Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas snow? Let's be cautious

Yes, the National Weather Service forecast is mentioning that word for Christmas Day.

But will it really snow in Charlotte for the holiday? History indicates we should be very cautious before planning a sleigh ride down Providence Road on Saturday evening.

The computer models used for weather forecasting agree that a strong storm system hammering California today will cross the Rockies, dive toward the Gulf Coast, and then move up the East Coast by Saturday and Sunday.

There seems little argument that parts of the East Coast could get a major winter storm late Saturday and into Sunday. If you're planning a Christmas trip to Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York or even farther north, then snow is a good chance.

Roads could be in bad shape later Saturday and Sunday, and the flight schedules could be a mess both days.

Depending on the track of the storm, inland parts of the Middle Atlantic and New England could get hammered. If the storm hugs the coast, then heavy snow will fall in places like Frederick and Hagerstown in Maryland; the Harrisburg and Scranton-Wilkes Barre areas of Pennsylvania; and upstate New York.

But what about the Carolinas? Well, here is your lineup of computer model predictions. Take your choice:

GEM: This is the snow-lovers' computer model. It predicts the storm system will cross northern Florida, reach the coast near Charleston, and curve north. That would mean a significant snowstorm for the Charlotte region, starting as rain late Friday night but changing to snow by Christmas morning. Under this scenario, the snow-rain dividing line could be well into South Carolina.

ECMWF (European): This computer model takes the storm along the Gulf Coast. That would mean temperatures in Charlotte will be cold enough for snow, but most of the precipitation would stay to the south. We might see snow, but not enough for any significant accumulations.

GFS: Meet the Grinch, oh you fans of a white Christmas. The GFS predicts the storm's center will cross the Charlotte area. That means rain, except for snow in the mountains. In fact, the rain could be rather heavy, in this scenario.

Doug Outlaw, of the National Weather Service office in Greer, S.C., says forecasters there are leaning toward the GEM forecast, for snow in the Charlotte area. For now, they believe the best chance of accumulating snow would be northwest of Interstate 85.

The forecasters at private companies like Accu-Weather and the Weather Channel are following the GFS. They predict rain for Charlotte.

"It's simply too early to know for sure," Outlaw said. "In a day or two, I think we'll start seeing the models come more in line with one another. That's when we'll get a better idea of what actually will happen."

Either way, Outlaw says, the storm will be a newsmaker as it rolls up the East Coast after leaving the Carolinas.

"Some places up there will certainly get their white Christmas," he said.

In case you're wondering, the last serious white Christmas in Charlotte was in 1947, which was so long ago that even I hadn't been born yet. That year, 5.8 inches of snow fell in the Queen City. There also was a 4-inch snowfall in 1880 and 0.2 inches in 1909.

A trace -- we're talking about brief flurries -- was recorded several times, including 2007, 1998 and 1993.

Last year produced a major rainstorm in Charlotte, but there was a devastating ice storm in the N.C. mountains. Up to a half-inch of ice accumulated in Watauga and neighboring counties, knocking out power to tens of thousands of customers for several days.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...

wgbjr said...

Would be interesting to see a white Christmas in my lifetime. The UKMET model has the low hugging the coast as well. I thought I read the European had us in a good setup for snow vs. some of the other modeling?

Anyway, I was surprised to see GSP jump on the snow wagon this early. They are usually more reserved in their forecasts concerning winter weather.

Anonymous said...

a white Christmas?!! eeks! yay! snow! and snowcream! cross your fingers :)

Anonymous said...

Please snow on Christmas. Like a real snow....

Anonymous said...

Sure would be a nice surpise for everyone after 1947!

Anonymous said...

There was a white Christmas in Fayetteville in 1989. Did Charlotte not get any of that snow?

wgbjr said...

The only white Christmas I remember in the Charlotte area was the dusting in 1998. And by dusting, I really mean a few white patches here and there. Doesn't really qualify as a white Christmas, but for Charlotte it was pretty good. I don't remember '93 or '07 having flurries, but it likely depended on where you were standing, as is typical with Charlotte snow.

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 11:49....

I was in Greenville, NC that year
(1989) just a few days before Christmas, and while the Eastern NC got pounded with snow, it was a very easy drive home (so to speak), as it was just rainy and cold for Charlotte that year.

Anonymous said...

I lived in Eastern NC in 89 and remember the snow (and accompanying ice) that we got. We slid across a few roads trying to get to grandma's house. I would love another white Christmas!

Anonymous said...

Predicted temps have nose-dived for the weekend in the latest model runs. What was a rain event looks to be a snow event now.

Anonymous said...

The Euro model has us getting hammered. Up to 10". Pro mets are saying things like "once in a lifetime storm"....

Anonymous said...

The problem is we had two forecasts of significant snow last year and they both petered out so until Saturday morning gets here I'm not counting my chickens (thought I was gonna say snowflakes, right? Idiots!) Anyway... I always thought we ALWAYS had white xmas's as a kid in New York but it turns out the last one was also in 1947, 7 years before I was born. Ah, memories. They can be useless sometimes.

J said...

It sure would be nice to get a good snow. The two we have had this year, where there is tons of snow in the air but it melted or evaporated before it ever got to the ground, don't count. So I hope GEM is right and we get 4-5 inches (which is still a light snow for a native Ohio cat like me).

And all you winter haters - remember that whenever we get real snow here, the temp is 55 within 2 days and it's all gone.

Anonymous said...

Got me 4 bottles of wine at Costco today. I am ready!!!

Richard said...

Just more chicken little weather hype.

Anonymous said...

The weather outside is frightful, and you are so delightful, let it snow, let it snow, let snow!

Anonymous said...

Bah humbug

Anonymous said...

Be careful what you wish for. Anything more than an inch or so in Charlotte can wreak havoc on transportation if the frozen precip sticks to the roads. Have a heart for all the people traveling over Christmas. Travel by road is dangerous enough without slick roads and people not used to driving in snow attempting it for the first time in years. The city of Charlotte and state DOT do not keep enough resources on hand to handle anything more than a minor snow event. People who live on back roads and side streets will be on their own if any ice sticks around. Any snow that comes, I hope will be light, brief, and gone within hours.

Anonymous said...

Let is snow! I hope to see a good snow out of this. Many know drivers who can not drive do so on clear days and yes I know this could make it hazardous. But it IS winter, it IS a possibility. I suspect many travelers will need to watch the weather and plan for safety. For those of us who are not traveling (first in a while for me) I would love to add this hint of Magic to the Holidays! I know my kiddos will love it as much as I do. So yep I have a heart for those who travel but it is like a hot stove or poking a puppy when you should not. You could become burned or bit. Hopefully those who are traveling will be smart about any weather they encounter. Old man winter could rear its head this weekend or next year and it would not stop those who are determined to drive in it.