(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — Tis the season — yeah, the holiday season, but also the winter weather season. An impending snow storm has familiar characteristics.
Erie residents remember well the Christmas storm of 2017. Ask around, and the stories are readily available from people who witnessed it.
In 2017, beginning after midnight on Christmas day (Dec. 25), piles of snow fell over a two-day period. Erie International Airport was covered in 20.9 inches on Dec. 25, and another 21.8 inches on Dec. 26. Combine that with a meager 5.1 inches on Dec. 27, and the airport received more than 47 inches of snow. Blame it on the wind.
“The one thing we look at for lake-effect snow is wind direction — wind direction is a key element,” said JET 24/FOX 66 senior meteorologist Tom DiVecchio. “Our thinking at the time a day or two before is that the winds would shift a little bit south and the snow would hit Waterford and Edinboro. They didn’t shift.”
DiVecchio said the winds stayed in what meteorologists call a “steady state” meaning they were constant. That steady state endure for some 48 hours leading to piles of lake-effect snow.
“That’s what made it so unique,” DiVecchio said.
Later this week, a major winter storm is expected to develop in the Midwest and that will combine with a separate storm coming up from the Gulf of Mexico. In a tag-team effort, the Midwest storm will bring cold temperatures and wind, while the Gulf storm will bring moisture.
That will result in rain Thursday and Thursday night before a strong artic front moves into the area on Friday bringing frigid temperatures.
“The 2017 storm was similar to what we’re seeing now in that an arctic front moved through on Christmas eve and the winds behind it were lined up perfectly for the lake-effect bands to hit the lakeshore and the city of Erie,” DiVecchio said. As he had in 2017, DiVecchio again is predicting a shift in winds. “What we’re anticipating now is what we were anticipating then — this time, the winds are expected to shift a little bit more Friday (Dec. 23) through Christmas Day (Dec. 25). The other question mark is there is a possibility that a lot of the main bands will stay offshore because the winds are due southwest which tends to hit Buffalo and only skirt Erie.”
As of about 11:30 a.m. on Dec. 20, there were no predictions on snow totals because of the uncertainly in the wind direction. DiVecchio said there would be more certainty Wednesday (Dec. 21) into Thursday (Dec. 22). But DiVecchio was confident snow is coming.
“With the front itself on Friday, I expect we’ll see several inches of snow, then there is the potential for at least a foot of snow from the lake-effect midday Friday and Saturday evening — but we just don’t know where,” DiVecchio said.
If you saw snow in the forecast for Christmas and that brought up memories of 2017, you’re in good company.
“The first thing that came to my mind was, how does this compare to what we saw in 2017?” DiVecchio said. “The temperature profiles, the instability of the air, and the overall large-scale pattern is very similar to what we saw in 2017. The only major difference is the wind direction — which is ‘where it’s at.’ The biggest part is what we just don’t quite know yet.”