Major storm to soak DC area before a frigid Christmas weekend

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An explosive storm system is slated to develop in the Washington area late in the workweek, bringing a combination of wind and cold to create the coldest Christmas holiday in several decades.

The storm is expected to track to the west of the Appalachians and into the Great Lakes. The Washington area is primarily in the warm sector of the storm, which will limit wintry weather but mean plenty of rain. The volatile setup should provide plenty of weather action to close out the week.

Blockbuster storm, bitter arctic outbreak to blast US ahead of Christmas

The DC area will see its most significant effects from this extreme weather pattern after the cold front passes on the back end of the Great Lakes storm Friday. Temperatures will plummet below freezing and winds will roar, and we can’t rule out some snow showers or flurries. Washingtonians will experience the coldest air of the season so far.

A little wintry mix possible early Thursday

We could see a little wintry precipitation in the region just as the storm system moves into the area Thursday, provided it’s early enough in the day. Even if that happens, any sleet, snow or freezing rain would probably be brief and focused west of the Interstate 95 corridor.

With temperatures mainly above freezing as precipitation arrives, the winter weather potential from this system on the front end seems even less threatening than last Friday’s storm, which mainly produced rain in the area (aside from some freezing rain far west and northwest).

The milder temperatures are mainly the result of high pressure sliding off the northeast coast before the storm arrives, which helps set up a warmer wind flow off the ocean. The storm center is also expected to be more powerful compared to last week’s, which should help deliver plentiful and relatively warm south winds ahead of the Arctic front that won’t arrive until late Friday.

The Baltimore/Washington Weather Service office has western counties of our area under a slight risk of wintry weather Thursday and Friday, but no risk in the immediate area. Anything in the way of significantly disruptive wintry weather should be confined to mountainous areas to our west.

After picking up around 2 inches of rain late last week, another inch or two of rain seems ready to visit late this week.

The heaviest rainfall is most likely between late Thursday and Friday morning. There could even be a rumble of thunder Thursday night or Friday given the warmth and moisture surging north ahead of Friday’s cold front.

Here’s what some recent model runs are showing for precipitation, both in DC and the range for the local area in parenthesis.

  • European ECMWF — 0.9 inches (0.75-1.5 inches)
  • American GFS — 0.9 inches (0.75 to 1.5 inches)
  • Canadian GEM — 1.2 inches (1 to 1.5 inches)

Washington has seen 2.41 inches of rain in December compared to 3.41 inches as an average for the entire month. The next storm should push the city near and above normal for precipitation this December.

How much temperatures will drop and when

Friday is setting up to be a wild day for temperatures locally. Readings soaring into the mid-50s to around 60 seem a good bet east of the Blue Ridge in the morning, as the storm center swirls through the Great Lakes and a strong cold front approaches the region.

Current weather modeling suggests the front passes Washington in the afternoon, and temperatures immediately plummet rapidly in its wake. Numbers could fall off to and below freezing in western parts of the area during the afternoon, then in DC and east by sundown or so.

As cold air rushes into the area, it will quickly cool enough for any precipitation left behind the front to become snow. There probably won’t be much falling at this point, but some flurries, snow showers or a brief snow squall could blow by. Under the right conditions, a coating or so could fall in spots.

By Friday night, the region is looking at wind chills as at least as cold as the single digits locally and below zero in northern Maryland, as well as elevation off to our west.

Winds may briefly gust near 50 mph as the cold front moves through Friday, which may lead to downed trees and power outages given the wet ground. Gusts of 30 to 40 mph could be common in the evening. Winds will probably drop to the 20-plus range by later Friday night.

Given gusts of 20 to 30 mph Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, wind chills will likely remain brutal through the weekend. Single digits will persist on Saturday, with teens more likely Sunday.

Coldest Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in decades

On Christmas Eve morning, low temperatures will hit the midteens to low 20s without rising much during the day. Afternoon highs of mid-20s to near 30 seem a decent target for now.

It will be even colder Christmas morning, with minimum temperatures ranging from about 10 to 20. Afternoon values ​​may be a touch less frozen than Saturday, but the area should remain at or below 32 for a second straight day, with highs in the upper 20s and low 30s.

Average temperatures for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day will be 47 for a high and 33 for a low in the city.

The last time both were in the 30s was back in 2004. To find the last time temperatures didn’t rise above freezing on either day, we look back to 1999. Right now, 2022 looks like the coldest for the two-day holiday since 1989, when highs reached 23 on Christmas Eve and 29 on Christmas Day.

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