The Cumberland Times-News Monthly Column

February: Lengthy Spring Thaw

January 28, 2023 - Winter is trying to get back in the game late this month after taking a 20-day hiatus. Long-time residents of western Maryland and the Potomac Highlands will definitely agree the season has been more like spring and late fall than winter. Where are we headed for February? Let’s take a look.

The ‘Atmospheric River’ which has replenished much of the lost moisture in the last decade in the West has let up late this month and the recipient of at least a taste of winter has shifted into western Maryland and the Potomac Highlands. Don’t let the current pattern fool you though, more changes are in the wings.

A typical La Nina pattern will regain control of the U.S. pattern by the end of the month’s first week. The Pacific storm train will resume and instead of a bit of snow here and there, our region will be back in a warm, wet pattern. A mid-month winter storm will bring the month’s only snowfall, otherwise, we will only see rain or a wintery mix to rain transition.

Many folks make plans for Presidents’ Day weekend in February. We expect it will start out cold but transition to a milder pattern by Monday, but remain dry. A storm system the next day or Wednesday of that week will bring clouds, but the wintry precipitation will stay north and west of the region.

We don’t see upside risk to more total precipitation (rain and melted snow) than average, which is 2.5 inches in Allegany County and 3.5 inches in Garrett County. Snowfall, however, will stay below average, with less than 7 inches in Cumberland and less than 18 inches in Garrett County.

You’ll hear lots of chatter about a ‘Stratospheric Warming Event’ and dislodge of the Polar Vortex. The winds will decelerate around the vortex and it will weaken considerably, possibly experiencing a reversal in wind direction. This all means cold air will dislodge into the middle latitudes, but it will not dump on western Maryland and the Potomac Highlands initially. It’ll take until March before we see any impact.

Many Eastern spots will see a record warm February believe it or not. A positive phase of the Arctic and North Atlantic Oscillations will make it feel like spring rather than winter. As mentioned previously, only a mid-month storm will bring any snowfall. This doesn’t include any transient blasts of snow showers (in Garrett County) in the wake of a few fronts that will knock down our ‘heat’ in February.

While California will dry out early in February, more winter storms will line up in the Pacific and the state will top headlines for more heavy rain and Sierra snowfall. The Rockies will also have stellar skiing weather in February with plenty of snowfall. The local ski resorts will struggle to keep all the slopes open with the warm pattern expected, but at least a handful of nights and evenings will allow for snowmaking opportunities.

La Nina continues to dominate the weather pattern globally, but there are signs of it fading. Warmer water is spreading across the equatorial Pacific and the cooler anomalies along the South America coast are fading. A neutral ENSO (neither La Nina nor El Nino) will develop later this spring and El Nino could be in the cards by this summer.

I was recently listening in on a NOAA weather briefing and learned that after its development, El Nino has a 75-percent chance to linger for a year, a 25-percent risk to continue for a second year and has never returned for a third year in a row. Meanwhile, after its development, La Nina has a 46-percent to return for a second year and a 23-percent chance to return for a third year in a row (and this is our third in a triple-dip La Nina.

La Nina historically produces less snow than average in western Maryland and the Potomac Highlands while El Nino winters produce near to above average snow.

Will winter come back with a vengeance as we transition into spring for March? I’ll break down the details later in February. Until then, stay warm (or cool if you are a winter enthusiast) and stay safe!


Chad Merrill is a Cumberland native and meteorologist who not only serves as the Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack weather prognosticator but is also senior meteorologist at Earth Networks in Germantown. Merrill has recently earned his National Weather Association (NWA) Seal of Approval. According to the association, only 1,045 meteorologists currently hold the NWA Seal of Approval. Merrill previously was a meteorologist with WDVM (formerly known as NBC25) in Hagerstown and WJAC-TV in Johnstown, Pennsylvania most recently, with WeatherWorks, Inc. (  Feel free to contact him at or 240-285-8476.