The Quadrantid meteor shower peaks in the dark hours between midnight and dawn on Tuesday morning, January 4th. The peak coincides nicely with the arrival of the new moon, so moonlight will be of no concern.
Meteor showers are typically named for the constellation from which they appear to emanate, if their paths are traced backwards in the sky, they will converge to a point (“the radiant”). The Quadrantids appear to come from portion of the no longer recognized Quadrans Muralis that is now in northern Bootes. More concretely, the radiant is below and slightly left of the Big Dipper handle, as seen from mid-northern latitudes.
January weather is often bitterly cold, so many layers of heavy clothing is a must. The following image, from http://www.rap.ucar.edu, shows clouds predicted by the North American Model (NAM) at 6 AM on Tuesday, January 4th. For portions of the Eastern Seaboard, the Plains, the Southwest, California, and Florida, clear skies should prevail, which is needed for meteor viewing. The Ohio and Tennessee Valleys, Great Lakes, Rockies, Intermountain West, and Pacific Northwest are forecast to have less luck with clouds.
The Quadrantids are one of the “Big Three” meteor showers of the year, along with the Perseids of August and Geminids of December. However, it is more difficult to catch high meteor rates associated with the Quadrantids because of their short peak. They are medium speed meteors, hitting the atmosphere at about 42 km/s. In this case, the radiant is highest in the sky after sunrise. Most meteors are seen when the radiant is highest, thus the last couple dark hours before dawn, about 3:45-5:45 AM in Saint Louis, and similar local times for other northern midlatitude sites.
The following image, located at http://www.northmuseum.org/Portals/0/Planetarium/Monthly%20Sky/Quadrantids%202011%202am.jpg, shows the Quadrantid radiant around 2 AM local time.
The radiant will rise as the night progresses, and will appear similar to the diagram below shortly before the onset of morning twilight (around 5:30, 5:45 AM for Saint Louis). Venus will rise and be very bright in the southeastern sky and can cast shadows on a white background from a dark, country sky.
As noted earlier, adequate clothing is a necessity. Several layers of clothes, with as little exposed skin as possible, is desirable. Make sure to keep the extremities, especially feet and hands, as warm as possible! Bringing binoculars to view trains from bright meteors can be fun. In addition, taking a break from the cold for 15 or 20 minutes every hour is helpful in order to stay more alert. If you are getting very cold quickly, more frequent breaks may be needed.
Expected rates may be about 20-25 per hour from the central and eastern US for the last couple dark hours before dawn. There will be minor showers going on, the antihelion and apex meteor sources, and sporadic meteors, which may add another 12-18 meteors per hour in addition to the Quadrantids. Get to as dark of skies as possible, well away from city lights. If you are not under dark, country skies, rates will be lower, and if it is cloudy, the clouds will block the meteors and render viewing useless.
The Quadrantid meteor shower is highly variable in strength. The next two figures show the Quadrantid analysis from the International Meteor Organization in 2008 and 2009. Moonlight severely interfered with the shower in 2010. You can see that the ideal (“Zenithal Hourly Rate”) peaks at a little over 80 in 2008 and nearly 150 in 2009. The Geminids and Perseids typically show more consistency in strength from year to year. On average, the maximum Zenithal Hourly Rate for the Quadrantids is around 120, similar to the Geminids, and a bit stronger than the Perseids.
The peak is short-lived, with rates of at least half-maximum only lasting 8 to 9 hours on average. The meteor profile is asymmetric in that the ascent is usually a bit more gradual, and the rates usually drop off more quickly after the peak. The peak should occur around 06-09 UTC January 4th, or about 6-9 PM local time on the evening of January 3rd for the central United States. That puts central Asia westwards to Europe in the prime location this year. By the time of good viewing after 3 AM on the morning of January 4th, we should be 6 hours or more after the peak. Peak timing is not definite, as this meteor shower has not been as well observed or modeled as the Leonids, Perseids, and Geminids. Still, meteor rates should drop off considerably by the time the radiant is high in the sky for the United States, to maybe a couple dozen meteors per hour.
Next image shows an impressive Quadrantid.
Best of luck, and stay warm!