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Rapid weather shifts fueling uncertainty for climatologists in Tri-Cities

Jonathan Roberts • Oct 5, 2019 at 12:00 AM

After months of record-breaking rainfall to start the year, Tennessee has suddenly found itself plagued by drought conditions — which may be a harbinger of longer, hotter summers to come.

“There’s no doubt, it looks like we are definitely trending more toward longer summers, warmer summers,” said East Tennessee State University climatologist and meteorologist David Jennings. “We’ll still get cold winters as well, but not quite as cold — it seems like there’s more variability with the winters.

“Both really seem like they’re more variable, and there’s more unpredictability with the weather patterns we have now,” Jennings added.

So far in 2019, June, July, August and September’s average monthly temperature was above normal, with September nearly setting the record for the hottest average (75.4 degrees in 2018), with an average of 74.4 degrees Fahrenheit this year. So far in October, the Tri-Cities has broken two daily records (Oct. 1 and Oct. 2) as well as the record high for October — twice.

“Normally we would have one of the first good (cold) fronts come through in mid-September, and we’d get cooler temperatures and that would kind of set the stage for more fronts come through,” said Tim Doyle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Morristown. “These last two years especially, we’ve had the warm dry weather through September and not really having a cool down until October.

“But two years doesn’t necessarily make a pattern,” Doyle said. “Every year has been different in some way.”

Still, 2019 has been unusual, and it’s hard not to draw parallels between this year and 2016, a year that saw much of East Tennessee devastated by wildfires.

The region hasn’t been this dry “since 2016, when we had the drought that year,” Doyle said. “We’ve pretty much been wet from the end of 2016 all the way till about August (2019).

 

However, “we can’t really say if it’s going to go on as long as 2016 or not,” Doyle cautioned, noting that the drought conditions “may last all of October into November, or it could change in a couple of weeks.” He also said that with the wild swings, it makes forecasting the weather “harder to do,” so it’s “hard to say” whether this weather pattern will continue.

Fortunately, the heat wave plaguing the area appears to be on its way out.

According to Jennings and Doyle, the current “dome” of high-pressure appears set to get displaced by a ridge of low-pressure coming from the central United States. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean the Tri-Cities will be feeling those traditional fall temperatures just yet.

“Things may follow more of normal pattern (once this low-pressure system comes), although temperatures are still going to be above normal through this weekend,” Doyle said, adding that the region may not be back to more-normal temperatures until next week. 

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