With the impending snowstorm, there are a lot of questions our Storm Team has been answering in the last few days. But one question you may not have thought to ask is, “why is this snowstorm happening in the first place”?
We live in what are called the “midlatitudes”. The Earth’s spins and this creates motion with circulating air. Air masses constantly clash and mix. With the clashing together of cold and warm air, we get large systems called “mid-latitude cyclones”. That’s what this impending snowstorm really is, a midlatitude cyclone. It has a counterclockwise spin caused by the Earth’s rotation.
They will follow upper atmospheric patterns and when encountering cold enough air, strengthen and become very dangerous this time of year.
But let’s talk about the anatomy of a snowstorm.
The very center is where the lowest pressure of the entire system is. The lower the pressure, the stronger the storm and the windier the conditions. The highest impacts are typically north of the low so when the low is south of us, that’s when we’ll get hit the hardest.
Then you have several different air masses meeting inside of this cyclone, they’re separated by warm and cold fronts. It’s important to know where these fronts will set up because they can bring snow and even sleet, freezing rain and sometimes just rain. Figuring out where these will be exactly can be tricky… and it can mean the difference of a little snow and a lot.
Another crucial part to this storm is the moisture inflow. Moisture gets fed in from the south and sometimes dry air as well. It’s important to watch the inflow of a large system like this because pulling in dry air can greatly reduce your impacts. Or warmer air can change your precipitation types.