Rapid Fire Storms: Quintus and Rex Follow Blockbuster Pax

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Quintus has departed and is in Canada. Rex is forming in the plains.

Quintus has departed and is in Canada. Rex is forming in the plains. Image courtesy of the NOAA

Quintus we hardly knew ye; and here comes Rex. Two more storms before power is even restored in the aftermath of Pax. What’s causing this proliferation of storms in an already record-breaking winter?

Quintus Follows Pax; Two Nor’easters in Three Days

Winter storm Pax brought wind, snow, freezing rain, and frigid temperatures to a wide swath of the United States, finally roaring up the east coast as a classic nor’easter.

A day later, Quintus moved rapidly through the midwest as a minor disturbance, but when it got to the Atlantic Ocean, the storm exploded into a deep low pressure center. The major effects of Quintus were in the open Atlantic, where it’s not uncommon for winds to ‘blow a buck,’ and Maritime Canada. But Cape Cod got a foot of snow, and Down East Maine even more.

However, because the areas affected were small (Cape Cod) or sparsely populated (northern Maine) the effects were minimal compared to those connected with Pax.

Here Comes Rex, Third Named Storm in a Week

Rex is following the path of Quintus, but is causing more trouble in the midwest. On the other hand, conditions are not favorable for development into a major low pressure center, so Rex should produce ‘only’ up to a half-foot of snow (You know it’s a bad winter when 6 inches of snow becomes ‘only.’) in a few areas, and little in the way of wind.

Some parts of Wisconsin could have messy driving conditions, and the northeast, particularly central New York state, will go through the winter storm drill yet again. But then Rex should slip harmlessly out to sea.

Why Are the Storms Coming at Such a Fast Pace?

Storms at the surface of the earth are a reflection of the shape of the jet stream. Low pressure centers form under the jet stream troughs (dips). These troughs have a typical wavelength (distance between two troughs)  on the order of a few thousand miles, and move around 20 miles per hour. Sometimes the troughs can be closer together and/or move faster, and storms will arrive in a given place at an accelerated rate.

Think of waves on the ocean: sometimes they are far apart and sometimes closer together.

Winter Storms: The Pax, Quintus, Rex Trifecta

Storm Pax seemed to linger a long time over the eastern United States. It started as warm air from the Gulf of Mexico collided with cold polar air. The battle in Texas and Arkansas lasted a couple of days before a defined wave in the jet stream passed above the frontal boundary and induced a low pressure system to develop along the east coast.

Meanwhile, a ripple in the northern branch of the jet stream came across the Great Lakes and, as soon as  Pax had departed, formed a low pressure center on the Atlantic Coast. Quintus developed rapidly into an intense storm, but most of the wind and precipitation occurred over the ocean.

Rex has rippled right behind Quintus and should clear the coast by Wednesday, less than a week after the departure of Pax.

The forecast for Friday shows the next storm tracking into Canada and sparing the U.S. east coast.

The forecast for Friday shows the next storm tracking into Canada and sparing the U.S. east coast. Image courtesy of the NOAA

Are There More Storms to Come?

All indications are that there will be a relative lull in the action after Rex. The next system should track into Canada and produce mostly rain in the central U.S.

Longer range forecasts show a return to the early winter pattern of cold air over the middle of the country, and the stage will be set for more storms. With the seasonal warming, the new storms should be more rain than snow, at least in the southern half of the country.

Tornado Season Ramps Up

There will also be an increase in the likelihood of violent weather as spring approaches. Atmospheric instability increases at this time of year, as the surface of the earth warms more rapidly than the upper levels and the warm air wants to rise. As long as the jet stream is active, as it has been all winter, it will be a pick-your-posion situation: snowstorms or violent thunderstorms and tornadoes.

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