The worst of what so far has been a mild Wyoming winter is coming this week, which means weeks of warmer-than-usual temperatures and a noticeable lack of snow will be put on ice.
The National Weather Service is tracking two monster winter storms that will hit the East Coast and Midwest this week. Wet, heavy snow will fall at a rate of 2 inches an hour, accompanied by wind gusts of 60-70 mph.
There are already blizzard warnings throughout Kansas and Nebraska and worries of intense winter storms in the Great Lakes region.
“There's going to be a lot of winter weather over a large part of the United States,” said Cowboy State Daily meteorologist Don Day. “More than we've seen all winter season.”
Wyoming won’t be in the path of those monstrous winter storms making landfall early this week. But by the weekend, the worst of winter will come around and stick around the Cowboy State, Day said.
Cold, Cold, Cold
“The worst of winter” usually conjures images of heavy snowfall. There will be snow, and possibly lots of it, Day said. But the reality of the first winter storm of 2024 will be more likely to chill people to their core rather than bury them.
Day said “the overall message” Wyomingites should take away from the current forecasts is that these will be the coldest temperatures of the winter season so far. There could be a decent amount of snow, but there will be sub-zero temperatures.
“It can be very, very cold this weekend on the northern and eastern side of the state in particular,” he said. “Saturday and Sunday nights, I'm expecting to go below zero. We can see 10, 20, 25 degrees below zero by the end of the weekend.”
The National Weather Service predicts a high temperature of 4 degrees Friday in Cody, with Gillette marginally warmer at 7 degrees. Overnight temperatures drop into the negatives throughout most of north and eastern Wyoming.
But its the potential for windchill to drop those into the dangerous ranges of Wyoming winter cold.
Not That Kind Of Snowstorm
While cold is the primary concern for Day, many Wyomingites will be more interested in how much snow will accompany the subzero temperatures. The winter storm over Thanksgiving weekend hit hard and fast with significant snowfall of more than 2 feet alone in Lander.
Day said the weather pattern leading into the Thanksgiving storm was different from the one that will start freezing Wyoming this weekend.
“On Thanksgiving, we saw huge amounts of snow,” he said. “This is a different animal. This is Arctic air and Pacific weather systems moving through the region, bringing on-and-off periods of snow and making it a lot colder than it's been. The Thanksgiving storm was one event, and then it was done. This is going to be several events strung together.”
There is a potential for some parts of Wyoming to see heavier snow over the weekend, but it’s too early to anticipate it. However, the snow that should fall will be enough to become hazardous.
“There’s going to be enough snow combined with the cold that it'll be impactful,” he said. “But this isn't like buried in snow type situation. This is enough snow to be a hassle and a lot of severe cold to keep that snow around, keep things icy, and give us an extended period where it's just going to be winter.”
Mother Nature’s Rubber Band
While many people have expressed concern about what’s so far been a mild winter in Wyoming this season, Day has stood by his long-range forecast of a colder, longer winter. The latest storms are vindicating of longstanding patterns he’s observed throughout his career.
“I can go back in the records and find you many Decembers that have been and many early Januarys that have started off just like this. So, this is not unheard of. Typical? No, but it's not unheard of,” he said.
The incoming winter weather is expected to dramatically change the rest of the winter season. Day sees this as extremes counterbalancing each other.
“You're always going to have a thaw and see this work itself out and then have a warm-up,” he said. “That's the way it works. It’s like a rubber band. It goes both ways. You can have these warm periods and then snap back to a cold period and then snap back to a temperature that a warmup again.”
Wyomingites should get a wake-up call as the rubber band snaps back into the winter weather that’s been expected and for some, long overdue. Day said there are still several months of winter to make up for lost time and snowpack.
“We’ve got 23 days to catch up,” he said. “I do think that for January and parts of February, this is probably not the only Arctic outbreak we're going to have. December and early January don't mean that's how it's going to go for the rest of the winter. And folks are going to find that out really quick.”
Andrew Rossi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.