Saturday, December 20, 2014

Stormy (and important) weather week ahead

Sunshine will be at a premium for much of this week in the Charlotte area, but the big news will be a storm system that could become strong enough to alter weather patterns in the continental United States for the rest of December and at least a part of January.

First, the local weather situation ...

We'll remain in a cold air wedge pattern through Tuesday, with high pressure based over the Northeast. Sunday is likely to be cloudy and cool, with a high of 50 degrees in Charlotte. A bit of sunshine is possible in the afternoon, but fans attending the Panthers' game against the Cleveland Browns will see mostly cloudy skies.

A storm system expected to form off the coast late Sunday is predicted to bring light rain to Charlotte and the rest of the Carolinas from late Sunday until late Monday.

But the big story arrives Tuesday. It appears as if a pair of low pressure systems -- one in the Midwest, the other moving across the South and then bending northward over Tennessee, Kentucky and into the eastern Great Lakes -- will tug a cold front east across the country. The low will deepen rapidly late Tuesday and Wednesday and eventually move into southern Canada.

Some meteorologists think that low pressure system will become strong enough to cause a buckle in the jet stream and possibly open the way for arctic air to surge back into the continental United States (where it has been largely missing since November).

The midweek storm will bring heavy rain in the East, and the Charlotte region might experience some of that late Tuesday and early Wednesday. Dense fog is likely in the Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic, but the biggest story will be the winds. The low pressure system will be deep enough to create a strong wind field over the eastern half of the United States. That could play havoc with flight schedules late Tuesday and Wednesday in some of the East Coast's biggest airports.

And as the storm system pushes into Canada, much colder air on the back side will sweep across the Great Lakes and bring a round of heavy lake-effect snow in the usual spots -- upstate New York, northwest Pennsylvania, northeast Ohio, western Michigan and northwest Indiana.

Even in the Charlotte area, Christmas Day is likely to be windy and chilly.

A big question is when the much-publicized "pattern change" is coming -- or if it's coming. Some meteorologists have been talking for weeks about a switch to colder and stormier weather around New Year's in the East and Southeast. But some of the more recent computer guidance is pointing toward the Midwest as the bullseye for the cold weather.

More Christmas trivia ... I've been having some fun with Christmas facts for the last few weeks, and this chapter will look at some of the trendiest holiday gifts in the past. According to an Esquire article from two years ago, these were the most popular gifts of some Christmases in the past (these will bring back some memories, no doubt):

2010: Apple iPad; 2009: Nook eReader; 2007: iPod Touch; 2006: Play Station 3; 2005: Xbox 360; 2001: Bratz dolls (I don't remember these, but Esquire said the dolls depicted teen girl with large heads and skinny bodies).

1999: Pokémon (I remember reporting on fights that started in schools among students who collected the Pokémon cards); 1998: Furby; 1995: Beanie Babies; 1993 and 1994: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers; 1990: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; 1989: Game Boy.

1985: Care Bears; 1984: Transformers; 1983: Cabbage Patch Kids (torture is driving from Charlotte to Cleveland with a 3-year-old daughter playing the "Cabbage Patch Kids" theme song on a tape player in the back seat for 535 miles); 1981: Smurfs; 1978: Hungry Hungry Hippos.

1975: Pet Rock; 1959: Barbie doll; 1952: Mr. Potato Head; 1936: Monopoly.

For pictures and a better description of those gifts (and for some of the other years), be sure to check out the Esquire article.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Weekend storm could hit Christmas travelers

Many people will begin their Christmas travels this weekend, and anyone planning to leave Saturday for destinations north of North Carolina might encounter bad driving conditions.

The first of what is expected to be three Christmas season storms will cross the South on Friday and Saturday. The storm almost certainly will bring a chilly rain to the Charlotte region, but the N.C. mountains could get a substantial amount of snow. And areas farther to the north appear headed for a snow or ice event.

There still is considerable disagreement in computer guidance about the weekend storm.

The Global computer model depicts a weak storm system with not much in the way of precipitation. The European model shows a stronger storm that crosses the Carolinas as it curves up the East Coast. Temperature profiles for Charlotte and the rest of the Piedmont are a bit too warm for anything frozen.

John Tomko of the National Weather Service's office in Greer, S.C., said Monday that a cold rain is likely for the Piedmont and foothills, with the snow threat reserved for the mountains.

But Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania would be in the cross-hairs for heavy snow -- should the European model be correct. Precipitation likely would end in those areas by late Saturday, so postponing a trip up north for 24 hours might not be the worst idea.

The second storm system, which would arrive sometime around Christmas or the day after, hasn't really formed yet and is just an area of disturbed weather in the Pacific Ocean. But some of the long-range computer guidance in the last day or two indicates temperatures once again will be a bit too mild in Charlotte for anything other than rain.

But that's 10 days away, and a lot can change by then.

Christmas fun facts ... Today we'll focus on meteorology again, with NOAA's report on chances of a white Christmas in various parts of the country.

NOAA's report, issued a few days ago, doesn't take into consideration computer modeling for the next few weeks. It's based on the past, and records show the chance of a white Christmas in Charlotte is less than 10 percent.

But if you're headed into a potentially snowy area for the Christmas holidays, check out NOAA's report on the chances of a white Christmas.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

2 Christmas week storms, many possibilities

The details remain very sketchy, but it's becoming more obvious that our quiet weather pattern in the Carolinas has a little less than one week remaining.

As I wrote on Friday, the long-range guidance continues to show a pair of storm systems crossing the United States on Christmas week. The first system will affect the Carolinas next Saturday and Sunday, with the second storm arriving sometime around (or immediately after) Christmas.

There are a couple possibilities for the first storm, but none of them involve snow in the Charlotte area.

The system is forecast to enter the West Coast, but that's where the computer models differ. One possibility is for the storm to be fairly strong and curve northward across western Tennessee, western Kentucky, and into the Great Lakes. That would be a rain-maker for the Carolinas.

Another scenario would have the system weakening as it moves eastward, bringing only showers to the Charlotte area. The Global computer model favors that possibility.

And a third scenario would send a strong storm system across the Deep South, bringing a cold rain to the Charlotte area and snow to the mountains. There even could be snow along and north of the Interstate 40 corridor.

The first storm could set the table for a better chance of wintry weather in the Carolinas with the second system. It would leave a layer of snow on the ground in the Midwest, which means colder air would funnel into the Carolinas.

Christmas Fun Stuff ... As you dig for your wallet to pay for those Christmas gifts, you might be interested to know that Carolinas' residents are among the nation's leaders big spenders.

The website WalletHub reported it studied spending, debt levels and personal belongings, and it ranked South Carolinas 11th and North Carolina 13th among the big spenders in the country.

Biggest spenders during this holiday season are in Mississippi, followed by Idaho, New Mexico, Florida and Utah in the top five. The thriftiest people, according to WalletHub, live in the District of Columbia. Ranking 47th through 50th are Maryland, California, Massachusetts and New York.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Stormy period ahead for Christmas week

Much of the long-range computer guidance is painting a stormy picture over the United States during Christmas week.

It is entirely possible, in fact, that the coming week will mark the end of our recent run of relatively calm weather. The Christmas holiday might mark the changeover to colder and stormier conditions that have been predicted by a number of forecasters for January and February.

There's no doubt that the coming week will be very pleasant. Temperatures will be at or above 60 degrees through Monday, and then a weak cold front will drop daytime readings only a few degrees for the rest of the week.

For several days, computer guidance has been predicting a pair of storm systems -- the first arriving next Saturday or Sunday (Dec. 20 or 21) and then another around Christmas Day or Dec. 26.

By all appearances, the first storm will bring a cold rain to the Carolinas. All of this probably will change many times between now and next weekend, but the latest forecast track takes the storm across Texas and Oklahoma, and then up through Tennessee and into the eastern Great Lakes.

There might be enough cold air in place across North Carolina for some icing problems, but it really looks as if rain will be the most likely scenario.

It could be a different story with the second storm, especially if the first system is able to drag colder air into the Southeast in its wake.

It will be interesting to watch all this unfold in the coming week.

The real long-range guidance is hinting at a return of arctic air into the eastern United States after Christmas. But this is well off in the distance.

Christmas Trivia ... In earlier blog entries, I wrote about the Charlie Brown Christmas Special and the most successful holiday movies.

Today, we'll focus on Christmas snowstorms.

Anyone who has been in Charlotte for more than a few years knows that it's snowed fewer than a half-dozen times on Christmas Day. The most recent was 2010, when a storm system crossed the northern Gulf of Mexico and brought 1 to 3 inches of snow from northeast Georgia to the Charlotte area. Totals of 4 to 8 inches were reported in some of the foothills.

The most amazing Christmas storm, however, took place in 1989 and affected the coast.

Very cold air was in place that year, a few days before Christmas. A low pressure system moved up the East Coast and dumped heavy snow from northern Florida to North Carolina before veering out to sea. Charlotte had hazy sunshine and very cold temperatures. It was a different story along the coast.

Jacksonville, Fla., had its first white Christmas, with 2.5 inches falling Dec. 22 at Jacksonville Beach and 0.8 inches at the city's airport. On the Georgia coast, Brunswick had 4 inches and Savannah 3.6.

The snow fell Dec. 23 and early Dec. 24 on the Carolinas coast, with South Carolina totals of 14 inches in Myrtle Beach, 8 inches in Charleston, and 4.3 inches in Florence. North Carolina totals were 19.5 inches in Longwood, 15.3 inches at the Wilmington airport, 15 inches in Southport, 13.3 inches in Cape Hatteras, and 2.7 inches in Fayetteville.

Columbia and Raleigh each got a trace.

Zero-degree weather accompanied the snow.

The Wilmington office of the National Weather Service has a write-up on this storm. It truly was a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Weather won't cooperate with ACC

It looks as if part and possibly all of Saturday's ACC football championship celebration and game in Charlotte could take place in a rainy setting.

Low pressure is expected to develop and move up the Appalachians on Saturday, bringing a steady rain to the Charlotte region. The heaviest of the rain is expected in the afternoon and early evening, as a cold front approaches.

There could even be a thunderstorm in the mix.

The good news is temperatures will be milder than Friday. In advance of the cold front, we could see readings approach 60 degrees Saturday afternoon. Those temperatures will fall when the cold front passes, which likely will be near the 8 p.m. kickoff at Bank of America Stadium between Florida State and Georgia Tech.

The threat of rain on ACC football championship Saturday is nothing new in Charlotte. We've had to deal with it a couple times since the title game was moved here in 2010.

Once the cold front passes through, the rain will end. Temperatures will drop through the 50s, but the rest of the evening should be dry.

By the way ... in case you're wondering, the long-range forecasts indicate a changeover to colder weather in the last week of December.  That will arrive in time to put a chill on the Belk Bowl, to be played Dec. 30 in Charlotte.

More Christmas Trivia ... The other day, I mentioned that I'd be looking at some interesting Christmas facts in the coming weeks.

Today, let's look at the most successful Christmas movies, as measured by total ticket sales. Want to guess what it is?  No, it's not "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation." In fact, Clark Griswold and the gang didn't even crack the top 10.

The all-time leading money-maker is "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," which has earned more than $260 million since its release Nov. 17, 2010.

Second, with $183 million, is "Polar Express." That Tom Hanks movie off the iconic Christmas book debuted Nov. 10, 2004.

The rest of the top five: "Elf," with $173 million since its Nov. 7, 2003, release; "The Santa Clause," with $144 million since its Nov. 11, 1994, release. And "Santa Clause 2," which has earned $139 million. It was released Nov. 1, 2002.

"National Lampoon" is 12th, with $71 million in the theaters. Of course, it was released Dec. 1, 1989, when tickets were a lot less expensive than now. Another classic, "A Christmas Story," is 28th, with $20 million. It was released Nov. 18, 2003, and became a much bigger movie on TV than it ever was in the theaters.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

What happened to winter? ... and a note about Charlie Brown

The back-door cold front that pushed south from Virginia and crossed Charlotte on Tuesday morning certainly brought an end to the unseasonably warm weather we had Monday, but it didn't deliver anything remotely resembling winter conditions.

Instead, we had temperatures around 50 degrees Tuesday afternoon, instead of the low 70s that warmed the region Monday.

But we'll be back in the 60s on Wednesday and possibly Thursday, then fall back to the upper 40s and 50s Friday. That will be due to another back-door cold front arriving later Thursday.

Still, we're talking about 40s and 50s as the cooler temperatures, and overnight lows are forecast to stay above freezing.

That's a lot milder than the frigid weather we experienced in November, and the news is that there's still no sign of a return to really cold weather. Meteorologists who specialize in long-range forecasts say it appears as if we'll remain mild -- with seasonal temperatures and occasional above-average readings -- through at least the first half of December.

If you'll remember, the catalyst for the November chill was a strong hurricane that pushed into the Gulf of Alaska as a very strong storm system and disrupted the jet stream. Now we're watching another storm, Typhoon Hagupit.

It's unclear is Hagupit, which is expected to become a super typhoon (a Pacific version of a major hurricane), will push westward and cross the Philippines, or curve north and pass east of Japan. If Hagupit curves northward, it could wind up in the Gulf of Alaska in another week or so, and that might trigger another outbreak of bitter cold in the eastern United States.

In the meantime, there's no sign of real winter for the Carolinas, and it looks as if it will be at least mid-December -- and, likely, later than that -- before we return to really cold conditions.

Christmas stuff (today, Charlie Brown): Over the next few weeks, I'll add a little seasonal touch to my blog. On occasion, it'll have a weather connection, but it also might be other holiday trivia -- or a list of the best and worst Christmas songs and movies.

I thought I'd start with Charlie Brown, one of my favorites.  The original Christmas special will air Tuesday night at 8:30 p.m. on ABC (WSOC-TV in Charlotte). It'll air again at 8 p.m. Dec. 16, also on ABC and WSOC.

Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of this special, and I found some interesting facts.

For example, did you realize that the 1965 TV special was groundbreaking? "Peanuts" writer Charles Schultz and the TV show's director, Bill Melendez, took the unusual step of using children for the voices of the characters. Typically, adults were the voices of cartoons. An 8-year-old named Peter Robbins was the voice of Charlie Brown. Robbins later went on to sell real estate and encountered legal problems a few years ago.

Some other interesting facts:

-- While the show was being recorded, the rock group Jefferson Airplane was recording an album in the next studio. Members of Jefferson Airplane came over and got the autographs of children in the Charlie Brown special.

-- Melendez and others involved in the production thought the show was horrible, and they expected a total dud. They were shocked when the cartoon was met with nearly universal acclaim.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Toasty forecast for early December

I know people who want cold temperatures during the weeks leading up to Christmas. They say it gets them in the holiday spirit.

I also know people who have been shivering this month and are not happy about November's cold weather.

Here is some pleasant news for the latter group:  The first part of December will be warmer, according to just about every long-range forecast.

The change to milder weather is likely to start at the end of this weekend and early next week, when the overall atmospheric pattern across the United States changes to a zonal flow.  Instead of the huge kink in the jet stream that sent arctic air cruising southward into the United States in recent weeks, we'll be looking at more of a west-to-east flow of weather systems.

That means warmer temperatures.

The polar vortex will intensify at the North Pole, which will bring the frigid air back to the far north. And that will allow milder air from the Pacific Ocean to dominate weather across the United States.

The best guess from meteorologists is that temperatures will run somewhere in the ballpark of 4 to 6 degrees above average for the first two weeks of December. Normal highs and lows in Charlotte at that time of year are around 55 and 34 degrees.

This month is likely to finish among the 10 coldest Novembers on record in Charlotte. As of Sunday, the average temperature in the city was 5.3 degrees below seasonal norms.  That deficit decreased with Monday's mild weather, but it will build again with chillier conditions returning for the rest of the week.

That means your heating bills will be a lot higher than usual for November.

How long will the mild trend last?

The long-range forecasts for December show question marks after the first two weeks of the month. Meteorologists who specialize in seasonal forecasts have said that December and early January are likely to be changeable, before a cold snap arrives in the latter half of January and into February.