November 29, 2021

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Arctic plunge: Temps in the 30s on the way to Houston; Ice could be a problem | View timeline – KHOU.com

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The strongest arctic front in years could wreak havoc with our temperatures, possibly dipping into the 20s in some parts of Southeast Texas.

HOUSTON — Everybody gave Punxsutawney Phil grief about seeing his shadow on a cloudy, snowy day in Pennsylvania; which meant the Seer of Seers wouldn’t be expecting an early Spring this year. As it turns out, the rodent may have hit the nail on the head this time.

A tremendous arctic outbreak is poised to rock the nation, including Texas, as a series of arctic cold fronts fall out of Canada and into our laps as early as next Wednesday. From there, unlike most cold outbreaks which are in and out within a day or two, this one could be superlative in both strength and duration.

Arctic air has been building up for several days

We’ve been watching carefully the build-up of arctic air in northwest Canada and Siberia over the past week or two. Temperatures have been hovering as low as 40 to 50 below zero in these locations. We pay attention to this area because given the right atmospheric set up, known as a “Cross-polar flow,” that cold air can be ejected out of these regions and sent south and that’s exactly what looks to be happening next week. 

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Cross-polar flows and strong high pressures are responsible for some of Houston’s most prolific arctic outbreaks over the years including 1983 and 1989.

While it likely won’t challenge 1989’s lows of single digits or 1983’s duration, this arctic blast could be significant and possibly disruptive with pipes and icy roads.

RELATED: View latest Houston forecast, live radar images here

Timeline: When will temps plunge in Houston and the rest of Texas

Models continue to waffle back and forth on the timing but right now it appears as though the first arctic front makes it through the area sometime on Wednesday which will send our temperatures plunging. Some models have it arriving on Thursday morning but those differences will be sorted out in the coming days. That will be followed by a reinforcing, colder arctic front Thursday evening into Friday. Overnight Friday into Saturday morning will be the coldest yet with Houston’s temperatures in the very low-30s and some parts of Southeast Texas dipping into the 20s.

How cold will it get?

Cold enough that the Climate Prediction Center has placed all of southeast Texas under a ‘moderate risk’ of hazardous temperatures by next week. 

This is extremely challenging and would be irresponsible to put a number to it. What I can tell you is that IF current models are correct, we could see very cold high temperatures in our area that we haven’t seen in a very long time. 

All three computer models have us in the 40s on Thursday, 30s on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and 40s on Monday and Tuesday of the following week. Some of the models indicate it’ll be a struggle to even reach above freezing on some of those days. We’ll know more about the exact numbers by early next week. This will be a long duration event by Houston standards. 

Will it snow as far south as Houston?

The short answer: not likely. However it is looking more and more reasonable that wintry weather could be a factor here in Houston by Friday but of the icy variety; think freezing rain and sleet. The nature of arctic airmasses is to be very shallow. In order for it to snow, that cold air needs to be thick and rise many thousands of feet up. This very dense, cold airmass may only be 500 to 1,000 feet thick — far to shallow for snow to fall. However, it does look like a decent set up for a potential ice storm by Thursday night into Friday.

All three computer models, including the GFS, Euro and Canadian all show icy weather here by Friday as an overrunning pattern sets up over our area. An overrunning pattern means the cold air is coming in from the north while the warm, moist air overrides it from Mexico. This is a recipe for wintry weather. Given how cold the air is likely to be, we could see the onset of an icing event here by the end of the week.

So many things could go wrong with this forecast so it’s important to keep checking back twice a day. Inevitably, there are going to be many changes to the on-going forecast as we head into the weekend and early next week. 

What should you do now?

Nothing right now. This forecast is still going to be modified and changed and adjusted many times between now and the time this event gets underway. What we encourage you to do is check back with us at least once a day through the upcoming weekend.

If you want to get a head start, make sure all outdoor piping is insulated and backflow preventors drained and wrapped up. Any exposed piping in the attic should also be insulated and wrapped.

Have ice/snow/weather photos or video?

Don’t put yourself in danger, but if you happen to get severe weather photos or video (or breaking news), remember you can always send them to KHOU 11 easily using the Near Me function in our mobile app.

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