New York Prepares for Snow With California Drenched by Rain

The powerful weather system that is dumping rain on the California coast and threatening to trigger mudslides will make its way across the U.S., raising the chances for heavy snow in New York and Washington next week.

A winter storm with the potential for heavy snow will move along the East Coast likely starting Jan. 31 or Feb. 1, said Bob Oravec, a senior branch forecaster at the U.S. Weather Prediction Center. The outlook for the cities along the coast isn’t completely clear because there is a chance rain may mix in and hold snow totals down in some areas.

“It could be a fairly big storm,” Oravec said in a telephone interview. “I don’t think it will be as big as the earlier season snow, but it is a good time of year for big snowstorms.”

Manhattan’s Central Park had 10 inches (25 centimeters) of snow on Dec. 16-17, while parts of upstate New York, eastern Pennsylvania and northern New England got more than 40 inches, according to the National Weather Service. Overall, winter has been relatively mild across much of the U.S. with snow running about normal in New York.

Temperatures Tumble

Before the snow gets to Northeast, temperatures will plummet to 15 degrees Fahrenheit in Central Park on Thursday night and stay in the teens through Saturday night, the National Weather Service said. Readings will drop to 9 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 13 Celsius) in Boston through the weekend and 19 degrees in Washington on Friday.

The forecast signals a typical mid-winter cold snap, not a jolt from the weakening of the polar vortex hitting North America with an extended chill, Oravec said. The U.S. Climate Prediction Center said there is a high chance of warmer-than-normal temperatures in the Northeast and Great Lakes on Feb. 2-6.

In California, another round of heavy rain and snow in the mountains is unfolding across the state as an atmospheric river wrings itself out along the West Coast. The events are large storms that draw heavy moisture from the Pacific Ocean.

The larger weather pattern that spawned the atmospheric river will meander across the continent, gathering moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, and eventually provide the catalyst for next week’s storm in New York.

The storms are ranked on a five-step scale like hurricanes, and the current one is category 3 in the area around San Luis Obispo, said Julie Kalansky, a researcher at the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes. That marked the strongest atmospheric river to hit California this year.

Drought Woes

Atmospheric rivers ranked as category 1 and 2 range can be beneficial, alleviating drought conditions with all of California abnormally dry. A category 3 or higher has the potential to be destructive, said Jack Parrish, a flight meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Hurricane-hunter aircraft from NOAA and the U.S. Air Force Reserve have been based in the western U.S. to fly into the storms.

The current storm may cause as much as $1 billion in damage, depending on the severity of landslides, said Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler at Enki Research. Months of wildfires cleared a record amount of acreage, raising the potential for widespread mudslides.

The storm has left more than 138,500 homes and businesses without power, mostly in the northern half of the state, according to Poweroutage.us, which aggregates outages from utility websites.

Parts of California’s Highway 1, which runs along the coast, have been closed by the heavy rain, according to the state’s department of transportation. Parts of Interstate 5 in the northern part of the state were shut by heavy snow.

“California has been getting lambasted with everything,” said Jim Rouiller, lead meteorologist with the Energy Weather Group.

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