Much colder weather is in store across the central and eastern United States during January 2016, following months of warmth with record-challenging temperatures.
Warm air recently pushed toward the North Pole. As a balancing act, colder air will be forced farther to the south.
While much colder weather is on the way, it will stop well short of January 2015, when winter broke loose in most areas. Temperatures averaged 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit below normal with highs in the single digits, teens and 20s over the Northern states.
AccuWeather Chief Long Range Meteorologist Paul Pastelok does not anticipate that to happen to that extreme this year.
"We do not expect a big displacement of the polar vortex at this time, but rather waves of arctic air that roll southeastward and interact with less cold air over the U.S. during January," Pastelok said.
First blast of cold to roll through Jan. 3-5
One small piece of arctic air will move southward from central Canada and across the Great Lakes and Northeast spanning Sunday to Tuesday.
"This air will be the coldest of the season thus far, which might not seem like much on paper, but it will deliver significantly low temperatures," Pastelok said.
High temperatures will be held to the teens F in upstate New York and northern New England. Temperatures may be held to the 20s in Detroit and Boston and the 30s in New York City. Low temperatures are likely to dip below zero in part of upstate New York and northern New England.
Brief warm spell expected before cold returns Jan. 11-18
During the latter part of the first week of January into the second weekend of the month, the cold air will ease up over much of the Central and Eastern states.
"Temperatures will again trend above average in many areas, but will stop well short of record high levels," Pastelok said.
Highs will generally range from the 30s in the northern tier to the 60s over the interior South.
Prior to the middle of the month, colder air will sweep eastward from the Central states, following one or two storms that can bring snow and ice to parts of the Ohio Valley, central Appalachians to New England, mainly away from the Atlantic coast.
"The slow-moving storm spanning Jan. 10-12 is the one that could pack the most punch in terms of wintry precipitation and widespread cold to follow," Pastelok said.
The cold will add to hardship in the recent aftermath of record flooding over the middle Mississippi Valley.
During the middle of the month, cities from Kansas City, Missouri, and St. Louis to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh may have multiple days where temperatures fail to climb past the freezing mark. High temperatures may be within a few degrees of freezing in New York City and Philadelphia.
In the South, multiple days with highs in the 40s are likely from Little Rock, Arkansas, to Atlanta and Richmond, Virginia are likely during the middle of the month.
Scenarios: Will the polar vortex usher in cold for late January?
On one hand, waves of cold air may get more intense from the North Central states to the East. On the other hand, the cold air may ease up during the latter part of the month.
Pastelok stated that he and his team of long-range meteorologists are leaning toward a scenario with continued back-and-forth cold and mild episodes, where milder Pacific air will blend in with the cold resulting in less harsh conditions for much of the Eastern states after Jan. 18.
However, cold air is likely to be persistent in the North Central states and continue in waves into northern New England due to established snowcover.
"We will have to watch the position of the polar vortex toward the middle of the month," Pastelok said. "There is a chance the vortex splits and sends one batch of intense cold toward Europe and the other batch toward North America during the latter part of January."
Pastelok's crew still anticipate a stormy February along the Pacific, Gulf and Atlantic coasts with enough cold air to bring the potential for multiple snow and ice events in the Northeast.