Winters in southwest Virginia are often unpredictable. It can feel like Miami, or even Maine all in the same week.
All it takes is one big arctic outbreak, or one wet storm to change the perception of an a winter.
The forecast models are in agreement that winter WILL return to the region by late January. Some models are suggesting a MAJOR Arctic outbreak by the end of the month, one that would lead to frigid temperatures.
A phenomenon known as "sudden stratospheric warming" occurred in the arctic region during our first week of January . Sometimes, when this occurs, it forces cold air to build in the atmosphere then tries to drive it southward. Often this happens, 10 to 15 days later.
There's a lot of very cold air across Canada just waiting to go somewhere. The question is, where? There's a lot of places it can go. As of this writing, central Asia is experiencing some of the coldest air on the planet. Does that cold air shift?
A good analogy might be a baloon. Take a balloon (or a ball). Put an ice cube on top and let it melt. Where does that cold water (air) go. It's a tough prediction. So complex, we'll need a few more days to see which part of the world that arctic outbreak will impact.
WHAT IF HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF?
It's a long shot, but one of the most extreme cases of the impacts from sudden stratospheric warming occured in 1985.
The winter of 1985 started much like this winter 2012-13. Hardly any snow had fallen before the New Year, along with major warmth to start the year. Then, at the end of the month, a large piece of arctic air sent temperatures plummeting well below zero, setting record low temperatures at several reporting stations during the Super Bowl weekend.
LYNCHBURG: -10 Jan 21, 1985 (2nd coldest ever)
DANVILLE: -5 Jan 21, 1985 (Coldest ever)
BLACKSBURG: -18 Jan 21, 1985 (Coldest ever)
On the other hand, the Roanoke Valley has been through winters with very little snowfall. In the winter of 1990, a little over ONE INCH of snow fell in Roanoke the whole winter.
2002 brought some warmer winter days to the region. Lynchburg, Danville and Blacksburg set all-time warmest January days (SEE GRAPHIC LEFT) with highs reaching 80° in Danville and Lynchburg, with Blacksburg reaching 75°.
However, you can't look at individual days to determine extremes. You have to take the warm days and the cold days, then take the average. Turns out, the warmest winter on record for Roanoke was in 1931, and the second warmest winter was in 2011.SNOWY WINTERS
Average Snowfall = 22.9 inches
Greatest Snow = 22.2 inches in Jan. 1996
Snowiest Month = 41.2 inches in Jan. 1966
Coldest Temperature = -11° in Jan. 1985
|Season (Fall to Spring)||Lowest Snowfalls||Season (Fall to Spring)|
|62.7 inches||1959 - 1960||1.2 inches||1990 - 1991|
|56.0 inches||1986 - 1987||2.3 inches||1975 - 1976|
|56.0 inches||1995 - 1996||3.7 inches||1956 - 1957|
|50.3 inches||1963 - 1964||4.0 inches||1996 - 1997|
|49.9 inches||1965 - 1966||5.0 inches||1991 - 1992|
|41.7 inches||1966 - 1967||6.0 inches||1984 - 1985|
|40.8 inches||1960 - 1961||7.0 inches||1998 - 1999|
|39.1 inches||1968 - 1969||7.4 inches||1949 - 1950|
|37.3 inches||1977 - 1978||7.7 inches||1951 - 1952|
|35.0 inches||1982 - 1983||8.4 inches||1987 - 1988|
Click here for snowiest and least snowiest months for other parts of the region.