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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Snowstorms threaten U.S. Northeast in February after spring-like warmth

A pedestrian is seen in Central Park during a snowstorm in New York on Jan. 16.  (David Dee Delgado/Bloomberg)
By Brian K Sullivan Bloomberg

Springlike temperatures are blanketing the U.S. Northeast, but winter is far from over – and the potential for February snow is real, meteorologists say.

Forecasters are watching a storm that has the potential to dump snow across the Northeast and Midwest next week. It’s part of a larger pattern.

The girdle of Arctic air around the north pole, known as the polar vortex, is poised to weaken and send a cold blast into the U.S. And because the El Niño weather pattern is in full force, the deep freeze could collide with stormy conditions on the East Coast to unleash snow this month.

While next week’s system may drop only a wintry mix in major cities, storms later this season threaten to leave more than just a dusting. When El Niño joins forces with Canadian cold, the result is often a blockbuster blizzard like 2010’s “Snowmageddon,” which led to at least 41 deaths and crippled travel across the Northeast.

“I think there are a couple snowstorms down the pipe,” said Paul Pastelok, lead long-range forecaster for AccuWeather Inc. “A big storm or two is not off the charts here for February or early March.”

That would be a major change of pace for New York City, which hasn’t recorded a snowfall of at least 2 inches over 24 hours in Central Park for the past two years.

Last month, slightly more than an inch fell in the park, ending the city’s 701-day drought of significant snow – just barely. Boston, along with several other New England cities, is also lagging its long-term average.

For the next few days, though, the weather will be relatively balmy. El Niño, a warming across the equatorial Pacific, sends storms across the southern U.S. and up the East Coast. When those systems mesh with cold descending from the Arctic and Canada, snow can pile up by the foot. But the deep freeze hasn’t arrived just yet.

“We have had that typical wet pattern in the East,” said Brad Harvey, a meteorologist at commercial forecaster Maxar Technologies Inc. “The problem we have had so far this year is it has just been too warm.”

The high in New York City will reach almost 60 degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday, nearing a record for the day, while St. Louis could hit 71 degrees, according to AccuWeather.

So far, fuel markets are complacent about the possibility of a deep freeze stoking demand for heating. Natural gas futures for next-month delivery slid below $2 per million British thermal units this week, touching the lowest price since 2020. Contracts for March delivery are trading below the April contract, signaling that traders believe the market will be well supplied at the end of winter. The spread is known as the widowmaker because wrong-way bets on it have forced hedge funds to shutter in the past.

But there are signs that wintry conditions will return after this next round of mild weather. High pressure is building over western Canada that can push cold south into the U.S., Pastelok said.

“I think colder weather returns mid-month with another stretched polar vortex looking increasingly likely,” said Judah Cohen, director of seasonal forecasting at Verisk Atmospheric and Environmental Research.

Long-range models are teasing a chillier pattern by President’s Day weekend, said Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather Group LLC. The forecast also points to the climate pattern known as the North Atlantic oscillation shifting to its negative, or cold, phase, which can keep frigid weather bottled up in North America.

“That combination could pave the way for a bigger winter storm in the middle February window,” Rogers said. “We’ll have to watch it closely.”