Monday, December 31, 2012

After one month of winter ...

The first month of meteorological winter is nearly at an end, and if one trend has developed, it's been the lack of truly cold air in the Southeast.

Most meteorologists point to persistent low pressure over the Pacific Ocean, off the western coast of the United States, as the dominant player in our weather for December.  The counter-clockwise flow around the low has blocked the intrusion of polar air into the Southeast.

First, let's get the whole winter definition thing straight.  Meteorologists define winter as being from Dec. 1 through Feb. 28 -- or about three weeks ahead of the traditional definition of the season.

December 2012 will be among the 15 warmest in the 137 years of record-keeping in Charlotte. The average temperature will be about 6.7 degrees above the norm. There were nine days when the high was 65 degrees or warmer.

The final part of the month was cooler, but the chilly weather recently came far short of negating what happened earlier in the month.

For those hoping a winter storm would arrive in Charlotte, December has been a bust.

The month started dry, continuing a trend that began in September and created severe drought conditions in most of the Charlotte region. But over the last half of the month, the storm track has been pushed to the south, and a steady stream of low pressure systems has crossed the Carolinas.

For the first time since September, we're experiencing above-average rainfall for the month.

What's ahead?

Most of the long-range meteorologists I've read are predicting mild weather through the first two-thirds of January.  It's possible a renegade winter system could develop, possibly in a cold-air damming situation, but if the experts are to be believed, it will be at least the 20th of the month before cold air arrives in the Carolinas. And there's really no guarantee it'll come then.

One warning ... long-range forecasts come with plenty of shortcomings. After all, we heard predictions of polar outbreaks in the Charlotte region in early December and again around Christmas.  It didn't happen.

Meteorologists say the forecasts of five to seven days are a lot more reliable.  For now, we're looking at a continuation of the recent trend -- temperatures at, or slightly below, seasonal averages; and precipitation every three days or so.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Big storm looms for Christmas night, Dec. 26

A major storm system appears likely to bring a wide variety of bad weather to the central and eastern United States on Christmas night and Wednesday.

The Carolinas might escape the worst of the system, instead getting what we need most -- lots of rain.

But strong winds behind the storm system could be a problem, and we're still not clear from the threat of severe weather Wednesday.

The storm is expected to bring heavy snow and blizzard conditions to parts of the Midwest and Great Lakes, and an outbreak of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes is possible in the Deep South.

This is not what holiday travelers need, and it might be best for anyone planning to hit the road to consider waiting a day -- or leaving a day earlier.

In an effort to make some sense from this storm, I'll break this into three categories -- winter weather, severe weather, and the Carolinas.

WINTER WEATHER -- Areas north and northwest of the low pressure's center will get the heavy snow and blizzard conditions.

As of now, meteorologists expect the storm to cross the Rockies, move over the Midwest (somewhere near St. Louis), then push eastward along the Ohio River before making a rather northeast turn over Indiana and central Ohio.

Snow likely will hit the Rockies late Christmas Eve and early Christmas Day, and it will reach the Mississippi River area later Christmas Day. Snowfall will come Wednesday over southern Illinois, central Indiana and Ohio.

As of now (and this is subject to change), cities that stand a chance of getting heavy snow include St. Louis, Indianapolis, Detroit and Cleveland.  People in places on the edge of the heavy snow band -- Chicago, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Louisville and Pittsburgh -- show pay close attention to forecasts over the next 36 hours.

SEVERE WEATHER -- We could be looking at a tornado outbreak on Christmas Day. The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., has issued a "moderate" risk of severe storms and tornadoes on Christmas from central and northern Louisiana eastward across central Mississippi and Alabama.

On Wednesday, the threat moves eastward into the Carolinas and northern Florida. The area from Charlotte eastward is included in the risk of severe thunderstorms.

CAROLINAS WEATHER -- Rain likely will spread into the Charlotte region by Christmas evening or night. Then forecasters expect milder air to blow into the area overnight. That will make the atmosphere unstable, and when a cold front being dragged by the big storm system moves across the Carolinas during the day Wednesday, severe weather is possible.

Rainfall could total 1 to 2 inches across the region.

The other threat will be post-frontal wind. A strong circulation around the low pressure system will bring gusty northwest winds into the Charlotte region Wednesday night and early Thursday. That, combined with all the rain, could topple trees and cause power outages.

After weeks, even months, of calm weather, we're about to get a stormy 36-hour period across the region.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Snow ... it was a long time coming

Heavy snow was falling Friday afternoon in the typical lake-effect areas, where northwest and west winds were delivering a steady flow of cold, unstable air.

That included North Carolina's mountains, where Beech Mountain picked up 3 to 5 inches since around daybreak. At midday, there were numerous reports of 1 to 3 inches on the ground in the high country, and that's certainly good news to the ski resort operators.

It's also enough to bring a smile to those who were looking for a White Christmas in the mountains.

It also was snowing hard in the places where northwest flow typically does its thing -- near Buffalo; east of Cleveland, on the Michigan side of Lake Michigan; in the Pennsylvania and West Virginia mountains; and, of course, in upstate New York south of Lake Ontario.

That comes on the heels of the heavy snow that fell late Wednesday and Thursday across Iowa, Wisconsin and parts of northwest Illinois.

I saw some amazing numbers, that tell a lot more about last winter than this season.

Last winter, of course, was among the mildest on record in much of the eastern United States. Charlotte's total snowfall was a trace, and it all fell in a one-hour period -- in the form of sleet -- on a Sunday evening in February.

It was the same story in the Great Lakes, the Midwest, and on the East Coast.  And the early part of this year has continued the trend.  It was colder than average in November, but little or no snow fell.

So when snow finally came down Thursday in Chicago, it marked the time in 290 days that the white stuff fell in the Windy City. Cleveland got snow Friday -- also the first time in 290 days.

Those are among the longest periods in history without snow.

Long-range trends point toward colder-than-average temperatures in January, so I think we can expect that snowfall will come with much more frequency now.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Weather Service eyes change in warnings

The National Weather Service is launching a three-month test on changes in the wording of its winter weather advisories and warnings.

The test is the result of a study showing that some people are confused by exactly what is meant by a Winter Weather Advisory, Winter Storm Watch, and Winter Storm Warning.

The goal is to make the headlines a bit clearer, so people get an idea of what type of winter weather threat is possible, and when it might happen.

Basically, a Winter Weather Advisory is issued when relatively minor amounts of snow, ice or sleet are expected. In an advisory situation, we're told that the wintry precipitation will be a nuisance, but not enough to cause a major problem.

The Winter Storm Watch is much like a Tornado Watch or a Hurricane Watch.  It's notification that a potentially significant winter storm is possible, although meteorologists aren't certain enough to issue a warning.

And the Winter Storm Warning is used when a significant amount of snow, sleet and/or freezing rain is expected in an area soon.

Here are some examples of how it would change.

For advisories ...

Current: "The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Weather Advisory for snow."

Change: "The National Weather Service advises caution for light snow."

For watches ...

Current: The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Watch."

Change: The National Weather Service forecasts the potential for heavy snow."

For warnings ...

Current: The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Warning."

Change: The National Weather Service has issued a warning for a dangerous snow and sleet storm."

The experiment will take place until March 31 at 26 National Weather Service offices across the country. The Charlotte region is served by four offices.  Greer (S.C.) oversees Charlotte and most other area counties. Raleigh oversees Anson, Richmond, Stanly and Montgomery counties in the Charlotte region. Columbia handles Lancaster and Chesterfield counties in our area. And the Blacksburg (Va.) office oversees Watauga, Ashe and Wilkes counties in the Charlotte region.

Blacksburg is the only Charlotte-area office asked to participate in the experiment this winter.

But if the Weather Service likes what it sees, we all could be getting our winter weather advisories, watches and warnings a new way next year.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Between now and the Belk Bowl ...

We're in for a little of everything over the next 10 days, but the overall trend will be from mild to chilly, and there's even some wintry precipitation in the forecast for some of us, probably.

Many people will be traveling this weekend, in advance of the Christmas holiday, and there'll be additional activities next week, including the Belk Bowl football game Dec. 27 in Charlotte.

It looks as if we'll see three rain episodes -- today, Thursday, and Dec. 26 or 27 (that might be more than rain ... we'll deal with that later).  Temperatures will be above average the next four days, then dip gradually and finish below-average by Christmas week.

Let's break it into five parts:

TODAY ... We got some much-needed rainfall Sunday evening and overnight, with many areas receiving a half-inch or more.  There was .58 of an inch in my rain gauge, as of daybreak Monday. Another area of rain will move into the area around midday and continue into this evening.  Overall precipitation totals could be an inch for many people in the Charlotte region.

Temperatures will probably remain in the upper 50s for the rest of the afternoon.

TUESDAY-WEDNESDAY ... This will be one of the quiet periods. Mild Pacific high pressure will dominate the region, with sunny to partly cloudy skies much of the time. Temperatures will be well above average (53 is the average high), climbing into the low 60s Tuesday and the mid 60s Wednesday.

THURSDAY ... A strong cold front will advance on the region. It'll cloud up Thursday, with showers arriving by afternoon. Temperatures will reach about 60 degrees, but it'll be the last mild day for a stretch.

FRIDAY-CHRISTMAS ... Colder air will filter into the Carolinas on Friday. There's a good chance for a northwest-flow snow event in the mountains Friday, with a fetch of cold, unstable air being carried to the Tennessee-North Carolina border from the Great Lakes. That could produce a couple inches of snow in the mountains -- just in time for Christmas.

Down here in the lower elevations, high temperatures will only reach 50 degrees Friday (a gusty breeze will make it seem colder), and then the lower 50s Saturday and Sunday. But it'll be sunny, and those temperatures are average for this time of year.

Incidentally, that cold front will bring strong winds and some heavy snow to parts of the Midwest and Great Lakes. If you're planning travel in that direction late this week, you could have problems.

Gradually cooler air will push into our region Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but a continuation of dry weather is expected. As of now, look for highs in in the upper 40s for Christmas Eve and the low to mid 40s on Christmas Day. It'll be a chilly Christmas.

DEC. 26-27 ... This is where it gets tricky.  The consensus is that a storm system will cross the central and eastern United States.  But the details are unclear.

Certainly, cold air will be in place across the East, and precipitation will be snow somewhere in the Midwest and Great Lakes.  The best bet for the Carolinas, at least in the lower elevations, is for a chilly rain event.

But if cold air damming were to establish itself -- which would happen if strong high pressure were parked in New England on Dec. 26 -- then freezing rain would be a possibility in parts of the Carolinas.

For now, the computer models seem to be indicating temperatures will be in the 40s in the Charlotte region during the precipitation. But we'll be watching this.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Much colder ... in time for Christmas

We've been talking for so long about a possible change to more wintry conditions in the Carolinas, and it looks more than ever as if a big cool down is coming in time for Christmas.

The computer models are in agreement that a shot of arctic air will push into the eastern United States next weekend and hang around through Christmas.

For now, it looks like dry cold -- i.e., no snow or ice.  But with temperatures that cold, even a minor disturbance zipping across the Carolinas could bring a little holiday excitement.

The National Weather Service office in Greer, S.C., is hinting at the change in its latest forecast, predicting a high in the upper 40s next Friday. Its forecast range is seven days, so it'll be interesting to see what the prediction for next Saturday (Dec. 22) is.

If some of the forecasts verify, we could be in for a few days when high temperatures struggle to hit 40 degrees and morning lows are in the teens. That would be around Christmas.

Before all that happens, we're finally looking at a chance of measurable rain on Sunday and Monday. The heaviest precipitation is expected across Georgia and western South Carolina, but the computer models paint a swath of a half-inch to three-quarters of an inch in much of the Charlotte region.

We'll update this Christmas forecast over the weekend.  With many people hitting the road for holiday visits, the weather will be a big issue.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Something to watch tonight: Meteor shower

We've been talking for days about possible storms and possible outbreaks of polar air.

Today let's talk about something that's certain to happen -- a meteor shower.

It's the Geminid meteor shower, an annual December event, and astronomers say the peak viewing will be tonight. This year's shower could be better than usual.

That's because the moon is in a new phase, which means there won't be any moonlight to distract from the sight of meteors zipping into the Earth's atmosphere.

The meteors are fragments of an asteroid, and astronomers say there could be 50 to 100 per hour at times overnight.

You'll be able to see them from about 9 p.m. until dawn. They'll be soaring across the sky, but they seem to originate from the constellation Gemini the Twins. That is above and a bit to the left of Sirius, one of the brightest lights in the nighttime sky.

At 9 p.m., Gemini will be rather low in the east-northeast sky. By 2 a.m., when the meteor shower will be at its peak, Gemini will be almost overhead.  It should be quite a show.

One warning ... dress for the weather.  Tonight will be the coldest night in Charlotte for about two weeks, with lows in the upper 20s by Friday morning.

You also might want to check out a Web chat sponsored tonight by scientists at NASA's Marshall Space Center. You can find it at

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Storms, and rumors of storms

We've been waiting for weeks to see a change in the weather pattern across the United States, especially the Southeast.

For several weeks, the weather generally has been warm and dry, with only a few exceptions. The storm track, for the most part, has been to our north, which means we've missed out on the significant rainfall. And when it does rain, as is happening today, the precipitation is much lighter than what we need, to put a dent in our big rainfall deficit.

(By the way ... at 2:15 p.m., there seem to be some radar returns that indicate a few sleet pellets might mix with the rain. But any sleet will be transitory. Today's system is a rain-maker.)

What is expected, at some point, is for the storm track to be pushed farther south, so that low pressure systems cross some part of the Southeast; and for polar air to break free in Alaska and move southward into the continental United States.

There's no definitive sign from the computer models of a major cool down in the Southeast anytime soon, although it appears as if our above-average temperatures will fall back to average levels -- and maybe a few degrees below average -- by the middle of next week.

The storm track also is a question mark.

One major system is expected to sweep across the country this weekend, but that storm is expected to run across the Great Lakes.  The next low pressure system is expected around the middle of next week. Some computer models show that storm crossing the Southeast and bringing the potential of heavy precipitation, but the recent runs have been trending farther north -- once again, keeping the much-needed rain away from us.

Now the talk is about a system that could develop in the Dec. 22-24 time frame, with a storm coming off the Pacific Ocean, sweeping across the Southwest, and then moving across the country -- just in time to make a mess of holiday travel.

Once again, the big question for us in the Carolinas is what path the storm will follow after it exits the Southwest. Will it move into the Gulf of Mexico and then come across the Southeast?  Or will it curve northeast, and move up the Ohio Valley or across the Great Lakes?

Either way, it seems as if we're moving into a stormier pattern, much as had been expected for the second half of December.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The real story -- drought

If this were June, we'd be in a state of panic across the Carolinas.

We'd be complaining about brown, dried-out lawns, and crops withering in the fields. We'd worry about lake water levels plummeting in the midst of summer heat.

Fortunately, our current drought has arrived in late autumn and early winter, so it's not quite the story it might be in summer.

But make no mistake about it. We're in a drought.

State officials said Thursday that Mecklenburg and surrounding counties are in a Moderate Drought, the lowest level of drought. In all, 65 counties have drought conditions, which is up from 54 a week ago. We're coming off one of our driest Novembers ever, and October also was bone-dry.

December has started the same way.

"Although we still haven't had any reports of public water supplies being affected, we are seeing impacts to streams, groundwater levels, and inflows to reservoirs," Tom Reeder, director of the N.C. Division of Water Resources, said Thursday.

Autumn typically is a very dry time of year in the Carolinas, but this fall has been extraordinarily dry. The storm track has been pushed well to the north of the region, and when a storm system moved up the East Coast, it was too far east to bring rain to the Charlotte region.

When will things change?  Who knows?

Meteorologists initially predicted El Nino conditions this winter. That would have increased the rainfall chances for the Southeast.  But now the El Nino forecast has disappeared, and we'll have what's called a "neutral" winter.

The computer models offer little or no help.  In late November, some of the models predicted a change to cold and stormy conditions in early December.  Instead, it was unseasonably warm and dry.

I wrote two days ago about the latest predictions, of a change to wet and much colder weather after the middle of the month.  But in the world of weather, the saying is, "The trend is your friend." It's been dry, so until we see a change, we can expect more of the same.

A cold front will bring us a chance of showers and thunderstorms later Monday, but that won't cure our ills. Rainfall in Charlotte this year is more than 9 inches below seasonal averages. One cold front won't make up for that.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Big change coming for mid/late December?

Weather bulletin boards have been abuzz for several days with discussions about a major change in the weather pattern coming later this month for the central and eastern United States, including the Southeast.

This could have major ramifications on a lot of people's travel plans over the Christmas and New Years holidays.

The consensus seems to be that two changes are headed our way:

-- Wetter conditions, which seems rather likely.

-- Colder weather, which is not quite a certain bet.

The computer models, for the most part, show a shift in the pattern at higher latitudes (i.e., Alaska, Canada, Greenland, northern Europe) that would allow much colder air to slide southward into the United States. Some of the models have been inconsistent on the details, but it seems likely that the colder air will at least reach the northern half of the country.

That, in turn, will push the storm track -- which has been north of the Carolinas -- a lot farther south. We could see a hint of that next week, with wetter conditions in parts of the Southeast.

Eventually, the thinking goes (at least for some meteorologists), colder air will seep even farther south. Add that to a much wetter pattern, and you have the chance of cold rain or frozen precipitation in parts of the south.

When will this happen?  The consensus seems to be somewhere around Dec. 20, just before Christmas.

My brother Michael, who I've written about before, has been harping about this to me for several days. He's much better at interpreting the models, and Michael insists a colder and stormy pattern will descend into the central and eastern part of the country as December progresses.  I'll take his word.  He correctly predicted the major pattern shift in mid-February 2011, when the Southeast turned balmy after 2 1/2 frigid months, and last winter's very mild conditions.

Some signs point to the eventual arrival of cold air in the Southeast. There's a negative North Atlantic Oscillation and Arctic Oscillation, and the computer models show signs of high pressure building in Alaska. Those are conditions that mean cold in the eastern United States.

But there also is a persistent trough in the Pacific, which has blocked the southward movement of cold air. 

I suspect this is a topic we'll be following closely over the next 10 to 14 days.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

10 years ago ... coated in ice

Ten years ago today, the Charlotte region awoke to the sounds of cracks and crashes.

It was a symphony of tree limbs and trees crashing onto roofs, cars and the ice-covered ground, in the wake of the worst ice storm in decades.

The ice storm of Dec. 4-5, 2002, left millions of Carolinas residents without power, some of them for many days in winter cold. It caused at least three deaths, changed the region's tree scape permanently in places, and served as a reminder that ice -- not snow -- is the big winter danger in the region.

A cold front ushered in arctic air a few days before the storm, bringing unseasonably cold temperatures into the Carolinas. Then a low pressure system formed over the lower Mississippi Valley and moved eastward.

The area from York County northeast to Raleigh was locked in a cold air wedge. Chilly air was funneled into the Piedmont from a high pressure system parked over New England. Precipitation from the low pressure system moved into that pocket of cold air.

Farther to the north, in Virginia, the temperatures in the atmosphere -- from higher levels to the ground -- were below freezing. So the precipitation fell as all snow, dumping 1 to 2 feet along the Interstate 81 corridor.

But in the Piedmont, a pocket of above-freezing temperatures a short distance above the ground melted the snow as it fell, turning it to rain. Temperatures at the surface were below freezing, however. So when the rain hit the ground, it froze.

Freezing rain is not uncommon in the Piedmont, but the amount of rain that fell in the December 2002 storm was heavy enough to cause buildups of 1 inch of ice in many places.  Meteorologists say that accumulations of a half-inch or more are enough to cause trouble.

The December 2002 storm caused plenty of trouble.

The storm broke a record for Duke Energy power outages in the Carolinas -- 1.375 million customers left without electricity. Other companies across the Piedmont were similarly hit.

In comparison, about 700,000 outages were reported in a December 2005 ice storm that hit the western Carolinas and northeast Georgia. Hurricane Hugo caused 696,000 power outages.

Across the Charlotte region on the morning of Dec. 5, 2002, trees and tree limbs fell.

Road conditions weren't bad.  For the most part, the streets were wet. But power was out almost everywhere.

A number of people made the mistake of trying to heat their homes with charcoal grills. More than 250 carbon monoxide cases were reported across the region on the first day of the storm.

Don McSween, Charlotte's city arborist, said 30 percent of the oak trees were damaged.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police reported burglaries increased 54 percent during the five days after the storm, as crooks took advantage of homes where residents had left, seeking shelter in hotels or with friends fortunate enough to have electricity and heat.

Duke Energy paid $87 million to repair the damage, including $56.5 million to pay for outside labor -- repair crews who came from across the eastern United States to help restore power.

The Rev. Brad Busiek, pastor at Newell Presbyterian Church, had arrived from Texas a few months before the ice storm. On the Sunday after the storm (Dec. 8), Busiek began his homily with a variation of a familiar poem: "Twas the ice before Christmas, when all through the house, everyone was shivering, especially my spouse."

At St. John Neumann Catholic Church in east Charlotte on that Sunday morning, there was a moment that almost seemed miraculous. In the middle of Mass, being celebrated in candlelight, the power came back on.

What would be different if such a storm hit today?

Duke Energy, which received generally good grades from the N.C. Utilities Commission in a post-storm study, has changed some its policies. One of those includes a beefed-up database for keeping track of power outages. That system has been helpful in storms since 2002, company officials say.

Duke's staff of meteorologists also earned praise, for correctly predicting that significant ice damage was likely in the Piedmont. That allowed the company to position its repair crews properly. In the wake of Hurricane Hugo, Duke Energy restored power to an average of 38,667 customers a day. After the ice storm, that daily average was 152,777.

The arrival of smart phones and other hand-held devices would create a different scenario today, especially in distributing information. In 2002, if the power was out, so were people's computers, for the most part. Today, residents could get news from their phones and other "smart" devices, without the need for electricity.

As was the case with Hurricane Hugo, we can hope that the December 2002 ice storm was a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Photo: Dec. 4, 2002 in Winston-Salem.  From left, Darren Richards, Trayshawn Davis and Jasmine Carter, play in the snow. Winston-Salem Journal, David Sandler

Friday, November 30, 2012

Final look at the hurricane season

Our minds are focusing on winter weather now, and the long-range computer models still can't seem to agree on a possible change to much colder and stormier weather in mid-December, but let's take a break today and put the 2012 hurricane season to bed.

Today is the final official day of the season, and it proved to be busier than usual.

Actually, it was busy mostly for meteorologists, because the U.S. mainland -- with two notable exceptions -- escaped the wrath of the busy season.

There were 19 named storms in the Atlantic and Caribbean in 2012, and that's well above the seasonal average of 12. In fact, 2012 was tied for the fifth-busiest tropical season ever. Interestingly, that total of 19 named storms has been reached five times -- including the past three years, 2010 through 2012.

That, of course, adds support to the theory that we're in a busy cycle of tropical storm activity.

I've read the summaries on each of the 19 storms this season, and a couple things jump out at me:

THE EARLY START ... The first named system was Tropical Storm Alberto, and it formed on May 19 off the South Carolina coast.  And if that wasn't enough, Tropical Storm Beryl formed a week later, also off the S.C. coast. Both of those storms drifted southwest and made landfall in Florida.

NOTHING MAJOR ... Only one hurricane achieved "major" status, which is for Category 3, 4 or 5 storms. That was Michael, which had top winds of 115 mph as a Category 3.  Sandy and Gordon each had top winds of 110 mph. So for the most part, our busy season consisted of tropical storms and weaker hurricanes.

ONLY FOUR U.S. LANDFALLS ... And two of those were the weak early-season tropical storms, Alberto and Beryl.  The other two were hurricanes.  Isaac made landfall Aug. 28 in Louisiana, west of New Orleans. Fortunately, it caused nowhere near the damage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Isaac pushed northwest and died out in Oklahoma. Isaac caused $2.3 billion damage.

The other storm, of course, was Sandy. That made landfall in New Jersey on Oct. 29 and caused $50 billion damage. It has reshaped parts of the New Jersey coastline forever.  Sandy also defied logic several times, including its hard left turn into the Jersey shore. Normally, storms that ride up the East Coast generally follow the coast, rather than make 90-degree turns.

NADINE ... Few people really noticed Hurricane Nadine, and that's because it remained in the eastern and central Atlantic during its lifetime.  But Nadine was in existence, either as a tropical storm or hurricane, for 24 days. During those 3 1/2 weeks, it was carried back and forth by weak steering currents in late September.

CAROLINAS IMPACT ... Hurricane Sandy brushed the Outer Banks and did millions' of dollars in damage. However, the state was not affected by any dying tropical storms this season. Those systems often bring heavy rainfall to inland areas of the Carolinas. This year's storm tracks, however, kept weakening systems away from our region.


THAT WINTER OUTLOOK ... I plan to write again later this weekend, taking a look at that possible change in our weather pattern in two weeks or so.  The computer models keep flip-flopping on it, but it's certainly keeping meteorologists talking.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Winter weather postponed ... but for how long?

You might remember a week or so ago that I wrote about the computer models predicting an outbreak of very cold weather around the beginning of December.

Forget about it.

The king of weather for the eastern United States is a low pressure system off the Pacific Coast. It's called a positive East Pacific Oscillation (EPO) -- one of the many ingredients that goes into creating our weather. Here's what it means.

The positive EPO tends to send Pacific air masses into the central and eastern part of the country. For the most part, the atmospheric flow is zonal -- sort of like a flat west-to-east line.  There are some wrinkles, of course, but you get the basic idea. When that happens, our weather tends to be mild.

The pattern hasn't been exactly west-to-east in recent weeks, because a northwest flow has delivered some chilly air into the Carolinas. But the positive EPO has prevented the really cold air in Alaska from descending southward. High temperatures are below zero this week in Fairbanks.

Several factors are needed for wintry weather to develop in the Carolinas. They include a negative North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and possibly a strong high pressure system near Greenland.  That tends to send the really cold air into the eastern part of the United States. Add a stormy pattern, and you get snow, sleet and freezing rain.

We actually have a negative NAO now, but the positive EPO is overwhelming it -- blocking the cold air from coming south.

In addition to the positive EPO, we're also in a decidedly non-stormy pattern. Rainfall this month is more than 2 inches below average.

So how long will all this ask?

As usual, the computer models disagree.  But based on the many forecasts I've read in the last day or two, there seems a consensus that we'll stay mild through at least the first half of December.

In other words, the start of winter has been postponed.

Then again, December is typically not a big month for snow and ice in the Carolinas. That happened in 2010, but it's unusual. Most years, January and February are the real wintry months.

We need a change in the non-stormy situation.  Rainfall is badly needed, but there aren't many signs of that changing within the next 10 days either.

In the immediate future, this mild pattern means we'll be flirting with 70 degrees early next week.

CHILLY NOVEMBER: We're approaching the end of what has been a chilly month in Charlotte. The average temperature for November is 3.2 degrees below average, which makes this among the 15 coldest Novembers since records started being kept in Charlotte in the 1870s.

Sunday morning's low of 21 degrees marks the earliest it has been that cold in four years. Charlotte had a record-breaking low of 13 degrees on Nov. 22, 2008, and it dropped to 18 degrees a few days earlier. That month was 5.7 degrees below the average.

Temperatures the next few days will be around average, and it's doubtful that we'll see any more 20s in the remaining days of the month.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Wintry cold for weekend; longer- term forecast iffy

Christmas shoppers who like the idea of heading to the stores in shorts or light jackets should enjoy today. Temperatures across the Charlotte region are headed into the middle and upper 60s, after a chilly start.

But a big change is coming for the weekend, with temperatures that should please shoppers who feel they need a chill to get in the spirit.

The longer-range forecast is more uncertain, though.  Earlier this week, computer models were pointing to a dramatic cool-down and possibly even some wintry precipitation in parts of the Southeast during the first half of December.  But that looks a bit more unlikely now.

In the immediate future is an approaching cold front.

We had a chilly start Friday, and the Black Friday shoppers who visited the malls before daybreak encountered temperatures ranging from the middle 20s (26 degrees in northern Stanly County) to the mid 30s (near Charlotte).  However, temperatures soared quickly and were near 60 degrees by noon.

A rather strong cold front is crossing Tennessee at midday and should sweep across the Carolinas overnight. Fans headed out to  high school football playoff semifinals tonight should have a pleasant evening, with temperatures mostly in the 50s. The cold air won't funnel into the region until after midnight.

But you'll feel it Saturday. Highs aren't expected to climb above the upper 40s, which is below even the middle-of-winter average high temperatures. The cold temperatures will come despite full sunshine.

Sunday morning's low could be near 25 degrees, which would make it the coldest morning so far this season and the chilliest since a 24-degree low on March 6.

It will be sunny again Sunday, but still chilly. Warming begins Monday, and temperatures should remain near seasonal averages through the week.

Incidentally, Charlotte's average temperature this month also almost 3 degrees below seasonal norms -- the first time that has happened in many months.

Looking farther ahead, there are signs of a pattern change around Dec. 5-7, but it is unclear whether the atmospheric flow will be northwest-to-southeast (which would bring the cold) or more west-to-east (milder conditions).  We'll keep an eye on it next week, but as of right now, the beginning of December is looking milder than first thought.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Some talk about winter weather

I've noticed over the past few days that there is increasing talk on weather bulletin boards about the first arrival of really cold air into the Southeast.

The Global (GFS) computer model has been playing around with a scenario in which strong high pressure forms next week over southern Alaska, while a deep low pressure system develops in eastern Canada. If the two systems connect, that is the recipe for a surge of arctic air into the Southeast.

Add a low pressure system from the Gulf of Mexico, and you've got wintry precipitation in our region.

The odds favor this not happening -- not in early December.

The European model, for example, predicts the cold air will move into the Rockies. There's also a chance that the cold air remains trapped in Canada. That is the most likely scenario of the first few days of December, with Carolinas temperatures remaining around average for this time of year.

But for the first time this season, there's at least a wintry look for the eastern United States on some of the computer models.

There has been a significant change in the winter outlook across the country. Originally, meteorologists expected a weak El Nino condition, which would bring wet and chilly weather to much of the South. But now the forecast is for a neutral El Nino-La Nina situation.

That makes the North Atlantic Oscillation an important player in our weather. The NAO has been negative recently, which means weather systems have been dropping from Canada into the Southeast, then curving eastward to the Atlantic Coast, and then sweeping up the coast. That was the track of Hurricane Sandy, and it's been the same path for a couple other recent storm systems.

If that situation continues, the Carolinas will be near the "battle ground" between mild and cold air -- and in the path of storm systems. And that is a recipe for "close-call" winter storm systems, the kind that can bring sleet and freezing rain.

It's a lot of speculation now, but we should have a better idea of the pattern -- at least for early-winter -- fairly soon.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Warmth to return; could stay for Thanksgiving

Those of you who wish for snow and ice during the winter would love having the current weather pattern in January or February.

We've swung into a Negative NAO (North Atlantic Oscillation), which, for lack of a better description, is like an atmospheric roller-coaster. We in the Carolinas are near the bottom.

Air masses tumble southward out of Canada, curve eastward at the bottom of the roller-coaster, and then swing back to the north again, as if they're headed back up a hill. That pattern tends to bring not only cold air into the Southeast, but it also can produce a nor'easter or winter storm if low pressure gets into the atmospheric steering current.

Such a nor'easter is moving up the East Coast on Wednesday, threatening areas that were hit by Hurricane Sandy with more high water.

Temperatures in the Carolinas have been well below average recently, but the NAO is going positive soon, according to meteorologists -- before possibly going negative again after Thanksgiving.

The NAO was positive much of last winter, and the result was mild weather. Another string of mild days is likely to begin later this weekend or early next week, and it could last to Thanksgiving. Such a pattern likely would produce temperatures during Thanksgiving that are near or above-average -- similar to last year.

We might have reached the bottom of the barrel -- at least, in the current cold snap -- on Wednesday morning. The temperature fell to 29 degrees at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, and that's the coldest since a 24-degree low March 6. If you're keeping count, that's eight months ago.

There was frost and even a freeze, which brought the growing season to an end for most people in the region.

A couple more cold nights are in store for Charlotte, with lows of 32 to 35 degrees Thursday and Friday mornings.

But then a warming trend will start. We'll see highs climb a few degrees each day, until they're near 70 degrees Sunday and Monday.

The GFS computer weather model is hinting at the development of a storm system around the middle of next week -- a warm-air system that could produce severe weather across the South.

After that, if the NAO really goes positive as it's expected to, we could continue with the mild weather for another 7-10 days, into Thanksgiving.

And then we could go back into the freezer again, if the NAO goes negative.

By the way ... some meteorologists believe we'll see plenty of NAO-negative time in the eastern United States this winter, especially after mid-January.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A gloomy Election Day (weather-wise, that is)

A developing storm system that could bring nasty weather up the East Coast -- where it is least needed -- also will deliver some rather gloomy conditions to the Charlotte region on Election Day.

It won't rain much, unfortunately, because the area is locked in a significant stretch of dry weather.

But we can expect a cloudy, chilly day. It won't be a pleasant day to be standing outdoors, should the line at your polling place be extremely long.

An upper-level low pressure system is forecast to swing southward into Alabama later Monday and then curve eastward to the Atlantic Coast on Tuesday. Once it reaches the coast, surface low pressure is predicted to form, and then ride up the East Coast.

That's right -- a nor'easter.

It's difficult to think of anything worse for people in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, because of the low strengthens enough and stays close enough to shore, it could bring strong winds and heavy rain to those hurricane-ravaged areas later in the week. More about that later.

The Charlotte region will miss most of the precipitation, according to meteorologists.

Areas across southern Georgia, northern Florida and the Lowcountry of South Carolina are expected to see the rainfall from this system as it develops Tuesday. Then the precipitation, probably a steady, soaking rain, will move up across the eastern third of North Carolina.

The Charlotte area will be too far north for much rainfall, although a few showers are possible Tuesday afternoon and evening.

Charlotte won't be too far north for the clouds. High pressure over Pennsylvania will be pumping chilly air into the Carolinas, and clouds from the developing storm will add to the chilling effect.

Don't expect temperatures to climb out of the upper 40s Tuesday. The National Weather Service forecast high for Charlotte is 51 degrees, but that could be optimistic.  More likely:  Clouds and temperatures in the 40s for much of the day.

If you vote at a location where you're likely to be standing outdoor, take a warm coat and possibly a cap.

In case you hadn't noticed, our warm weather from early and mid October has sailed away. The past week has been quite chilly, and more of the same is likely for much of this work week.

Temperatures are predicted to drop into the low and mid 30s Wednesday through Saturday mornings, and areas that haven't received frost yet are likely to get some this week.

The good news is that temperatures will moderate by the weekend. Highs are expected to hit the mid 60s Friday (after mid and upper 50s Wednesday and Thursday), and we could see 70 degrees Sunday, when the Panthers face the Denver Broncos at Bank of America Stadium.

Up the East Coast: The storm will be delivering a northeast wind. That means Staten Island, lower Manhattan and Connecticut, which face south, likely won't be affected much.

But it'll be a different story for New Jersey, where Hurricane Sandy did extensive damage last week to the protective sand dunes. A northeast wind will increase the tides by a couple feet, and that could bring ocean water back into some of the cities that were hard-hit last week.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Snow, damaging winds, cold ... and we get off easy

Meteorologists continue to believe that parts of western North Carolina will be hammered by the southern side of circulation around Hurricane Sandy and the developing super storm to the north.

And the forecast still mentions a chance of snow showers around daybreak Tuesday in the immediate Charlotte area.

Meanwhile, heavy snow and winds strong enough to topple trees and cause power outages are predicted for the North Carolina mountains, from Monday into Tuesday night. It appears as if the worst of it will come Monday night and early Tuesday.

High wind and winter storm warnings have been posted in some mountain areas, with the heaviest snow predicted above 2,500 feet. Forecasters expect 4 to 8 inches of wet snow at and above those altitudes, but heavier amounts are possible.

Even Asheville is forecast to get an inch or two from the system.

The best guess is that we'll be looking at thousands of power outages by Tuesday morning, with some of those problems as far south as the N.C. foothills.

Here's a look at what to expect:

N.C. mountains ... from 4 to 8 inches of snow above 2,500 feet, but amounts of up to 2 feet are possible along the Tennessee border. Northwest winds will increase to 25 to 35 mph from Monday into Tuesday evening, with gusts of 60 mph. Winter storm warnings are posted for areas above 2,500 feet, but winter weather advisories -- for 1 to 2 inches of snow -- are in effect for Asheville and some other mountain valley locations.

Charlotte, the Piedmont, and the foothills ... A weak impulse of low pressure will cross the area Monday evening or Monday night, adding to the already fierce storm to the north.

Northwest winds of 20 mph, with gusts to 35 mph, are likely Monday. Those gusts might reach 40 or 45 mph Monday night and Tuesday.

A few showers are possible Monday, but when the weak low pressure area moves across early Tuesday, it could trigger a few snow showers. Temperatures will be a few degrees above freezing, so accumulations are not expected. But I'll note what I wrote yesterday -- if snow accumulates on grassy surfaces at the airport long enough, it will count as "trace" accumulations of snow. That Oct. 30 snow would break an all-time record for the earliest snow ever in Charlotte. The current mark is Oct. 31.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Snow (not accumulating) in Charlotte forecast

The super storm expected to wallop the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast early next week is being billed by meteorologists as potentially historic, and that might include the Charlotte region -- in the form of snow.

There's no need to get all excited.  We're not talking about a foot of snow on the ground for Halloween.

But the National Weather Service says that when the big storm -- a hybrid of Hurricane Sandy and a mainland low pressure system -- moves across New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania late Monday and early Tuesday,  it could send a mix of rain and snow showers into the Charlotte region.

Several inches of snow are predicted for the North Carolina mountains Monday night and Tuesday morning, with up to 6 inches falling in the higher peaks. Most areas above 3,000 feet could see some accumulating snow from this system.

In addition to the snow and influx of very cold air, circulation around the super storm is expected to be strong enough to cause damaging wind gusts in the high country. A High Wind Watch has been posted for the northwest mountains, where forecasters say sustained northwest winds of 30 to 40 mph, with gusts to 60 mph, are possible.

That will bring down trees and power lines.

Father south, in the lower altitudes, the nasty weather is expected to develop Monday night, as the super storm moves inland.

Forecasters say a weak low pressure system is predicted to sweep through the region, bringing a chance of precipitation. As of Saturday afternoon, meteorologists at the National Weather Service office in Greer, S.C., say the precipitation could fall as snow showers in the hours shortly before and after daybreak Tuesday.

Temperatures would be a few degrees above freezing, but if it snows hard enough for a short time, it could cause a trace of accumulation. And that would be historic.

The earliest measurable snowfall in Charlotte history came on Oct. 31, 1887, when a trace was reported in the city. If a trace were to be measure Tuesday morning, we'd eclipse the record by a day.

Incidentally, it will be breezy here in Charlotte, too.  Meteorologists are thinking now that the storm will make landfall in New Jersey, rather than in Delaware as some earlier forecasts indicated.  A New Jersey landfall would lessen the chances of damaging wind gusts reaching our region, but we'll still likely experience gusts of up to 30 mph Monday night and Tuesday.

The really devastating effects of this storm will be felt north of Charlotte, and we'll be lucky to escape all that. But the storm is strong enough and large enough to affect our weather, several hundred miles away.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Sandy's gift to us: Cold air

The Charlotte region will escape all but the edges of Hurricane Sandy as it moves up the East Coast this weekend, but as Sandy reaches the Mid-Atlantic coast and morphs into a super storm, it will contribute to a very cold stretch of weather next week in the area.

The cold air already was coming.  The big storm to our north will help make it even chillier.

In fact, if you like the warm weather, get outside this afternoon.  This is pretty much the finale.

Temperatures are in the mid and upper 70s Friday afternoon, but a cold front is approaching from the west. That front is predicted to stall Saturday in the mountains, but clouds from Hurricane Sandy will push into the Charlotte region.

A pressure gradient -- or difference in pressure -- between high pressure behind the front and low pressure from Sandy will help create rather gusty winds Saturday in Charlotte. The bottom line of all this: Clouds, a high in the upper 60s, and winds gusting to 25 or maybe even 30 mph (especially east of Charlotte) in the afternoon.

Outer rain bands from the hurricane are likely to cross the eastern part of the Charlotte region, especially in Anson, Richmond and Montgomery counties.

Then as Sandy pushes north of the Carolinas, the cold front will cross Charlotte, and temperatures will tumble. The coldest air won't arrive until Monday, so we're likely to eke out another day in the mid 60s Sunday, probably with a return of sunshine.

But our highs Monday through Wednesday likely will be in the low to mid 50s. The strong counter-clockwise circulation around the big storm to our north will bring cold air into the region.

Temperatures during trick-or-treating for Halloween on Wednesday evening probably will be in the low 50s.

There's another little twist to all this.  The strong northerly flow behind the storm and cold front could even trigger a few snow showers in the mountains. Heavy snow is not expected, though.  We're talking about snow showers that might coat the ground for a while. That would happen Sunday night, according to meteorologists.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A taste of winter next week

The big weather news during the next few days will be the possible evolution of Hurricane Sandy into a huge East Coast storm, but the weather will be making news -- on a lesser scale -- in the Charlotte area, too.

The same cold air mass that will feed into Sandy late this weekend will pour into the Carolinas on Sunday and Monday, bringing the chilliest temperatures we've seen since early spring.

Doug Outlaw, of the National Weather Service office in Greer, S.C., said Thursday morning that temperatures next week will be more typical of January than the last week of October.

Actually, readings won't be quite like January, when Charlotte's average high temperature is 50 or 51 degrees.  But it won't be much different than early December or late February.

Highs on Monday and Tuesday might not climb out of the middle 50s, and there will be a northwest breeze to make it seem even colder.  Morning lows will be in the mid 30s, and if frost doesn't arrive in Charlotte, it certainly will make an appearance in the suburbs.

Today probably will be the last 80-degree day in the current warm spell, and it might be the last time we see 80 until 2013.

Slightly cooler air will move into the region Friday, holding daytime highs to the middle 70s. Then the cold front will push across the Carolinas later Saturday, bringing a chance of showers.

Heavier rain and gusty winds will be felt along the North Carolina coast, courtesy of Sandy.

The changeover in air masses is expected Sunday, which could turn out to be rather cloudy and windy. Highs will only reach the lower 60s.

Then it'll get even chillier Monday, and it looks as if the cold air will last through at least Halloween (next Wednesday).

I mentioned yesterday that a strong, strong storm moving up the East Coast could conceivably alter the weather pattern in the Eastern United States for a few weeks, by helping turn the North Atlantic Oscillation negative.  That would bring repeated shots of cold air into the East for a while.  We'll have to wait and see about that.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sandy could be a newsmaker ... even locally

Tropical Storm (soon-to-be Hurricane) Sandy is the talk of the meteorology message boards today, because some computer models predict it could become a historic East Coast storm.

And while we in the Charlotte area almost certainly won't even see a drop of rain from Sandy, it could have an impact on our weather for weeks to come.

On Wednesday morning, Sandy is a purely tropical system and is beginning to hammer Jamaica. It is expected to cross Jamaica and then make landfall in eastern Cuba, before moving across the eastern Bahamas later in the week.

That part of the storm's track is considered highly likely.

It's what happens afterwards that is generating talk (and predictions of a cataclysmic storm on the East Coast late this weekend and early next week).

Originally, the computer models predicted Sandy would curve northeast and out to sea, a danger only to fish and possibly Bermuda.  But the European model began predicting Tuesday that Sandy would push north-northeast, well off the U.S. coast of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, but then curve back toward the coast after passing the Outer Banks.

On Wednesday, some of the other computer models began picking up on the same trend.

There's another big player in the whole picture. A surge of cold air will push into the eastern United States later this week, fed by a large trough of low pressure. That system will have plenty of energy, and some of the computer models predict Sandy will absorb strength from the trough and intensify rapidly.

This is somewhat similar to the "Perfect Storm" -- the 1991 Halloween Nor'easter that did huge damage on the East Coast and got some of its strength from Hurricane Grace in the Atlantic.

There seem to be three possibilities here:

1. Out to sea.  Sandy swings northeast, out to sea, and doesn't bother anyone in the mainland United States.

2. Curve back to the coast.  Sandy curves back to the northwest and blasts into the U.S. coast, somewhere between Maryland and Maine. Some computer models show a storm of  up to Category 3 hurricane power.

But another theory holds that Sandy would lose some or much of its tropical characteristics and be a subtropical or post-tropical system.  That would still produce heavy damage on the coast, with huge waves, heavy rain and strong winds. But under that scenario, the winds would be spread across a much wider area than a hurricane but would not be as strong (maybe 60 to 80 mph).

New York City, Boston and Philadelphia would be targets of such a storm.

3. "Replacement" storm.  Another theory holds that Sandy might curve out to sea but leave a weakness in the atmosphere behind. That weakness would turn into a coastal low pressure system that would move up the coast. That system would get very strong, absorbing energy from the advancing trough, and bring big waves, heavy rain, strong winds and even heavy, wet inland snow to the East.


Cold air is coming late in the weekend and will remain next week.  We'll almost certainly have our first frost Tuesday morning, and we'll be seeing daytime highs in the upper 50s and lower 60s, with nighttime lows in the 30s, for at least part of the week.

But a super-sized Sandy could affect our weather for weeks.  Sometimes these huge and powerful systems can help change the overall weather pattern in the Northern Hemisphere.  I saw some conjecture that Sandy could help create a Negative North Atlantic Oscillation. A negative NAO means cold weather will come spilling into the eastern United States for at least the first part of November, and possibly longer.

After several weeks of quiet weather, we certainly have something to talk about this week.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Temperatures head up; something stirs in tropics

We've gotten the week's coldest weather out of the way already.

From here on, Charlotte-area temperatures will be on the rise, creating some really nice conditions for several days.

At the same time, the tropics -- which have been quiet for weeks -- are coming to life. A system taking shape south of Jamaica could have a role in weather later this week for some part of the Carolinas.

But that's iffy. For now, let's focus on what we know.

Temperatures in Charlotte and elsewhere across the region fell Monday morning to their lowest levels so far this season. The coldest temperature I've seen so far for Charlotte-Douglas International Airport was 41 degrees, which would be the chilliest reading since a 39-degree low on April 24.

The 41-degree low is the same as I saw at thermometers in Mint Hill and Matthews.

But it was colder elsewhere in the area. Some of the Monday morning unofficial lows:

36 degrees: Morganton.

37 degrees: Salisbury, Wadesboro.

38 degrees: Lexington, New London (northern Stanly County), Troy (Montgomery County).

39 degrees: Albemarle, Concord, Lincolnton.

High pressure responsible for allowing temperatures to drop like that is modifying across the eastern United States, and our Monday afternoon highs will climb into the middle 70s.

Overnight lows Tuesday morning will be about 5 to 8 degrees milder, and afternoon highs are forecast to be back in the middle 70s. Highs will approach 80 degrees Wednesday through Friday.

No rain is in the forecast, which is good and bad. Obviously, it'll allow us to enjoy the nice temperatures (which are about 10 degrees above average for late October), but we're below-average recently for rain, and things are starting to get dry.

... Which sets the transition to the tropics.

The National Hurricane Center is watching an area of disturbed weather south of Jamaica and said Monday morning there is a 90 percent chance of the system becoming a named tropical depression within the next 48 hours (and possibly today).

The system is forecast to move north, toward Jamaica and Cuba, during the middle of the week. Some computer models predict the system will move up the east coast of Florida. That, of course, puts the Carolinas coast in play.

It will be something to keep an eye on this week.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Hats and jackets for weekend outings

The weekend recreational weather forecast is short and sweet ... clear and a bit on the cool side.

If you're out in the morning or in the evening, take a jacket. If you have a midday outing, you'll need sunglasses and a hat. It's autumn at its near-best this weekend in the Charlotte area and across the rest of the Carolinas.

Don't use today as a guide for the rest of the weekend. High pressure will settle into the region overnight, bringing temperatures about 5 to 6 degrees cooler than Friday.

Highs will be in the upper 60s each day, with morning lows in the low to middle 40s. Skies will be clear throughout the weekend.

Here's your recreational weather forecast:

Friday night football ... The afternoon breezes will die down, and temperatures will drop pretty quickly as cooler air filters in. You can expect temperatures in the upper 60s at kickoff, but it'll drop into the upper 50s (and maybe the mid 50s) by the end of the game.

Saturday morning ... Temperatures will chill to the mid 40s in Charlotte at sunrise, so if your children have a 9 a.m. soccer game, or if you're scheduled to play golf or tennis in the morning hours, plan accordingly. It will be chilly.

Saturday afternoon football and other events ... Full sunshine and cool temperatures are in store. If you're headed up to the mountains to see the leaves (or maybe to catch Appalachian State's home game against Wofford), expect afternoon temperatures in the lower 60s at 3,000 feet and higher. Winds will be nearly calm. Down in the Piedmont, highs will range between 66 and 69 degrees.

Saturday evening ... Duke and North Carolina have an evening football game, and fans can expect clear skies, calm winds, and temperatures falling from the low and mid 60s at kickoff to the mid 50s by the end of the game. Take a jacket.

Sunday for the Panthers ... Tailgating temperatures will be in the upper 50s around 11 a.m., but it'll climb to around 65 degrees for the 1 p.m. kickoff against Dallas. By late in the game, readings could be near 70 degrees. Expect full sunshine.

Looking ahead at next week ... The cool trend will moderate, but clear skies will remain. By Tuesday and Wednesday, afternoon highs will be in the mid 70s, and we'll be pushing 80 degrees -- more than 10 degrees above average -- by the end of the week.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Get ready for a shake

Be prepared for an earthquake drill on Thursday.

Yes, earthquake.

FEMA has scheduled the Great Shakeout for 10:18 a.m. Thursday in 12 states, along with the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam.

The drill is designed to remind the public of what to do in (and after) an earthquake.

The earthquake drill has taken place for years, but this is the first time the federal government has included the eastern United States. A few years ago, many Carolinas residents would have laughed at the idea, but that was before 1:51 p.m. on Aug. 23, 2011.

An earthquake centered in Virginia rattled much of the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast, and the shake was felt here in the Charlotte region. That quake is a big reason why Virginia, Maryland and the Carolinas have been added to the drill this time.

But history shows other reasons to be prepared.

One of the biggest quakes in U.S. history happened Aug. 31, 1886, in Charleston. And the U.S. Geological Survey says the area around Charleston is among the most active seismic zones in the country.

The outer edges of the Charleston earthquake zone actually extend into southern Mecklenburg, Union and Anson counties, along with Chesterfield and Lancaster counties of South Carolina.

The 1886 quake killed 60 people, did $23 million damage (in 1886 dollars), and was felt as far away as New York, Cuba and Bermuda.

There have been other quakes in the Carolinas, although all were less severe. A reasonably strong earthquake was reported in southern Mecklenburg County on Dec. 13, 1879.

The big quakes in the Mississippi Valley in 1811 and 1812 were felt in the Carolinas.

And the western mountains of North Carolina are in another active seismic zone, with several quakes reported there every year.

Federal officials say the advice during an earthquake is "Drop, Cover and Hold On." That message will be stressed during Thursday's drill.

"Earthquakes occur all year long across our country -- in a lot of places you wouldn't expect," says FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. "For the Great ShakeOut, we're asking everyone to take a minute out of your day to drop, cover and hold on -- and practice what you would do during an actual earthquake."

For information about earthquakes and earthquake safety, check:

Monday, October 15, 2012

Stormy start, but then a nice week

Our work week is getting off to a stormy start Monday morning across the Charlotte region, with the passage of a cold front across the Carolinas.

But nicer weather will follow, and the advance outlook (see below) indicates we're in store for some warm and dry weather.

Heavy rain fell for several hours Monday across the foothills, and the line of showers and thunderstorms finally reached the immediate Charlotte area around 9 a.m.

The National Weather Service office in Greer, S.C., says a few of the storms could carry 40 mph wind gusts, and heavy rain likely will fall for relatively brief periods of time as the showers and thunderstorms slowly move through. An outbreak of severe weather is not expected, although severe thunderstorms could develop this afternoon across the eastern half of North Carolina.

The changeover to nicer conditions will come rather quickly, meteorologists say.

Sunshine will mix with the clouds by later Monday afternoon, especially west of Charlotte, and clearing should overspread the area tonight.

That will set the stage for three days of nice weather.  With mostly sunny skies Tuesday and Wednesday, we'll have highs of 68 degrees Tuesday and then in the lower 70s Wednesday. There'll be more clouds Thursday, but temperatures will climb into the middle 70s before another cold front crosses the area Thursday night.

A few showers are possible Thursday night and Friday, followed by a return to sunshine and cooler temperatures -- highs in the middle 60s Friday, upper 60s Saturday, and lower 70s Sunday.

Looking ahead: The Climate Prediction Center's 8-14 day forecast calls for a good chance of above-average temperatures and a very good chance of drier-than-average conditions in the Carolinas. In fact, that's the forecast for the eastern half of the United States.

In the tropics:  It's easy to forget that we're still in hurricane season, because the United States has largely escaped the impact of tropical weather systems this year (with the exception of Hurricane Isaac in late August).

But there's a storm out in the Atlantic, and it could threaten Bermuda late Tuesday and early Wednesday. Rafael is a strong tropical storm and expected to reach hurricane status today. The National Hurricane Center's forecast track carries Rafael over Bermuda, possibly as a weak Category 1 hurricane. The storm will curve northeast and never affect the U.S. mainland.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Your NASCAR, football, anything else forecast

There's no such thing as 100 percent guarantees in weather, but we'll come reasonably close to that with this weekend's forecast.

It's a weekend when, literally, hundreds of thousands of Carolinas residents will be outdoors. Some of the bigger attractions:

-- High school football tonight.

-- College football Saturday.

-- The NASCAR Nationwide Series race tonight at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

-- NASCAR's Sprint Cup race (and all the pre-race events) Saturday at the speedway.

-- Renaissance Festival.

-- Countless youth soccer, football, baseball and softball games, plus golf and tennis outings.

-- Trips to the mountains to see the leaves.

Unlike last week, when a cold front and a cold air wedge teamed to create a miserable Sunday (after a summer-like Saturday), this weekend looks to be nice and 100 percent autumn. There won't be any 80-degree weather Saturday or Sunday.

You might be surprised by the clouds at midday Friday across the Charlotte region, but they're the remnants of an area of showers and thunderstorms that swept through Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia earlier in the day. There's no chance of rain today in the area, and meteorologists say the clouds will move out of the region by mid-afternoon.

A cold front will cross the area today, leaving cooler temperatures but pleasant weather Saturday. Then the high pressure system modifies Sunday, allowing for a warm-up before rain arrives Monday.

So here's what to expect at various outdoor venues this weekend:

FRIDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL, AUTO RACING ... Mostly clear skies and mild weather, for this time of year. Temperatures will be in the upper 60s at kickoff and the start of the 300-mile race, with readings dropping to the upper 50s by 11 p.m.

SATURDAY MORNING EVENTS ... Temperatures will drop to near 50 degrees at daybreak, then climb through the 50s during the morning. Expect sunny skies with the cool temperatures.

SATURDAY AFTERNOON ... Sunshine and high temperatures reaching the middle 60s are a good bet.

SATURDAY NIGHT'S RACE ... Rain won't be a problem, with mostly clear skies. Expect temperatures to be near 60 degrees when the 500-mile race starts, falling back through the 50s during the evening. Winds should be calm.

SUNDAY ... Partly sunny skies, with highs in the lower 70s after a morning low in the middle 40s.

IN THE MOUNTAINS ... It should be good for leaf-viewing. Skies should be mostly clear Saturday and partly sunny Sunday, with especially good visibilities Saturday. Temperatures will be a bit below seasonal averages Saturday, then climb back to average Sunday.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

NASCAR fans will need jackets

As the headline says, fans headed for three nights of racing Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway will need their jackets.  But they won't have to worry about rain. And they'll probably see sunshine on their way to the track.

The cold air wedge finally broke down overnight, which means the clouds and drizzle are gone. So are the chilly temperatures, with highs 15 to 20 degrees below average the past two days.

Instead, we'll have sunshine and highs in the low 70s Wednesday.

The weather headlines over the next few days will be dominated by a series of weak cold fronts crossing the region. The fronts are forecast to be dry, but we'll notice a change of air mass -- about every other day -- as the fronts pass.

For example: The forecast high Thursday will be about 5 degrees cooler than today. That's because a cold front is crossing the region tonight.

Then it'll warm back to the mid 70s Friday, drop about 5 degrees again Saturday behind a front, before warming to the upper 70s Sunday and Monday.

The only possible fly in the ointment is the development of a weak cold air wedge Saturday morning, when high pressure will be centered over New England. But National Weather Service meteorologists think we'll retain partly sunny skies that day.

A frost advisory is posted for Wednesday night and Thursday morning in the mountains, with lows in the middle and upper 30s. In the Charlotte region, lows will reach the lower 40s at daybreak Thursday -- which is chilly, but not frost territory.

Now, for the races ...

Fans can expect temperatures during Pole Night events Thursday to be in the low 60s, dropping into the upper 50s by the end of the evening.

Friday night temperatures will start in the upper 60s and fall to the lower 60s.  And Saturday night, fans can expect temperatures in the mid 60s at the start of the race, falling to the upper 50s.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Don't expect much improvement today

I could be wrong about this, and I hope I'm wrong.

But if you're planning your wardrobe for Tuesday, expect Charlotte's weather to be an awful lot like Monday's.

You might have heard forecasts for some clearing Tuesday afternoon, but chances are any clearing in the immediate Charlotte area won't happen until shortly before sunset. In other words, we'll remain in the gloom for another day.

We're still locked in a cold air wedge, and those conditions are very stubborn to break down. Weather computer models aren't very good are predicting when the wedges will end, tending to kill them off too early.

Such was the case Monday, when the models -- and some forecasts -- called for partial sunshine to return by late morning in Charlotte. Then that forecast became afternoon, and now some predictions are saying late afternoon. That sounds right.

The wedge will dissipate from the west, with the mountains and western South Carolina being the first to see the sun. But heavy, cold, damp air has piled up against the mountains, covering the Piedmont. And it will take quite a while for warmer air to mix down and scour out the clouds.

Temperatures likely will rise from the upper 40s Tuesday morning to the upper 50s by afternoon. But that's more than 15 degrees below the average high for this time of year.

There will be a reward after all this, though.

Partly to mostly sunny skies are likely Wednesday, with highs climbing back near average for this time of year (mid 70s). A weak cold front will cross the region Wednesday night, so Thursday's highs will be a few degrees cooler, in the upper 60s. But sunshine will return.

Then a real warm-up commences for the weekend, with highs in the low to mid 70s Friday and Saturday, climbing to the upper 70s for Sunday and Monday.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Out come the winter clothes

Sweaters, sweatshirts and other cold-weather clothing that has been stored away since last winter is making a reappearance Monday across the Charlotte region.

Blame it on a cold air wedge -- that weather situation in which cool, damp air is carried into the Piedmont off the Atlantic Ocean and wedged against the mountains. Clouds form, and temperatures go nowhere.  In fact, in most cold air wedges, the temperature is 15 to 25 degrees below the seasonal average.

That's the case Monday in the region.

The temperature fell from 60 degrees at 1 p.m. Sunday, gradually sliding through the upper, middle and then lower 50s.  It's been hovering between 50 and 51 degrees for most of the day and probably will go no higher.

Actually, we're on track for our coldest day since early March. The high temperature so far Monday at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport is 54 degrees, recorded around 3 a.m. That would be our chilliest high temperature reading since March 4 and 5, when the high was 53 degrees.

By my count, this is the third cold air wedge in our region in the past two weeks, and I've written before that they are bad, bad news in the winter.  Most of our ice storms and sleet events happen during wedge situations.

The National Weather Service had been predicting widespread showers this afternoon, but that is looking unlikely, with most of the rain staying west and northwest of the region, falling across eastern Tennessee and Kentucky. The mountains are most likely to see rain Monday, although a few showers could spread into the Charlotte region.

The same thick clouds that prevent temperatures from climbing also stop much of a thermometer drop at night. In a normal situation with highs in the low 50s, we could expect low to mid 30s at night -- and our first frost or freeze of the season. But since this is an "artificial" chilly day -- kept cool by clouds, rather than an actual mass of very cold air -- our overnight lows will only drop into the low to mid 40s.

And if the clouds hang around all night, we might not drop much lower than 50 degrees.

Cold air wedges are difficult to break down, and they usually last longer than computer models predict. So look for more clouds Tuesday morning, before the wedge finally dissipates in the afternoon, some sunshine returns, and highs climb into the lower 60s.

Things should return to normal Wednesday, with highs back in the middle 70s.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Naming winter storms touches off a fight

It's our job to give you all the weather news, and sometimes that means taking you beyond cold fronts and low pressure systems -- into what's happening behind the scenes.

And behind the scenes, the two for-profit giants of the meteorology world are embroiled in a spat over naming winter storms.

The Weather Channel recently announced that it will name "noteworthy" winter storms. It says doing so will make it easier for the public to keep track of developing winter storms and plan accordingly.

In other words, the way the National Hurricane Center affixes names -- in alphabetical order -- to tropical storms and hurricanes, the Weather Channel plans to do the same in winter. Most of the names date back to famous names in Greek and Roman history, but the Finnish name Ukko also is on the list for 2012-13.

I'll give you a link to the Weather Channel's story and list of names later. But back to the dispute.

A few days after Atlanta-based Weather Channel made its announcement, Pennsylvania-based AccuWeather issued a news release, criticizing the idea. AccuWeather officials say the storm-naming will confuse the public, rather than help.

Let's try to be even-handed here.

The Weather Channel says major winter storms already have been named -- such as "The President's Day Storm" and "Snowmageddon."

"Naming winter storms will raise awareness, which will lead to more pro-active efforts to plan ahead, resulting in less impact on the public overall," says Tom Niziol of the Weather Channel.

The company says it will not name a storm more than three days before it threatens a metropolitan area, and it will take other factors into consideration -- the time of day and day of week that the storm will strike, for example.

AccuWeather disagrees.

Joel Myers, founder and president of the company, says his company has studied the idea for years and decided it would be doing a disservice to the public.

"The Weather Channel has confused media spin with science and public safety and is doing a disservice to the field of meteorology and public service," said Myers, who has a doctorate in meteorology. "We have explored this issue for 20 years and have found that this is not good science and ... will actually mislead the public."

Myers also says many of the worst winter events are localized.

The National Weather Service has not commented on the dispute and apparently plans to remain at arm's length. That means the Weather Channel's names might not get much publicity, beyond the Weather Channel (and perhaps its parent company, NBC).

Here's a link to the story:

And here's a link to the list of names:

Monday, October 1, 2012

Weather changes coming for Charlotte

It's raining, a stiff breeze is blowing out of the northeast, and the temperatures are locked in the lower 60s -- about 15 degrees below average.

Yes, autumn is here. But it won't be here for long.

A cold air wedge -- a Piedmont phenomena I've written about before ( -- has established itself today across much of North Carolina and South Carolina. It means we'll have a chilly, wet day, with temperatures probably not escaping the lower and middle 60s.

Computer models indicate there could be a break from the rain, lasting several hours, Monday afternoon and evening in the Charlotte region. But more rain will return later this evening.

Rainfall amounts won't be heavy, as most areas will get a half-inch or less.  This is exactly what the lawn doctor ordered for anyone who fertilized and seeded over the weekend.

These cold air wedge situations tend to be most common in autumn and spring, but they sometimes develop in the winter -- occasionally, with very important ramifications.  Many of our sleet and ice storm episodes happen during a cold air wedge, as warm, most air from the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic is carried over a layer of cold air trapped near the surface.

We'll need to watch this pattern as we approach winter.  If we keep having cold air wedges, or if low pressure continues developing in the Gulf of Mexico and pushing up across the Southeast (as it is doing today, for the second time in recent weeks), then that could be a big hint about our winter weather pattern.

The cold air wedge is forecast to break down Tuesday, with the low pressure system moving north of the Carolinas, and the counter-clockwise flow of air eventually scouring away the layer of cold air near the surface. As that happens, a cold front will cross the region.

It's possible that a few strong thunderstorms could develop Tuesday as the front approaches, but those most likely would be south of Charlotte. Regardless, it'll be a lot warmer Tuesday, as the wedge dissipates. Highs are expected to reach the upper 70s.

That sets the stage for another big change, from Wednesday through Friday. We'll be back in some late-summer weather, with sunny to partly sunny skies and afternoon highs of 80 degrees or even a little warmer.

The next cold front will approach the region over the weekend, so the forecast for Saturday and Sunday is very iffy, at this point.  For now, the National Weather Service is going with partly cloudy and mid 70s Saturday, then low 70s with a small chance of rain Sunday.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Will it rain on your weekend game, event?

After two weeks of dry weather, now the rain is coming -- in time for the weekend.

Any rainfall this weekend will threaten high school and college football, along with events like Mint Hill Madness, the Cleveland County Fair, a number of school festivals -- along with the youth sports events and golf outings scheduled.

That's bad news for people planning to spend time outdoors, pitting them against homeowners who have seeded their lawns -- or who are waiting for a little rain before aerating, fertilizing and seeding.

The good news is rainfall will be scattered and periodic. There's a good chance that most areas will get wet sometime this weekend, most likely Friday night or Saturday.  But most of the time will be rain-free.

And if you think it's been a bit too hot for the end of September, you'll like the change in temperatures. Afternoon highs will cool to the upper 70s Saturday and lower 70s Sunday.

A cold front is advancing on the Carolinas, and low pressure will join with the front to bring increased shower and thunderstorm chances to the region. The front is forecast to cross the Charlotte region Saturday, keeping rain chances around.

Originally, forecasters expected rain again Sunday, but the latest computer models indicate the cold front will push far enough south of the area to dry things out.

Be advised, by the way ... a strong low pressure system will form in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday and move up across the Southeast on Monday and Tuesday. That means steady rain will begin Monday afternoon or evening and continue into Tuesday.  Right now, it looks like 1 to 2 inches of rain will fall in the Charlotte region from that system.

We'll talk more about that later in the weekend.

For now, here's your recreational weather outlook:

HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: There will be showers and thunderstorms moving into the foothills Friday afternoon from the mountains, and a few of those showers and storms will spread into the Piedmont in the evening. The National Weather Service thinks the highest chances of rainfall will be along and north of Interstate 40.

If you're headed to a game tonight, be prepared for a chance of rain. And find shelter quickly if you see lightning or hear thunder.  Those of you with weather apps on your smart phones can watch radar to keep track of any storms.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: There will be showers throughout the day Saturday, but chances will be highest in the afternoon and evening.  All of the Carolinas will be at risk of rain, but the precipitation will be showery. That means you might get lucky and stay dry.  But take rain gear to the game.  Temperatures will be in the upper 70s in the Charlotte region -- although a bit cooler in the northern part of North Carolina.

SATURDAY MORNING EVENTS: There'll be more clouds than sun, but showers will be widely scattered. Temperatures will be in the low to mid 60s for much of the morning. You'll have a better chance of staying dry in the morning than in the afternoon, according to the most recent computer models.

SUNDAY EVENTS: If you're planning to be outdoors Sunday, rather than indoors watching the Panthers' game in Atlanta, it's looking increasingly like the day will remain mostly dry. It could be cloudy all day, although some sunshine is possible if the front moves far enough south of the Charlotte area. High temperatures probably won't climb much above the lower 70s.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Earliest chill in 6 years ... enjoy it

The temperature in Charlotte is expected to drop into the middle 40s tonight, and you have to go back six eight years to find readings that chilly so early in the season.

Monday morning was our coolest so far in September, with a low of 50 degrees at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. It got a lot colder elsewhere in the region, including 37 degrees at Boone. There were a few reports of light frost Monday morning in the higher elevations.

Other chilly lows Monday included 37 degrees at Morganton; 43 degrees in Salisbury; 45 degrees in Hickory; 46 degrees in Concord, Rutherfordton and Statesville; and 48 degrees in Albemarle.

Forecasters say Piedmont locations can figure on subtracting another 3 or 4 degrees from those lows Tuesday morning, as the center of a strong high pressure system moves closer to our area. The Piedmont is probably safe from widespread frost, but if you live in a low-lying area that typically gets frost before anyone else, you might want to protect the plants tonight.

Our last reading in the 40s was May 11, when it dropped to 48 degrees.

And the last time it dropped into the 40s this early in the year was 2006, when we had a low of 47 degrees on Sept. 21. Otherwise, the date of the first low in the 40s was about a week later -- Oct. 11 in 2007; Oct. 2 in 2008; Sept. 29 in 2009; Oct. 2 in 2010; and Oct. 1 last year.

Our daytime temperatures Monday are rather chilly, too. The forecast high is 73 degrees, and it's been since June 6 since we had an afternoon that cool.

Nice local weather site: Chris Mullis notes that it dropped to 50.4 degrees Monday morning in Mint Hill, the coldest at his weather station so far this season. It also reached 50 at my station in Matthews.

By the way, Mullis operates a nice website -- -- with all the statistics and hourly reports, a webcam, forecasts, and more.  He's also on Facebook ( with forecasts, current conditions and alerts; and on Twitter ( with hourly conditions and alerts.

This cool-down won't last long. High temperatures will return to the 80s by Wednesday, and we could be in the upper 80s by Thursday or Friday.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Panthers' game day weather ... and a look ahead

If you're headed to the Panthers' home opener today against the New Orleans Saints, be prepared to get wet.

It's not a 100 percent lock-cinch certainty that you'll get wet today at Bank of America Stadium, but the chances are certainly higher than that of, say, the Cleveland Browns winning the Super Bowl this season.

At 10:30 a.m., there were two clusters of showers near Charlotte.  One area stretched from near University City up to north of Salisbury. That rain won't affect the Panthers' game.

The other cluster of showers covered Cleveland, Gaston and Lincoln counties, and it's moving toward Charlotte.

There's one thing working in the favor of Panthers' fans.  The dome of high pressure which has covered our area for the past week was extremely dry, and the atmosphere became very dry. So it's taking time for the increased moisture to work its way down through the atmosphere to the ground.  That's why we've had only sprinkles over most of the region so far today.

But as the day goes on, the atmosphere will moisten, and rain will be more likely. Those showers to the west of Charlotte would be in the vicinity of Bank of America Stadium well before game time, if they hold together.  As of 10:30 a.m., there's nothing on the radar immediately behind them.

Any rain that falls today will be showery (rather than constant), but it could last for 45 minutes or an hour.  Thunderstorm chances are low, but they're not zero.  Computer models indicate there'll be a bit of instability in the atmosphere Sunday afternoon, so a storm could develop.  But rain showers will be more likely.

The National Weather Service is giving it a 40 percent chance for rain Sunday afternoon.

Looking ahead: The computer models are waffling a bit on this, but they're consistent in predicting a strong low pressure system to form in the Gulf of Mexico and then move northeast on Monday and Tuesday. This is almost like a winter pattern. Those winter Gulf lows are responsible for our snow and ice.

In mid-September, obviously, we'll have rain to worry about.

If the center of the low slides up the Blue Ridge mountains, the Charlotte area could get a couple inches of rain. If the center stays farther west, cutting a path up through western Georgia and central or eastern Tennessee, we'd escape the heavy rain but would be in a severe thunderstorm corridor.

We'll be able to get a better on idea on this late Sunday or Monday.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Weekend outlook: Rain for Panthers game?

A week of glorious, dry weather is about to end with some rain, and the precipitation might arrive in time to dampen the Carolina Panthers' home opener Sunday.

But fans attending high school and college games this weekend are probably safe, and so are the tens of thousands of people planning to visit the Yiasou Greek Festival in Charlotte's Dilworth community or scheduling other outdoor activities Friday and Saturday.

The region has been dry since last Saturday, as cool high pressure has dominated. But a pair of weak cold fronts and a low pressure system will change all that.

A small upper-level low pressure system is crossing the Carolinas on Friday, and that's what is producing the mid- and high-level cloudiness. No rain is expected, however.

So after temperatures reach the lower 80s Friday in the Piedmont, fans attending high school football games this evening will experience partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the 70s at kickoff, possible falling into the upper 60s by late evening. In other words, conditions will be very nice.

If your Saturday plans include golf, tennis or your children's soccer or football games in the morning, there'll be no problems. Temperatures will be in the lower 60s at 7 a.m., climbing rapidly to the mid 70s by late morning and the middle 80s by afternoon.

No rain is predicted for most of the Carolinas, although an approaching cold front could trigger a shower or two in the mountains in the afternoon.

Fans attending college football games Saturday afternoon and evening should remain dry, unless you're in the mountains. Temperatures are expected to remain mild.

Now, about Sunday ...

The Panthers and New Orleans Saints play at 1 p.m.

The weak cold front that moves into the mountains late Saturday is forecast to stall there. A low pressure system then is predicted to slide up the front, bringing showers and even a few thunderstorms.

It looks like the heaviest rain won't fall until Sunday evening and night, but a few showers and storms will be possible in the afternoon.  That means you'd better plan on taking the ponchos.

Don't worry about sunscreen. Forecasters expect a cloudy day, with temperatures reaching the upper 70s in the afternoon.

The early part of next week could be quite wet. Computer models indicate about an inch of rain could fall in the Piedmont and foothills Monday and Tuesday, before clearing and cooler weather returns for Wednesday and Thursday.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Is summer finished?

The last day of meteorological summer was Aug. 31, and the last official day of summer -- by the calendar -- is next Thursday.

But it's possible the real last day of summer was Saturday, when the temperature reached 90 degrees in Charlotte before strong thunderstorms ushered a cold front through the area.

Now it looks as if real summer weather -- defined as high temperatures in the upper 80s and low 90s, and lows near 70 -- won't return soon.  In fact, it might not return until 2013.

If you look at the overall monthly numbers, the temperature in Charlotte for the first 12 days of the month is 2.4 degrees above average. But that's deceiving. Since Sunday, daily temperatures have been 3.5 degrees below average.  It dropped to 52 degrees Tuesday, the coldest morning since May 12, when it was 50. The low Thursday was 53.

That trend doesn't look to change soon.

We could get into a pattern early next week when overnight lows remain mild (upper 60s), but there's no signs of a return to 90-degree weather.

The Climate Prediction Center is forecasting below-average temperatures for the Charlotte region over the next 8 to 14 days.  By the end of that period, in the final days of September, climatology argues against a return to summer-like conditions.

We're stuck in a pattern of a northwest flow over the eastern United States. That's an awful pattern in winter (except for you snow-lovers), but it's rather nice in September.

We'll review the summer sometime in the next week, but the Charlotte area escaped without too much heat. Granted, we tied the city's all-time heat record on three different days in late June and early July, with highs of 104 degrees.  That alone makes it a summer to remember.

But June wasn't terribly hot, and August was downright tolerable, at least by Carolinas standards.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Obama speech change: The trend pointed to this

Back on August 14, I wrote in this blog that while it was impossible to predict the weather that far in advance for President Obama's scheduled Sept. 6 outdoor speech at Bank of America Stadium, the trend this summer was not good.

We've been stuck, with the exception of a few days in early July, in an unsettled weather pattern. Frankly, this has been a very stormy summer in the Charlotte region.

My words on Aug. 14: "But the pattern should concern those who want to party outdoors during the DNC this year."

Before blaming convention organizers for this mess, here are a few things to remember.

First, Democratic National Convention Committee officials couldn't have known about the pattern earlier this year when they picked Charlotte as the convention site. At the time, we were coming off a dry and very mild winter.  Back then, we were probably more worried about drought and 100-degree temperatures.

And those who say, "They should've known it might storm -- this is the South," are only partially right.

Yes, afternoon and evening thunderstorms are common in the Carolinas. But climatology shows that Charlotte has experienced a thunderstorm on Sept. 6 only once in the last 10 years. The thunderstorm pattern tends to weaken in late August and early September, as the autumn pattern of strong high pressure begins taking hold.

The DNC ran into the same thing we encounter in trying to schedule a picnic, a pool party, or any other kind of outing.  With the weather, you never really know.

DNC officials have been communicating regularly this week with the National Weather Service, and the decision to scrub Thursday's outdoor concert-style event at Bank of America Stadium and move it indoors must have been pretty tough.

There's a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms Thursday, and the computer models indicate the storms will have pushed east of Charlotte by evening.  Bottom line:  The decision to move indoors was not made so much because of any weather impact on the President's speech.  It had a lot more to do with worries about a thunderstorm hitting Charlotte in the afternoon, while the crowd was watching the Foo Fighters and Earth, Wind and Fire (they're still together?), and James Taylor.

The idea of lightning bolts zig-zagging into the stadium obviously put a fright into the convention organizers.

And well it should.  North Carolina is among the nation's leaders in lightning-related deaths each year.

The change of venue for Thursday proves yet again what we all know ... it's always about the weather.