February has been a busy month for meteorologists like Dan Tomaso with a majority of our winter weather happening this month.
A weather forecaster at Channel 27 in Harrisburg, Tomaso and his colleagues throughout the region have been slammed in February tracking and reporting a dozen storms that have passed through the area.
And while this week was also busy with another one forecast for Thursday, it appears that the coming weeks and months will continue a weather pattern that’s been present since the fall for Lebanon County — drier-than-normal conditions.
“The one thing I will say right off the bat is that dry weather patterns, just like wet weather patterns, when they are repetitive, they become hard to break,” Tomaso said. “That’s why droughts tend to build on themselves. If our current pattern continues, it could provide more chances for drought conditions heading into spring and summer.”
Fortunately for the Lebanon Valley, this winter and past summer — unlike the fall — provided normal precipitation amounts, according to Tomaso. As of Monday, a measuring station located in the city has recorded slightly higher precipitation than the normal range of 18 to 24 inches of precipitation for the winter months.
“This summer, precipitation was adequate and definitely not over abundant,” Tomaso said. “This winter, downtown Lebanon has received 26.7 inches of precipitation for the winter, which is a pretty high number. That number is on par for the Harrisburg/Middletown area, which is at 28.2 (normal is 30.6 seasonally) as of Monday.”
Tomaso added that normal winter precipitation for the northern part of Lebanon County has averaged between 24 to 30 inches over the past 30 years because of higher elevations. However, official records do not currently exist for that section of the county because no one is collecting data from that region and reporting it to the National Weather Service.
The average rainfall this summer was considered normal, according to Tomaso, because of recurring spotty thunderstorms that brought consistent rain to Lebanon as well as Lancaster counties — even though there was a period of time prior to August where some portions of the Lebanon Valley appeared to be headed for a drought.
“The drought this summer did not extend east of the (Susquehanna) river,” Tomaso said. “Lancaster and Lebanon counties did fairly well throughout the summer with thunderstorm activity and just rain, in general, versus areas to the west. In that sense, there was a stronger drought signal to the west and over the mountains.”
If location matters in real estate, it certainly does for weather too.
“East to the river, was not as bad; to the west of the river, those areas are where we saw a drought,” Tomaso said. “Our chief meteorologist Eric Finkenbinder is also a farmer and he talked all summer about the Cumberland Valley, in particular, in parts of Franklin and eastern and central Perry county that got no rain at all. It seemed like it rained around Harrisburg and points to the east. He kept referencing that Harrisburg was the cutoff line.”
While Lebanon was lucky to get adequate rainfall in the summer, its fortunes changed in the fall and continued throughout the first two months of winter – thanks to a dominant high pressure system that kept precipitation in check. (Our region of the state normally receives an average of 3 to 3.25 inches of precipitation each month of the year.)
“It was not necessarily as wet as it could have been thanks mostly to a dominant high pressure system from the north or west,” Tomaso noted. “The 10 to 12 storms we got this winter missed us to the south and southeast. That impacted the precipitation that we could have received.”
The high pressure system, coupled with a lack of cold air, contributed to the low snow total amounts through the end of January.
“There has been 17.8 inches so far in February in downtown Lebanon,” Tomaso said. “In the case of February, it’s been the placement of that cold air that’s really made the difference in the amount of snowfall. In early February, the cold air was where it needed to be to bring snow — right over top of us.”
That cold air, which has been absent for much of the winter, apparently will not return for the rest of February or March, according to Tomaso. He does not expect the region to experience any more deep freezes or below-average temperatures heading into the spring, meaning that Lebanon County will most likely not experience any more significant snow storms after this week.
“As far as spring and summer, I will say this much: I think we’ve been through the coldest period through the rest of winter and the spring,” Tomaso said. “The cold air mass that developed in the Arctic and dropped south and came over us will not return. The rest of February and March appear to be above normal temperatures and the warmth, as we move through March, will continue to win out. There are some signals in place that there will be more dryness related to that high pressure system dominating from the north that will suppress storms to the south.”
As far as the projected snow for this Thursday and into Friday, Tomaso believes snow amounts will not be significant.
“It looks like it will start out as a heavy, wet snow that changes over to other precipitation,” Tomaso said. “The air that is coming along with this storm from the south will be too warm for it to give us a lot of snow.”
Editor’s note: Any residents who live in northern Lebanon County who are interested in becoming a weather watcher for the National Weather Service, should email their interest to: [email protected] to learn about the requirements needed to become certified.
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