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.