January to yield winter's first outbreak of icy air in eastern, central US

BREAKING: Record Warmth

With winter officially beginning Monday evening, when will winter weather arrive and take hold in the central and eastern United States?

Winter officially begins at 11:49 p.m. EST (10:49 p.m. CST) on Dec. 21, 2015.

The lack of persistent cold air and snow in the Central and Eastern states has millions of people wondering if winter weather will ever arrive and stay for a while.

This past November was one of the warmest on record in much of the Central and Eastern states. December is following in the footsteps of November, with temperatures averaging 6 to 12 degrees Fahrenheit above normal in many areas east of the Rockies.

While locked-in cold may still be weeks away, there are signs of more significant and more frequent visits from cold air east of the Rockies in January.

AccuWeather Chief Long-Range Meteorologist Paul Pastelok expects a partial change in the weather pattern to begin shortly after the start of the new year.

"We are not looking at a complete change in the pattern, but rather an easing of the bouts of record-breaking temperatures," Pastelok said.

Pastelok added that an anticipated change in the storm track over the northern Pacific that would translate to periodic southward dips in the jet stream in the central and eastern part of the nation during January.

The jet stream is a high-speed river of air high in the atmosphere, which guides weather systems along and tends to separate cold air to its north and warm air to its south.

The end result is likely to bring more of a balance between days with below-average temperatures and above-average temperatures. While the milder days could still outnumber the cold days, there would be very few or no days with record highs.

By the middle of January, the pattern is likely to deliver multiple nights with lows near zero over the the northern Plains, the teens in parts of the Midwest and below freezing in the major cities of the Interstate-95 corridor of the Northeast.

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The vast majority of the metro areas from Boston to New York City and Washington, D.C., have dipped to or below freezing on only a handful of days so far since the start of autumn. The average low temperature by the end of the third week of December is below freezing in the same swath.

The more frequent bouts of cold air would allow more opportunities for snow in the Central states and perhaps a couple of snow events in parts of the East. Several rounds of lake-effect snow are expected to accompany the cold outbreaks.

"It may take a couple of weeks for the pattern to set up," Pastelok said. "However, some colder air outbreaks along with stormy weather are possible during weeks two and three of January."

While January 2016 may still be more mild-mannered when compared to last January, many people will be reaching for the thermostat more often, when compared to this past November and December. Motorists should also expect to run into some wintry travel episodes farther south in the Midwest, Appalachians and New England, when compared to the past couple of months.

Even in the absence of natural snow, many ski resorts will be able to make snow at night and some northern tier resorts could be able to make snow around the clock at times by the middle of the month.

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