Gimme a V; Decoded Science Names Winter Storm Vicky

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The forecast for Thursday morning shows powerful Winter Storm Vicky in the Gulf of Maine. Forecast courtesy of NOAA.

The forecast for Thursday morning shows powerful Winter Storm Vicky in the Gulf of Maine. Forecast courtesy of NOAA.

The Weather Channel has put off naming the V storm despite all the evidence that it could be a blockbuster.

Decoded Science is taking its lead from ADS, which has named the storm Vicky, a mellifluous and melodious moniker.

The storm will probably affect the midwest on Wednesday and New York and New England on Thursday. Winter Storm Vicky (or Vulcan) could deepen into a nasty nor’easter.

Why Has The Weather Channel Dragged Its Feet?

One can only speculate that the Weather Channel might be hoping never to have to name a V storm, inasmuch as they have chosen the un-onomatopoetic name Vulcan. However, even with all the computer models pointing to a powerful storm, there are reasons to be cautious about the forecast.

Waves in the Jet Stream

The 500 millibar analysis for Monday morning. Waves in central Canada, Texas, and California are expected to combine. Map courtesy of NOAA

The 500 millibar analysis for Monday morning. Waves in central Canada, Texas, and California are expected to combine. Map courtesy of NOAA

Storms at the surface of the earth are reflections of waves in the flow of the middle levels of the atmosphere — the jet stream.

Sometimes these waves proceed in an orderly fashion. Once in a while, however, several waves compete for attention. They can interfere with each other and sap each other’s strength, or they can become superimposed to make one large wave.

This is analogous to what mariners sometimes encounter on the ocean — a giant wave known as a rogue wave in which smaller waves are combined.

The forecast hinges on whether waves in Canada and the U.S. southwest will combine with a wave entering the Pacific coast, as the forecasts suggest.

The Precipitation Forecast is Difficult

A final possible reason the Weather Channel is waiting to name the storm is the uncertainty of the precipitation pattern. With the general warming of early spring, any storms will have larger rain areas; the snow, sleet, and freezing rain will normally be confined to narrow bands, the exact locations of which depend crucially on the isotherms (lines of equal temperature), particularly the 32 degree line.

How Winter Storm Vicky Will Form

The flow at jet stream level currently shows a wave coming out of Canada, one entering California, and another over the U.S. southwest. The waves are currently not very impressive, but the computer forecasts insist that these waves will combine to create a single trough over the midwest, deepening as it moves east.

The surface reflection of this trough would be a low pressure center in the midwest which would redevelop off the New England coast and intensify into a gale center in the Gulf of Maine.

The Decoded Forecast

There is no doubt that the contrast in temperatures between the northern plains and the deep south is providing potential energy for a storm. The wave in the southwest will dominate at first and move into the central plains. A band of snow will lie north of the storm track, probably through northern Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, with up to six inches in some places.

On Thursday, as Vicky moves east and intensifies, a wide area of heavy snow is likely from Northern New York state through central and northern New England. Over a foot is likely in some places. As Vicky moves into the Gulf of Maine and the pressure continues to fall, gale winds will occur along the coast from Massachusetts to the Canadian Maritimes.

Is This The Storm To End All Storms?

It doesn’t seem like winter will ever end. Some forecasts show another storm on Vicky’s heels. If Vicky intensifies enough, though, it will sap the strength of the upstream waves in the jet stream. So gimme a V, gimme an I, gimme a C, gimme a K, gimme a Y. And let that be the end of the winter storm Season.

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