Some of you may dread it, others may pray for it — but regardless of your stance, Mother Nature tends to not defer to anyone. Despite earlier reports that stated the pattern of El Niño this winter may keep substantial East Coast snowstorms at bay, computer modules all over the world are lining up to show a “historical snowstorm” smashing into the East Coast of the United States on Friday into Saturday.
Not only is there a possibility of snow coming, but brutal winds and wind chill temperatures that can be dangerous for both man and beast are also forecasted. While many enjoy a light and pretty snow, this model is showing the type of snow that makes people be concerned about power outages, the inability to reach adequate shelter, frozen water pipes, and the health of elderly people and those who are already sick or otherwise compromised, not to mention major delays in fire department and emergency medical services if they are needed.
While computer models 5-7 days out from a proposed weather event can rapidly change, it is always a good idea to be prepared and well ahead of time since sometimes weather shifts and snow systems can come earlier than anticipated. Things that are important to have on hand are not just food and bottled water, but alternative heating, prescription medicines that are needed, extra blankets, candles and lighters or matches, and perhaps a battery-operated radio to keep people abreast of conditions and warnings. Telephone lines and cellular towers have been known to become inoperable in extreme weather conditions, as well as electricity lost, so it is always a good idea to have an emergency plan and also a plan to check on neighbors and the elderly. Even in shelter, it is common for elderly people to freeze to death if they do lose electricity, partially because they no longer have the “brown fat” layer to insulate their bodies and also because many have impaired ability to feel cold, so they may be much colder than they realize.
Another vulnerable population is animals. Although some believe a dog or cat’s fur coat will keep them insulated against extreme weather, the truth is that they are not meant to endure freezing outdoor temperatures and extreme weather in their current domesticated genetic state. Extreme conditions require them to have access to more food and water, which is particularly difficult in extreme conditions, and therefore, many animals die. General rule of thumb: have a plan for all outdoor animals to be moved inside during the extreme cold event. Farm animals need to be cared for specially, with heated shelters and access to food and non-frozen water.
While exact locales and forecasted precipitation is difficult to tell at this point in time, many models have shown over a foot of snow possible for the D.C. Metro area, but this may be a far-reaching event that impacts multiple states and most of the mid Atlantic seaboard.
To further complicate issues, a very rare cold front is expected ahead of the weather event, which means that snow will stick to roadways as soon as it begins to fall. According to WTOP, an arctic cold front will pass through overnight tonight in Washington D.C. and surrounding areas, which will make for bitterly cold wind chills on Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Actual highs are expected to reach the upper 20s, but with the wind chills, it will only feel like the lower teens, which is cold enough to cause weather related emergencies, even without snow.
Long range forecasting is risky, says meteorologist Matt Ritter, which is why professionals are reluctant to do it, even when experienced amateurs are clearly calling it like they see it.
“The global computer models that go beyond five days have been hinting at a storm that might be developing on the eastern seaboard, some of them have been bringing in enough cold air that it would be a snow storm. A lot of people are snow hungry right now: There haven’t been enough snow storms yet this season. A meteorologist has to be careful that they don’t forecast what they want to happen, and of course, that’s a challenge in and of itself.”
[Photo by John Normile/Getty Images]