating snow in portions of Michigan, Wisconsin and northern portions of Indiana and Ohio.

The storm's fast movement will tend to limit the amount of snow in the Northeast. However, despite the fast pace, the storm will pick up some moisture from the Great Lakes and later the Atlantic Ocean. Motorists in New England, the central Appalachians and the upper portion of the mid-Atlantic should expect slippery travel conditions. Airline delays are likely due to de-icing of aircraft in some locations.

Snow will streak into the eastern Great Lakes region and the central Appalachians during Saturday night.

Since the snow will fall on portions of western and central Pennsylvania, western and central New York, western Maryland and northern West Virginia late Saturday or early Sunday morning, there is a chance of an accumulation of a few inches, according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dan Pydynowski. It is in these areas where road conditions along portions of interstates 70, 76, 79, 80, 90 and 90 could range from wet to slushy and snowcovered.

Mostly rain or perhaps no precipitation at all may fall on the southern side of the storm over much of Virginia, Delaware, central and eastern Maryland and southern New Jersey late Saturday night and Sunday. This includes around the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore areas.

During Sunday afternoon, the storm will move along, and snow is forecast to fall on portions of eastern Pennsylvania and New York as well as northern New Jersey. Marginal temperatures and daylight, in general, may cause the snow to struggle to accumulate, except in higher elevations and on grassy surfaces.

A mixture of rain and snow may occur near the Atlantic Ocean during Sunday afternoon and night as the storm moves along in Philadelphia, New York City, Long Island, New York, and the southern coast of New England. Most road conditions in this area are likely to be wet, but some slippery spots can develop outside of the urban areas as road surfaces cool on Sunday night.

The storm will move over the Atlantic Ocean from late Sunday night to Monday morning.

The warm air associated with the warm Atlantic waters is likely to damper the chances of snow for snow lovers along the immediate coast. Residents along the shore could instead receive rain or a mix of rain and snow. However, a moderately strong storm may not pull the warm air over most coastal areas, and snow could fall instead of rain or the rain and snow could mix.

Waters in the Atlantic off the coast of the Northeast are not only warm but also above normal in terms of temperatures, according to Pastelok, who added that this warm water and cold air over the Northeast creates a temperature contrast zone that can lead to rapidly strengthening storms in the right conditions. Atlantic sea surface temperatures range from near 50 east of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to the mid-60s well offshore of the New Jersey coast.

As long as the storm keeps moving swiftly, it will be less likely to strengthen quickly and less likely to unload a heavy amount of snow on central New England. However, even if the storm keeps moving, lower temperatures and less melting that typically occur at night, or in this case from Sunday night to early Monday, can allow the snow to pile up, which is anticipated to occur in parts of western Pennsylvania and New York state Saturday night.

Up to several inches of snow will be likely to fall on the higher elevations of western Massachusetts and southern Vermont, as well as portions central Maine and New Hampshire from Sunday night to early Monday. Cities such as Albany, New York; Hartford, Connecticut; Rutland, Vermont; Worcester, Massachusetts; Manchester, New Hampshire; and Bangor, Maine; all have the potential to receive a few inches of snow from this storm. Even though Boston and Providence, Rhode Island, may have rain interfere, there is also the potential for some accumulation of snow as well. Motorists and airline passengers in these areas are likely to experience travel delays as a result from Sunday night to Monday.

Should the storm slow down and strengthen significantly at the last minute Sunday night to Monday morning, much heavier snow could fall on New England, including the Boston area. There would then be a chance of accumulating snow in New York City as well.

"Snow may lay on the ground for the first time this season along I-95 from the upper mid-Atlantic to New England during early next week," Pastelok stated.

There is a chance that additional clipper storms with snow roll along in the cold pattern through next week.

AccuWeather will provide updates on the storm through the Thanksgiving weekend and continue to track other storm possibilities beyond.

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