The region hasn’t had a winter like this since 2001, but it’s not due to climate change.
“It’s due to the jet stream configuration this year,” Northern Illinois University meteorologist Gilbert Sebenste said Tuesday.
“The jet stream is currently configured in a pattern where it heads up from the northern Pacific into northern Canada, and also taps air from the Arctic and Siberia. It then drops straight south-southeastward into the Great Lakes and northeastern U.S.,” Sebenste said.
That means north of that jet stream, you are cold. South of it, you are mild, including Alaska. According to Sebenste, areas north of Fairbanks on Sunday were close to 60 degrees, shattering record highs.
“That will change next week as the flow comes from the western U.S.,” he said.
According to Sebenste, in January out by Rockford and DeKalb, we’ve only had 15 inches and 17 inches of snow, respectively. The amount of snow increases as you head further east into the metro Chicago area.
He provided information showing this January was the third snowiest (with 33.1 inches thus far) in Chicago, trailing January 1918 when 42.5 inches fell and January 1979 when 40.4 inches fell.
Weather has been unusual in other places, too.
“The jet stream has been wildly undulating in other parts of the world as well; we’re not alone, by any means,” Sebenste said. “In Australia, it’s usual summer heat. They always get this hot, although it’s been drier than average, so some of the temperatures have been hotter than average. Sochi (Russia) is another case where they find themselves south of the jet stream, and warmer. However, the good news for them is that there’s always snow in the mountains where the Olympics are going on, so this isn’t a show stopper.”
As for if we’ll be stuck in a Groundhog Day-style rut of rotten, snowy and/or frigid weather, it’s hard to say right now, according to Sebenste.
“However, we see a pattern change this week and next which will lead us to less extreme cold, but more snow. And there are signs that there could be a considerable amount of snow in the first half of February. We’re just going to have to wait and see how it all pans out.”
Sebenste added that while there may be a few days of temperatures in the 30s or maybe even 40 degrees here and there, the general pattern over the next two weeks looks to be generally cold and snowy.