January thaw to be followed by major Arctic plunge in northern Ohio

CLEVELAND - It's déjà vu all over again. Weather patterns are cyclical. They have happened before.

When we pay attention to these past weather patterns, we can be alert for when they start to set up again. We are watching another potential cold event setting up now.

We are expecting a brief warm-up beginning this weekend and lasting through much of next week. Temperatures near 40 degrees, or a few clicks higher, should be able to melt some snow on your back patio. But then the cold should return.

Back during the winter of 1985, much of the United States experienced a severe outbreak of Arctic air. Warming of the stratosphere over the Arctic shifted the polar vortex further south and we froze here in Ohio.

During this "blocking event," polar air from the north pushed into nearly every section of the eastern half of the United States and Canada, shattering record lows in a number of areas. Cleveland International Hopkins Airport set a record low of -18 degrees F on Jan. 20, 1985. That record low was followed the next day by another teeth-shattering record of -17 degrees F.

In Akron and Canton, it was worse. The coldest temperature in the continental U.S. on Jan. 21 was −24 degrees F, in the unlikely location of Akron, Ohio. In fact, on Jan. 20 and 21, the temperature at the Akron/Canton Regional Airport registered -24 degrees F. Mansfield also set records for cold. On Jan. 20, the low reached -22 degrees F. On Jan. 21, the low was -21 F. Wow.

Something else to note: This brutally cold outbreak was preceded by some very WARM air over Ohio and the U.S. during the month of December. In fact, on Dec. 16, 1984, all local airports reported record high temperatures in the 60s. The arctic air was bottled up to our north to end the year. But, suddenly spilled southward during mid to late January.

So, what does 1985 have to do with our current winter weather? We are beginning to see a similar weather pattern setting up over the Arctic right now. Stratospheric warming is occurring. Current computer models see Arctic air spilling down across much of the Eastern U.S. within 10 to 14 days.

The graphic included with this story shows the temperature predictions for Sat., Jan. 19, 2013. Across northern Ohio, temperatures struggle to reach zero degrees F. And remember: December was a much warmer than normal month here in Ohio. Our temperatures averaged 4 to 7 degrees above normal for the month.

The weather patterns that set the stage for bitter cold air back in 1985 are beginning to show themselves again. The stratospheric warming has commenced over the Arctic. Brutally cold air will spill down into the lower latitudes somewhere. This usually occurs within about two weeks of the warming event.

Even if we are only half as cold as 1985, we are still in for a very chilly end to our current month. Of course, Mother Nature is in charge of our chaotic atmosphere. She still has time to change her mind. And she often does. We will watch this one very carefully. In the meantime, find the warmest wool sweater you can, and have it ready.

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