It’s Christmas Week and we’re all looking for a bit of cheer in this winter season of our dismay. Yes, astronomical winter begins (or began, depending on when you’re reading this) at 5:02 a.m. on Monday, and that means our total daylight begins to lengthen, ever so gradually, at first in the afternoon.
But since the atmosphere takes time to enter the deep freeze — and to begin baking after the summer solstice around June 21 — the coldest stretch of meteorological winter in the Berkshires extends from Jan. 10 to Jan. 25, with a normal average high of 29 and an overnight low of 11.
January 2020, by the way, was the warmest on record for that month, based on 82 years of data at Pittsfield Municipal Airport.
About that cheer, a mixed message: The snowy landscape many of us have admired since last week’s robust storm may start melting away by Christmas Eve, so enjoy it while you can.
I was hoping to deliver glad tidings of joy about Monday evening’s astronomical magic show, when Jupiter and Saturn will be in a rare planetary alignment, appearing closer together than they have in nearly 800 years. They won’t appear this close again until 2080.
As detailed on the front page of The Eagle’s Weekender edition (available online at berkshireeagle.com/eedition), this “double planet” phenomenon would qualify as an incredible sight to behold in the west by southwest sky for about two hours after Monday’s 4:23 p.m. sunset, with best viewing beginning around 5:00.
Sadly, the prediction around here is for mostly cloudy skies, but let’s hope the forecast is wrong.
On a brighter note, the snowfall jackpot topped out at 23 to 24 inches in Lanesborough, Savoy and (our) Florida, with most other Berkshire locations reporting 12 to 14 inches.
That deposited the season’s first natural snow base for our Alpine (downhill) and Nordic (cross-country) skiing areas, so eager skiers and snowshoers flocked to the trails over the weekend despite Saturday’s minus-4 predawn low, followed by a much more tolerable Sunday in the 20s and 30s with light snow showers.
A white Christmas seemed to be a sure shot, but after a tranquil three days, there’s an unusual (for late December) rainstorm with strong winds approaching for, when else, Dec. 24. The Christmas Eve high may approach 50 as the heavy rain totaling one to two inches arrives late in the day or at night.
“This will help ripen the snow pack and cause some snow melt,” according to Brian Frugis at the National Weather Center office perched high above the University at Albany campus. “The question will be how much the heavy snow pack can absorb without hydrological issues,” meaning a possibility of river flooding.
On Christmas Day, temperatures will drop to more seasonable levels, and there may be a few snowflakes swirling. Next weekend looks dry with seasonable temperatures in the 20s and 30s.
Nationally, heavy rain with possible flooding is in store for the Pacific Northwest, with snow in the Cascades, northern Rockies and Tetons. An elevated risk of fire weather remains for Southern California. The threat of rain and snow moves into the eastern U.S. by mid- and late week.
The Christmas Eve and Day rainstorm will extend from the Gulf Coast to the Northeast, with temperatures well above normal before a cool-down for Boxing Day (Dec. 26). The West will be dry mid-week followed by rain and mountain snow from central and northern California to the Canadian border.
For the last week of 2020, temperatures in the Berkshires should be around normal, but above normal rain or snowfall is predicted.
For the early January outlook, we turn to the estimable Greylock Snow Day website (“Predicting Snow Days Since 2010”), where Mt. Greylock Regional High teacher Blair Dils notes that “a few outlets are forecasting an active period for storms. It’s all connected to monitoring of the Polar Vortex. The longer-range forecasters are very excited about that period and think the Northeast will be very stormy and snowy.”
Until then, weather fans, greetings for the holidays, as happy as we can reasonably make them.