A change in the weather across the Southeast is expected starting this weekend and continuing for the next few weeks. It means considerably colder conditions than what we have been feeling so far this winter, which has been running 1-3 degrees F above normal so far.

As I write this on Thursday afternoon, rain has entered Georgia from the northwest ahead of a strong cold front. The air behind the cold front will give us much colder temperatures which could last through at least the first week of February. The cold air is moving south into our area because of the temporary breakdown of the polar vortex high in the Arctic atmosphere. When the vortex is in place, it often traps the coldest air to our north. But it is the process of breaking up into smaller circulations, which allows the cold air to flow south towards us. The first push should reach us this weekend, and some locations could even see some snow in the air, although I don’t expect much accumulation unless you are at high elevation.

Over the next few weeks we won’t see continuously cold conditions, but a series of waves of colder air alternating with warmer periods. Rain, or possibly snow in some places and on some dates, will mark the transition between warm and cold spells. That means you will need to watch weather forecasts carefully to plan outdoor activities as these waves of weather move through the region. At this point it is not clear how long this “see-saw” of conditions will continue, but it looks likely through at least around February 9. I don’t see any sustained periods of warm weather in the next three weeks, so that should help keep the plants dormant. After that, it is just too hard to say.

We are in an El Niño-like pattern, which usually means wetter than normal (this year for sure!) and cooler than normal conditions, although a lot of the cooling comes as cool daytime temperatures from lack of sunshine, not necessarily in cold nights. In fact, in some preliminary research I did this week, we see fewer of the really cold days (less than 20 F) in El Niño winters than in other years, so a really frigid Arctic air mass may be less likely to occur. However, that is based purely on statistics of past years, so it may or may not reflect what will actually happen this year.

I will try to post another update early in February to see what is in store for later in that month. Please feel free to contact me at pknox@uga.edu if you have any other questions.

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