WIUM Tristates Public Radio

One Winter Storm Done – Another on the Way?

Nov 27, 2018

The winter storm that blew through the tri states Sunday night and Monday morning dumped varying amounts of snow on the region.  Some places got as much as 14 inches of snow while others received six inches.  High winds created even deeper snow drifts.

Marcus Buker, an Associate Professor of Meteorology at Western Illinois University, said winter storms of this strength are unusual for November. 

“It (this type of storm) is called a panhandle hook.  A surface area of low pressure crosses the southern Rockies into the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, swings northeast along the way, picking up a lot of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico,” Buker said, adding that the surface area of low pressure and warm, humid air then interacts with colder air that’s already aloft, intensifying the storm.

“It gets the surface pressure dropping almost as fast as a strengthening hurricane would.”

Buker also said the storm was unusual in another respect.

“There was a very sharp cut-off, especially in the northern part of the snow field. It went from nine inches to nothing in about 30 miles.”

Buker said the winter storm was classified as a blizzard because of the high winds, which created whiteout conditions. He said WIU’s weather station on top of Tillman Hall measured a peak wind speed of 50 mph during the storm.

Forecasting the Blizzard

Buker said forecasters knew by the middle of last week that a big winter storm was likely somewhere in the Upper Mississippi River valley but it was difficult to project the location of the heaviest snowfall.

“Usually you can define a band where the snow would fall.  But this was kind of more in an arc.  And so there was just a lot of uncertainty as to where that arc was going to fall,” he said.

Buker said it wasn’t until Sunday morning that forecasters were certain about the location and timing of the storm.

He said it was not a matter of “if” regarding this storm but rather a matter of where and when.

The Next Storm

Buker said the National Weather Service relies on two models for longer-term forecasts about winter storms:  the Global Forecast System (GFS) and the European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF).

“Both of them show another big storm system coming through similar to the one we just had,” Buker said, but he cautioned the models differ as to when the storm might arrive. 

“The two models are showing the storm several days apart (late next weekend or early next week) so don’t put a lot of confidence in that right now.”

However, he added GFS and ECMWF are the “heavyweights” when it comes to long range weather forecasts so it’s worth keeping an eye on the situation, especially given that both indicate a significant storm is possible.