Ulysses: The Storm Before the Calm Before the Storm

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Ulysses is centered on the North Carolina coast Friday morning. Most of the precipitation is rain. Map courtesy of NOAA.

Ulysses is centered on the North Carolina coast Friday morning. Most of the precipitation is rain. Map courtesy of NOAA.

The Weather Channel stretched a bit to name Ulysses, which will be mostly rain except for some freezing rain in north-central North Carolina and south-central Virginia – as well as up to half a foot of snow in the mountains.

All forms of frozen precipitation should end by early afternoon today, and everything will move out to sea by Saturday, setting the stage for a warm and pleasant weekend and early next week for most of the eastern half of the United States.

By Tuesday, however, the polar vortex will return, possibly setting the stage for the next storm.

The Drainage Effect of the Appalachians

Ulysses has been set up by a shallow surge of cold air moving southward east of the mountains in Virginia and North Carolina. This is a fairly typical occurrence which results in the possibility of freezing rain. The dense, cold air can be very hard to displace, even when warmer air is streaming north only a few hundred feet above the ground.

As the warm air rides over the cold, the lifting causes moisture to be squeezed out in the form of rain. The cold air layer is shallow enough for the liquid drops to pass through without freezing, but they freeze on contact with the ground. When the cold layer is thicker, the raindrops re-freeze in the air and fall as sleet.

The intensity and duration of the freezing rain determines how much damage they do. Less than one-tenth of an inch just ices over untreated roadways. More than a quarter of an inch can break small branches, and over half an inch will bring down large tree limbs and cause widespread power outages. The area between Greensboro, N.C. and Roanoke, Va. is likely to see damaging accumulations of ice from Ulysses.

Winter Storm Ulysses Moves On

Ulysses will move out to sea on Saturday, and milder air will provide a fine weekend in much of the beleaguered midwest and east. But residents of these areas should not be complacent. All forecasts call for the polar vortex to make yet another foray into the heartland and east coast, setting the stage for a storm next Wednesday and Thursday. It should be named Vicky.

The National Weather Service forecast for Wednesday shows a storm (Vicky?) in the midwest. Map courtesy of NOAA.

The National Weather Service forecast for Wednesday shows a storm (Vicky?) in the midwest. Map courtesy of NOAA.

Who Will Get the Worst of Vicky?

Medium-range forecasts show the jet stream buckling again, with a ridge in the west and a trough in the east. Winter Storm Vicky could form anywhere from the Texas coast to the Mississippi Valley.

The storm could also develop a second center off the Atlantic coast, which might deepen into a strong low pressure center with a lot of wind. At this time of year, more of the precipitation will fall as rain than earlier in the winter, but there should be a band of snow — possibly heavy — on the northwest side of the storm.

Winter Storms: A Note About Names

The Weather Channel will name the V storm ‘Winter Storm Vulcan.’ The Association of Decoded Scientists (ADS) deems this name inappropriate and will use the name ‘Winter Storm Vicky’ instead.

After all, Vulcan is the Roman god of fire, so the name should be reserved for volcanoes or forest fires. In addition, there could be confusion because of the Star Trek connection. There is no reason to bring Mr. Spock into a discussion of terrestrial weather.

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