A Winter's Tale

Wendilyn Grasseschi
Times Reporter

An unusual meteorological phenomenon that occurs far above the Earth’s lower atmosphere, called a “sudden stratospheric warming” event, is now set to bring possibly epic amounts of snow for Mammoth and the Eastern Sierra beginning sometime late next week or in mid-January, according to local forecaster Howard Sheckter.

The event could bring some large storms to the area, over-riding the existing stubborn La Nina pattern which has blocked most of the incoming wet storms this year, Sheckter said, creating what is so far one of the driest winter’s on record.

Not only that, this new pattern could last into February or later, affecting not only California, but much of the Northern Hemisphere, he said.

If it sounds too good to be true, Sheckter thinks it is not.

“This is going to be a big deal for the Central West Coast this January, as the extension of the East Asian Jet progresses to the West Coast with some very significant ‘Atmospheric Rivers,’” he said. “The screaming message here is that winter is coming!”

He said storms measuring in feet, not inches, could begin as soon as the end of next week, or perhaps into the middle of January, most likely with colder AR’s loaded with more snow than rain.
“It will bring a lot of snow into the Sierra,” he said.

But what is a sudden stratospheric warming event, anyhow?

“A stratospheric warming event is the rapid warming of the stratosphere (the area of space just above the atmosphere of the Earth) of about 100-120 degrees of warming; this one will be more, or about 130 degrees,” he said. “Minor stratospheric warming events occur every year, the big ones every few years, and this is setting up to be one of the biggest,” he said.

“(They are) caused by planetary waves (called Rossby Waves) breaking, which propagate up into the stratosphere,” he said. “The sudden heating of the stratosphere then creates high pressure over the Polar region that can dislodge the Polar Vortex or eve break it up into smaller vortices, sending them south toward the mid-latitudes.

“All in all, the main effect is a southward adjustment to the Polar Jet, which is in the end, what we want to get winter going,” he said. That is because thus far this winter, the polar jet has been over the Pacific Northwest, and some over Northern California, he said, not in Central and Southern California.

“This is a reason why Mammoth has not received much in the way of precipitation,” he said. “La Nina has effectively blocked and/or weakened the MJO (Madden Julius Oscillation pattern) from periodically forcing the usual wet patterns that develop along the Southern and Central West Coast. The stratospheric warming event may be our savior, something that adds a northern latitude variable to the equation of getting the upper jet well south into California.”

“By the looks of what is going on over the Arctic with its strong height rises in the global models and a massive Polar Vortex headed south over East Asia,” he said.

And it will not be just the United States affected by this big pattern change, he said. The entire Northern Hemisphere, including Europe, is likely to get hit with some epic storms in the next two months.

“You will be hearing about wild weather all over the Northern Hemisphere,” he said. “Europe will have wild weather, cold weather, it will then flip and come over the U.S. as well.”