Apparently Punxsutawney Phil got it right: Since seeing his shadow, 2 feet of record-breaking snow has fallen on Washington, D.C., with more on the way, and blizzard warnings blanket the groundhog’s home state of Pennsylvania.
Normally, Houston can afford blissful ignorance of rodent shadows, because by mid-February we’re contemplating the removal of sweaters to the attic as the average daily high pushes 70 degrees.
Not so this winter. On Wednesday, it sleeted in parts of Houston, and today’s temperatures are expected to top out about 20 degrees below normal in the mid-40s, with a 100 percent chance of rain until midnight, according to the National Weather Service.
And much of the rest of February looks considerably colder than normal.
That’s not to make light of the paralyzing blow of winter weather that has rocked the Washington-Philadelphia-New York corridor this week. The barometric pressure of some of these storms, an indicator of strength, is equivalent to that of a Category 1 hurricane.
Even Dallas was blanketed by snow overnight.
In Texas this weekend, forecasters expect snow north of a line from Lampasas to Waco to Palestine. Houston will be spared this, but even here there remains a chance of sleet or possibly even a few wet snowflakes just north and west of the Houston area before Friday morning.
Already this winter’s average temperature of 49.6 degrees in December and January ranks as the seventh lowest in the city’s history, and February’s average temperatures are running 5 degrees below normal.
And that’s the bright side. Beginning Friday, daytime highs for the next week to 10 days should run in the 50s, with overnight lows ranging from around freezing up to 50 degrees.
That’s about 8 to 10 degrees below normal, and would be very cold even for January in Houston.
The reason for the unusually strong winter weather over much of the United States this year has to do with the combination of a powerful El Niño interacting with a “blocking pattern,” said Fred Schmude, a meteorologist with the Houston-based, private service ImpactWeather.
The El Niño, a natural warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean, provides the energy for a powerful southern storm track over the southern and eastern United States, while the blocking pattern causes the flow to be directed from north to south rather than west to east.
“This allows frequent surges of very cold Canadian air to blast southward over the Lower 48,” Schmude said.
“Long-range signals continue to indicate the atmospheric block will remain intact through February and possibly even much of March, resulting in below normal temperatures and above normal precipitation here in the Houston area,” he said.