And Now, the Weather

A Look at NOVA’s Strangely Snowy Winter

By Claire Frank

The weather has been a prominent topic in recent discussions. In comparison to last school-year’s one snow day, this winter has been especially snowy thus far. Northern Virginia has been hit by a polar vortex, experienced almost weekly snowstorms, and forecasts predict more is to come.

Loudoun County natives have noted the peculiarity of this trend. Living on the east side of the Appalachian Mountains, winters in Loudoun County tend to be dry. Winter may be snowy on the other side of the eroded mountain range, but storms generally break up before reaching Loudoun. So, what makes 2013-2014’s winter so different?

To fully understand the big picture, let’s start with something specific: the polar vortex in January. In January, the United States experienced unusually low-temperatures, especially in Midwestern regions. Northern Virginia experienced temperatures reaching the single digits; the Midwest hit negative 30 and 40. The phenomenon was attributed to the vortex of cold air that is normally situated over Northern Canada.

The polar vortex isn’t a new concept. There are two such vortexes in the Northern Hemisphere, one over Siberia and one over Canada’s Baffin Island. They are caused by the low pressure in the upper atmosphere by the North Pole. In early January, the jet stream shifted in course, causing the normally stationary polar vortex to dip down into the US, resulting in mild conditions in Canada and a bitter week for the US.

The polar vortex may have returned to Canada, but the cold hasn’t left the US. The shift in the jet stream, as evidenced by the polar vortex, has resulted in a wetter winter than the Mid-Atlantic states are used to. Snowstorms that normally break up on the west-side of the Appalachians are suddenly strong enough to cross the mountain range and hit the normally-dry Loudoun County.

So what can we expect in the future? The Farmers’ Almanac has accurately predicted colder-than-normal temperatures and the heavy snowfall we’ve experienced so far. According to their predictions, the end of February and beginning of March will continue to be bitterly cold. Expect the transition from winter to spring be cold, windy, and stormy.