Monday, December 30, 2013

Another wintry blast, another miss (or escape) for the Southeast

It's starting to sound like a broken record, but another shot of very cold air is moving into the United States. It's being accompanied by the threat of another winter storm, too.

But once again, upper atmospheric steering currents are allowing the Southeast to miss (or escape, depending on whether or not you enjoy wintry weather) the cold air and frozen precipitation.

Temperatures are brutally cold Monday in the upper Midwest. The forecast high temperature Monday in Minneapolis is 3 degrees, and after an overnight low of 10 below zero, the predicted high Tuesday is 3 degrees below zero.

It will be very cold in Chicago, too, but readings will remain above zero because the Windy City is expected to be hit with a snow-producing winter storm.

Lows below zero will be common place in the Midwest over the next few days.

But rather than dive into the Southeast, the strong high pressure system will slide eastward over the next few days. The storm track also will move along the Ohio Valley and into the Mid-Atlantic. If that sounds familiar, it's because cold high pressure systems have been following the same path regularly this winter.

The mechanism is not in place for high pressure to push into the Southeast and take hold there. For our part of the country, the cold air outbreaks have been brief, as there isn't a blocking pattern in the atmosphere to lock the arctic high pressure systems in place over the eastern United States.

There is considerable debate among weather followers, as to how long this pattern will continue. Computer models indicate no real change through the first 10 days of January, but meteorologists will tell you not to put a ton of faith in computer models beyond a few days.

The truth is, we don't know how long the pattern will continue.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Do you remember the 1989 tornadoes?

The year 1989 is memorable in the Carolinas because of Hurricane Hugo, which roared ashore near Charleston on Sept. 22 of that year and cut a path of destruction all the way into the Charlotte region.

But there was another major weather event that year -- one of the worst tornado outbreaks in Carolinas history.

It didn't rival the March 1983 tornadoes that ripped a path across South Carolina and the eastern portion of North Carolina. But the tornado outbreak of May 5, 1989, caused deaths and millions of dollars' worth of destruction. And the twisters impacted the Charlotte region.

Now the National Weather Service's office in Greer, S.C., is looking for people who have memories of those storms, which hit nearly 25 years ago. Specifically, they'd like to communicate with those who were affected. Those memories will be part of the Weather Service's observance this spring of Severe Weather Awareness Week.

The first tornado struck near Chesnee, S.C. Two people were killed there.

A tornado, perhaps from the same thunderstorm, then touched down near Lawndale in northern Cleveland County. That F4 twister, the second-strongest classification of tornado, stayed on the ground through the Vale area of western Lincoln County and into the Propst community in Catawba County. The tornado killed four people, injured 53, and caused millions of dollars' damage.

The second twister came from a different storm. It touched down in the early evening hours near Wesley Chapel in Union County. A young girl was killed, and the F4 tornado tore a path through Indian Trail, crossed U.S. 74 near a flea market, and then ripped through Unionville and Fairview.  There were six injuries and more than $8 million in damage.

A weaker tornado struck Anson and Stanly counties a short time later, and there also was an F3 twister in Winston-Salem that day.

The Weather Service's office in Greer is especially interested in the Cleveland-Lincoln-Catawba twister and the Union County tornado.

If you want to contribute to the Weather Service's report, contact meteorologist Justin Lane at

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Arctic outbreak for Christmas? Scrap that idea!

The computer models giveth, and the computer models taketh away.

A few days ago, the models were showing an outbreak of bitterly cold arctic air plunging into the Rockies and upper Midwest, then descending all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

That air mass threatened to bring frigid temperatures to places like Texas, western Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma for the Christmas holidays. The model showed daytime highs around zero in parts of the Midwest.

But all that is changed now. The models show a strong high pressure system moving generally east, rather than south. That will keep the coldest of the air next week in Canada.

That means the bitter cold probably isn't headed for the Midwest. Conditions likely will be cool, but not frigid.

And it means the 2013 Carolinas Christmas likely will be average. At this time of year, "average" means highs in the low 50s and lows in the lower 30s.

For several weeks, we've been in a persistent pattern.  It gets quite cold for a few days, and then we have a mild trend. Precipitation falls as rain, not anything frozen. If you believe the models (and that can be a risky thing to do), the trend will continue for the forseeable future.

That means chances are quite low of anything frozen developing locally in the near future.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas forecast starting to take shape

The evolving weather pattern across North America is taking better shape for Christmas week, and we're starting to get a better idea of what to expect during the busy holiday travel period.

No doubt some Carolinas residents will fret over the predicted 70-degree weather this weekend, fearing that could continue into Christmas and ruin their holiday spirit.  Have no fears. A cold front will do away with the 70s late Sunday or Monday, but don't look for arctic air to arrive next.

It now appears as if Christmas will be seasonal in the Carolinas, with highs somewhere in the vicinity of 50 degrees. And there are no signs of really cold weather coming our way through the end of the month. Rather, it looks as if it will be mild, with a few outbreaks of chilly air.

Before Christmas, things could get interesting around here.  More about that later.

The seasonal temperatures in the Carolinas won't be the case off to our west. It appears as if another surge of arctic air will descend into the Rockies and Midwest, then push down into Texas. Christmas week could be quite cold in that part of the country,

As for Christmas travel, I'd bet on the biggest potential for trouble coming in the Midwest and down into the Mid-South.  Snow, sleet or freezing rain would be a possibility at the southern edge of the cold air mass, in places like Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri.

We'll have to keep an eye this weekend on an approaching low pressure system. Some of the computer models are predicting a combination of conditions that could produce severe weather. At the bare minimum, heavy rain will be a possibility, with a strong surge of very mild air being pushed from the Gulf of Mexico into the Southeast.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Think it's been cold? The numbers say you're right

It's been cold so far this winter season.

I realize winter doesn't officially begin until next week, but tell that to anyone who shivered in 20-degree temperatures last month. In reality, our winter weather arrived in mid-November, with two straight mornings of 21-degree lows.

Since then, it's been more of the same.

The overall average temperatures in November and December have been a bit below average, but that's because we had a couple of very mild days, such as last Friday's mid 70s.

Last year, looking at the period from Nov. 1 through Dec. 12, Charlotte had six days with morning lows in the 20s. All of those came in November, as early December was quite mild. The lowest temperature during that period was 21 degrees.

This year, that same period has produced 14 days in the 20s or colder. It actually dropped to 19 degrees on Nov. 25 and 28, and it was 20 degrees on Tuesday morning this week.

The obvious question is whether this is a sign of things to come in January and February, the heart of winter. Don't bet on it necessarily.

Weather tends to follow patterns that last for several weeks.  So, following that theory, it might remain quite cold into January and perhaps beyond.

But remember three winters ago. Temperatures were well below seasonal averages from early December until Valentine's Day. Then, like someone flicked a switch, it got warmer. In fact, the latter part of February and March produced some of the warmest weather Charlotte has seen at that time of year.

Another shot of cold air is looming for Christmas week, so it appears safe to say that December will finish as a chilly month. What happens in January remains a big question mark.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Bitter cold for Christmas ... but in Midwest?

The long-range weather computer models are painting a very, very cold picture for Christmas over parts of the United States, but if you believe those advance forecasts, the worst of the cold is headed for the same place that got it the last time -- the Midwest, down to Texas and northern Mexico.

If the models verify, it appears as if the Carolinas would get a glancing shot from the arctic outbreak, much as we did with last week's surge of cold air.

All of this is important, because any storm system that moves into or near this cold arctic air would produce frozen precipitation, and that could be a big deal during the Christmas holidays, with millions of people traveling. If you buy what the models are selling, the risk of snow, sleet and freezing rain would be in places like Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri and possibly western Tennessee.

If you remember, the last arctic outbreak dropped temperatures to what we'd call "chilly" levels here in the Carolinas, and a low pressure system produced a bit of freezing rain last Sunday before temperatures climbed above freezing.  Something similar would be possible with a storm system that is forecast to develop around Dec. 26 or 27.

All of this could change, however. And as one professional meteorologist told me Thursday, the winter computer models sometimes tend to exaggerate the amount of cold air in these situations. "When the time comes, temperatures often are not as cold as advertised," he said.

It seems safe to say that we won't be seeing an extended period of mild weather during Christmas week.

Instead, it looks -- for now, at least -- as if we can expect seasonal conditions from this weekend through much of next week, followed by stormy conditions and cool temperatures around Christmas.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Will the ice, bitter arctic cold reach here?

A super-strong arctic high pressure system is blasting its way into the central part of the United States today, helping set the stage for what could be a crippling ice storm in parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee.

Temperatures will struggle to get above freezing Friday in Dallas, and places like Austin and San Antonio will be in the mid 30s for most of the day.  Truly frigid weather is predicted for areas farther north.

Often, such arctic air masses push eastward and eventually cover the eastern part of the United States. But not always.

And it appears as if the Southeast might avoid the worst of the powerful cold this time around.

Some of that arctic air mass will seep into the Carolinas this weekend. You'll feel it Saturday, when temperatures tumble from around 60 degrees in the early-morning hours to the lower 40s by evening.

Planning to attend the ACC championship game Saturday night? Bring a heavy coat.

It'll be even worse Sunday, with temperatures near freezing during part of the day and a low pressure system bringing rain. This is when parts of the Charlotte region could experience freezing rain. Right now, it looks as if Charlotte won't see much in the way of glazing. But it could be a different story to the north, in places like Hickory and Statesville -- and especially Boone and other mountain locales.

Then the same cold front that pushes southward on Saturday will retreat northward late Sunday and early Monday as a warm front.

So guess what?  On Monday, we're back in the 60s, or at least near 60 degrees. In fact, there will be enough wind shear Monday (winds blowing from different directions at various levels of the atmosphere) that any thunderstorms developing along an approaching cold front could cause wind damage.  That front will bring another shot of cold air.

But we won't really get that cold next week, according to the computer models.  There probably will be a day or two with highs in the upper 40s, but it will be nothing like the 30-degree highs that cities to the west of us (at the same latitude) experience from the cold air mass.

So that's one system we might avoid.

It's a long winter, though.

We'll keep a close eye on this Sunday freezing rain scenario and let you know about any updates.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

No ice storm, but cold rain ahead

You'll be hearing a lot in the next few days about a very strong arctic high pressure system that is barreling southward into the United States.

The good news for the Carolinas is that the heart of the cold is taking aim at the Midwest. That will prevent our region from being hit with an ice storm. Unfortunately, residents in the South Central United States might not be so lucky.

The arctic high is bring very cold weather and an amazingly abrupt change in conditions.

An example: Dallas could hit 80 degrees today. Freezing rain and temperatures near 30 degrees are forecast for Friday. The ice storm is expected across north Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, western Tennessee and possibly parts of Kentucky.

Earlier this week, the Carolinas seemed to be a possible target of freezing rain. But computer models now indicate not enough of the really cold air will spill across the mountains. It will turn much colder this weekend, but not cold enough for freezing rain.

Instead, we'll deal with our own abrupt temperature change. Forecasters expect highs in the mid 70s Thursday and Friday. By Sunday, when rain is falling for most of the day, temperatures might not get out of the upper 30s.

The changeover day will be Saturday, when temperatures are falling (along with rain). Conditions could be miserable Saturday night for the ACC championship football game at Bank of America Stadium.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Keeping an eye on next week

While we move through a one-week break from the cold weather, meteorologists and weather geeks will be looking closely at the always-waffling computer models for a hint about what will happen early next week.

The models show a strong cold high pressure system pushing southward from Canada into the United States in a few days. The models also show a low pressure system moving across the South.

That is a scenario for wintry precipitation, and some of the models show freezing rain and some sleet over parts of North Carolina and a few other spots in the Southeast. The time frame for the Carolinas would be late Sunday and Monday.

Regardless of whether it's frozen or not, plenty of precipitation appears to be in our future later this week. Rainfall chances will be increasing gradually every day.

The wintry scenario for the Carolinas depends on a strong cold air damming event to set up. That would mean strong high pressure over the Northeast or eastern Great Lakes, sending cold air on a northeast flow into the Carolinas. At the same time, low pressure would need to follow a track across the Southeast.

Some of the models show that. Others show the high pressure system not being that strong, or the low pressure system tracking up the Ohio Valley instead. If that happens, we would have a cold rain.

In recent winters, a strong high pressure system has established itself off the Southeast coast. That has served to fight off intrusions of cold air and keep conditions relatively mild in the Carolinas.
There are signs of such a ridge of high pressure strengthening in the near future.

If cold air damming looks likely and low pressure seems headed on a southerly track, you'll be hearing more about this ice threat soon.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thanksgiving travel mess looms

(UPDATE:  I'll be doing a live online chat at 11 a.m. Wednesday at  We'll talk about Thanksgiving holiday weather and holiday travel.  If you want to shoot me some questions about the upcoming winter, I'll try to deal with those if we have the time.)

The storm system responsible for the weekend's icy conditions and hundreds of flight delays and cancellations in Texas is moving eastward and still threatening to make a mess of Thanksgiving travel plans.

The Charlotte area will avoid frozen precipitation from this storm, and the rain likely will end by Wednesday morning.  But this storm has the potential of fouling up flight schedules along the East Coast.  That, of course, has a ripple effect which would be felt in Charlotte.

And regardless of the storm's impact on flight schedules, it will make for nasty traveling conditions Wednesday for people headed north and even east from Charlotte.

Latest indications are that the storm's snow will be limited to inland areas, with the heaviest snow falling in a band from central New York up into Vermont and eastern Ontario and western Quebec. However, several inches of snow are likely in parts of West Virginia and in the western half of Pennsylvania.
Along the Interstate 95 corridor, it looks to be a rain event.  The rain could fall heavily at times late Tuesday and Wednesday, which will make for bad driving conditions up I-95 and I-81.

Added to all this will be gusty winds Wednesday.

The impact on air travel is still uncertain. If low visibilities and heavy rain develop Wednesday along the I-95 corridor from Richmond up to Boston, that will cause flight delays. Typically, as the delays build, the impact spreads to locations far from the storm's effects.  That is the potential problem Wednesday.

We'll keep close tabs on travel conditions Tuesday and Wednesday.

The good news is that conditions look to be a lot quieter at the end of the weekend, when Thanksgiving travelers are returning home.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thanksgiving travel troubles ... and really cold air

We've had relatively quiet weather for the past several months, since the heavy rain and flooding of June, July and early August came to an end.

Now all that is preparing to change.

It appears as if the eastern United States, including the Carolinas, will be paying attention to weather forecasts for the next several weeks. If you can believe the computer models (and they seem to be relatively consistent on this), you can pack away the shorts.  Get the winter coats ready.

It all starts Saturday night and Sunday, of course, with the arrival of some very cold air. High temperatures Sunday probably won't get above the upper 30s in Charlotte, and don't be surprised to see some places in the area with lows around 13 to 15 degrees Monday morning.

Next up will be an old-fashioned Gulf of Mexico winter storm system.  We haven't experienced many of these in recent years, but such a critter will develop Monday and push across northern Florida and southern Georgia.  If temperatures were a few degrees colder, we'd be looking at a winter storm.  Instead, prepare for cold rain, and possibly plenty of it.

After that, the big question is how quickly the storm system departs, and which way it goes from here.

If it's still raining on Wednesday, that will have an impact on Thanksgiving travel for Carolinas residents. Some forecasts indicate the rain could end as snow in higher elevations.  That's another bad scenario for travelers.

And will the storm system push out to sea, or go up the East Coast?  If it's the latter, then big travel hubs like Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston will be getting drenching rain and gusty winds on Wednesday. That won't help the airline schedules.

Once the storm system is gone, things won't change a lot. Cold air will remain.

The longer-range computer models show a big dip in the jet stream, with cold air mass after cold air mass dropping from Alaska and western Canada into the eastern half of the United States. The models differ in predicting whether the heart of the cold air will affect the central U.S. or the East.  But it appears nearly certain that there will be cold air around.

Will the southern part of the jet stream remain active, bringing storm systems across the Gulf of Mexico and into the Southeast?  That's something to watch.  An active southern jet stream added to the cold air is a big deal along the East Coast.

And some of the long-range models show some ridiculously cold temperatures for the Carolinas for the period around Dec. 6-11.

Meteorologists could be kept very busy over the next two or three weeks, at least.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Some worries for Thanksgiving travel

After several years of peaceful weather in the Southeast for Thanksgiving holiday travelers, some forecasters say the bottom could fall out this time.

There are increasing signs that stormy conditions could dominate a sizeable chunk of the eastern United States, although the details are still hazy. With cold weather also in play, it's possible, forecasters say, for snow or other frozen precipitation to hamper travel -- especially north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

"There are a lot of possibilities next week with the storm in the East, but whether or not there is snow north and west of the I-95 corridor is still uncertain at this time," said Bernie Raynor, senior meteorologist at Pennsylvania-based Accu-Weather.

Both of the main long-range computer models are pointing toward stormy weather, but as usual, there are differences in the timing. And there are questions as to how much cold weather will be in place.

Thanksgiving is the biggest travel holiday of the year, and any type of inclement weather next Wednesday could wreak havoc with flight schedules at the major Eastern airports.

The computer models indicate a dip in the jet stream will build this weekend, as another cold high pressure system pushes southward from Alaska and Canada. That system is expected to bring cold weather and snow into the Midwest, with the chilly air extending southward into the Carolinas. Temperatures on Sunday in the Charlotte area could be quite cold, perhaps rivaling the readings of last week.

Then the computer models predict low pressure will form in the Gulf of Mexico and move up the Eastern Seaboard.

Right now, the indication is that wet weather is most likely Thanksgiving Day and on Black Friday. But forecasts this far in advance are full of uncertainty, meteorologists say.

"The details on the track and speed of that storm during the middle of next week ... will unfold  later this week and into the weekend," Accu-Weather's Alex Sosnowski wrote in a briefing Tuesday.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Don't let Monday's warmth fool you, Panther fans

Some Carolina Panthers fans might be in for a rude surprise if they attend Monday night's game against the New England Patriots and make their clothing apparel decisions on the basis of daytime weather Monday.

It will be two entirely different stories Monday, with a warm afternoon followed by tumbling temperatures in the evening.

A strong cold front is expected to cross the Charlotte region sometime around daybreak Monday. It will be preceeded by some Sunday evening showers, and possibly another round of precipitation when the front comes through.

Behind the front, forecasters expect rapid clearing later Monday morning. Winds will be westerly, coming off the mountains. High pressure building in behind the front will push the winds downward, which will cause heating.

The bottom line: Even though a pretty chilly air mass is headed into the Carolinas, area residents won't really feel the impact until later in the day. Forecasters expect sunny skies, breezy conditions, and temperatures in the lower 70s Monday afternoon.

If you're headed to the game, don't let the balmy conditions fool you. By later in the afternoon, a process known as cold air advection -- basically, the intrusion of cold air from a Canadian high pressure system -- will take control. Meteorologists expect temperatures to fall quickly into the 60s by mid-afternoon Monday, then rapidly through the 50s in the evening hours.

It likely will be in the lower 50s at kickoff Monday and the lower 40s by the end of the game.  That is quite a change from those lower 70s in the afternoon.

So dress accordingly.

One bit of good news ... it will be dry Monday evening.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Thanksgiving warmup might not materialize

I wrote earlier this week about forecasts that the two cold snaps -- this week's and the one coming next week -- would be followed by milder weather through the end of November.

Forget it.

Most of the long-range forecasts now show the rest of November, except for the next few days, as being chilly.  It probably won't be quite as cold, compared to average, as what we had earlier this week. But forecasters aren't hinting at shorts-and-T shirt weather for Thanksgiving.

We'll get a couple days of milder conditions, with highs in the 60s Saturday and Sunday and probably pushing 70 degrees Monday. But another strong high pressure system will push down from Canada early next week, and the Charlotte region will be back to chilly weather (daytime highs in the mid and upper 50s, lows around freezing) for the rest of the week.

NOAA's Climate Prediction Center is calling for a strong chance of below-average temperatures in the Southeast over the next 8 to 14 days. That forecast is echoed by a number of private meteorologists -- but not by everyone.

Forecasters at Accu-Weather earlier this week mentioned a chance of milder weather around Thanksgiving in the Southeast.

As WCNC-TV chief meteorologist Brad Panovich noted earlier this week, the cold weather in November could have an impact on long-term winter forecasts. Cold weather could help put down a heavy cover of snow in southern Canada and the northern part of the United States. If that happens, high pressure systems that push southward from Canada and the Arctic won't modify much.

And that would mean colder weather this winter in the Southeast.

We'll have to wait and see what happens over the next several weeks.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Does this mean a cold, snowy winter?

The strong blast of arctic air roaring into the Carolinas on Tuesday probably will set off a lot of speculation over whether this is the harbinger of a cold and snowy winter.

After all, a weak low pressure system trailing the cold front is expected to set off snow showers Tuesday afternoon and early evening in the mountains and foothills, and the National Weather Service office in Greer, S.C., says residents of Rowan and eastern Davie counties could see snow flying later this evening and the impulse moves by.

In the immediate Charlotte area, there's a chance that the rain showers could mix with snow before ending this evening.

For those of you wondering what happened to the more significant snow that was being discussed last week, the answer is simple.  The European weather model, which favored a snowier scenario, was wrong.  It forecast stronger low pressure developing along the front.  The Global model had the precipitation forecast right -- very light.

So the winter scoreboard so far is Global 1, European 0.  I'll remember that, the next time one of the models starts indicating snow.

But back to the long-range picture.

The simple answer is that this week's taste of winter doesn't mean anything for the long-range winter outlook.

In fact, we'll see a warmup later this week, and after another shot of chilly air moves into the East next week (it won't be as strong as this week's), it could turn rather warm for the last 7 to 10 days of the month.  I noticed that Alex Sosnowski of Accu-Weather mentioned this morning that his company's meteorologists think temperatures could be quite mild in our part of the country around Thanksgiving.

In another week or two, I'll write about the various players on the field for our winter weather outlook -- and how meteorologists think it will all play out.

This week's cold:  It's coming, in a hurry. While the temperature at Charlotte Douglas International Airport was 67 degrees at 1 p.m. Tuesday, it was 44 degrees with a howling northwest wind in Asheville. Temperatures already had fallen into the 50s in the foothills and South Carolina Upstate, and you can expect the same to happen in Charlotte over the next few hours.

Record low temperatures aren't likely the next two mornings, but readings won't be far away from setting marks. The record for Wednesday morning in Charlotte is 25, set in 1911.  Thursday morning's record is 22, set in 1986.

On second thought, tomorrow morning's record isn't really too far out of touch.  Forecast lows overnight are in the middle 20s.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Cold is definitely coming ... snow still in forecast

The computer models continue to paint a portrait of mid-January weather around the middle of this week for the Carolinas, and that will include the possibility of snow.

Before we get to the snow, let's get one thing clear.  It will be cold from Wednesday into Friday or Saturday. Very cold.  January cold.

Chances of accumulating snow in places like Charlotte are almost zero, but there remains a chance that we'll see some snow showers in the area early Wednesday. Considering this is the first half of November, it's a very strange forecast.

There is a higher chance of accumulating snow not far northwest of Charlotte. In the morning meteorological discussion, Rodney Hinson of the National Weather Service office in Greer said the model consensus seems to indicate an inch of snow in the mountains and even the foothills.

Basically, here's what will happen.

A very deep trough will move into the eastern United States. A cold front is forecast to push through the region late Tuesday, setting the stage for arctic air to pour into the Carolinas and most of the rest of the East.  The models indicate some form of low pressure will form along or near the front, and that would be the snow-maker.

But there are questions.  How strong will the low be?  How much precipitation?

As Hinson wrote in Sunday morning's discuss, "It should be said that this is an atypical system in an atypical time of year for heavy snowfall. Therefore, excitement should remain tempered until a better consensus on amount and placement of precipitation can be reached."

So we'll keep an eye on things, and even if climatological normalcy takes over, and there isn't any snow in our region, it still is a threat. And it gives snow-lovers a little something to whet their appetite about, as we move closer to the start of real winter.

Regardless of the snow, the temperatures will be unseasonably cold.  Don't be surprised if Wednesday's high temperatures don't climb above the low 40s.  It could be next weekend before Charlotte is even remotely close to 60 degrees again.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Snow a possibility in North Carolina next week

I won't even beat around the bush on this one.  Some of the computer models are predicting the development of a big East Coast storm next week that could bring snow to parts of North Carolina.

If you believe a few of the models, snowflakes could even be falling in the Charlotte region next Wednesday.

It's crazy early for such a thing to happen, but some of the models show enough arctic air being dragged into the back side of the system for snow to fall in parts of North Carolina.

The National Weather Service meteorologists at the Greer office think it will be the cold-chasing-precipitation scenario.  That is often the case in the Charlotte region, as it was several time in the last few years. Precipitation falls as rain and ends before the really cold air arrives.

So that's the official forecast -- rain, followed by some very chilly air around Wednesday or Thursday of next week.

But the Weather Service thinks rain could mix with or change to snow along and north of the I-40 corridor. And the mountains seem destined for snow.

The European model is most bullish on some snow falling in the Carolinas. The Global model has a more tame solution.

Either way, it looks as if an arctic high pressure system is expected to move into the central United States early next week and then spread eastward. That will bring very cold weather into areas north of the Carolinas. If the low pressure trough over the East is strong and digs deep into the Southeast, then some of that arctic air will filter down this way.

Like I said ... mid-November is mighty early to be thinking about a winter storm. But if a strong low pressure system really develops, inland areas of the Mid-Atlantic apparently are in for something that might seem more fitting for December or January.

We'll keep an eye on this in coming days.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

100 years ago: A November hurricane on the Great Lakes

If you've lived in the Great Lakes area, you're aware of the fury that can develop on the lakes in November.

Even if you've never lived there, you might remember Canadian folk singer Gordon Lightfoot's "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," a decades-ago hit about the sinking of the ore carrier during a violent storm in November 1975.

This week marks the 100th anniversary of a storm generally considered to be the worst ever on the Great Lakes.

It was called "Freshwater Fury" or the "White Hurricane," although the latter title was used by some people to describe an intense blizzard that hit lakes Erie and Ontario in late January 1978.

Anyways, the 1913 storm left more than 250 people dead, sank 19 ships, and caused nearly $5 million damage. That's in 1913 dollars. In today's money, that would have been about $120 million.

Like a number of the other big Great Lakes gales in November, the 1913 storm was the product of two low pressure systems. One moved eastward from the Great Plains, and another apparently formed in the Southeast and drifted northward. I've seen several accounts of a "lull" in the storm, and I wonder if that happened when the Great Plains low pressure system -- which was very strong -- merged with the Southeast low.

At any rate, the storm moved into the Lake Superior area on Friday, Nov. 7. The U.S. Weather Bureau's forecast system wasn't great at the time, and the storm caught people by surprise. Winds had been expected to be 50 mph but exceeded 74 mph. The next day, winds were sustained at 60 mph in Duluth, Minn.

The storm's quiet period came later on Nov. 8, but by midday on Sunday, Nov. 9, the "Freshwater Fury" was at its strongest.  Storm accounts seem to indicate the worst conditions were on Lake Huron. Its north-south alignment, along with the vicious northerly winds, allowed huge waves to form and batter the southern shore.

Farther to the east, winds gusted to 80 mph in Cleveland and Buffalo. By late on the day Nov. 9, sustained winds of 70 mph with gusts to 90 mph were common in all but the eastern-most lake, Ontario.

As the storm pushed northeast into Ontario on Nov. 10 and 11, it dragged much colder air into the lake-effect areas of Lake Erie, from Cleveland up to Buffalo. More than 2 feet of snow fell in Cleveland, with drifts of 7 or 8 feet reported. In addition, the strong winds had knocked down power poles across the area, so many people had to deal with very deep snow and no electricity.

Tens of thousands of customers were without power for a week in parts of Michigan, Ohio and Ontario. There was heavy damage along the shore of Lake Michigan, in Chicago and Milwaukee.

The damage to shipping was heavy. There are photos of a capsized freighter, the Charles S. Price, floating in Lake Huron. Twenty-eight sailors died in that wreck. There also were 28 deaths aboard the John A. McGean and the Isaac M. Scott. Wrecks from the 1913 storm litter the bottom of the Great Lakes, and one wreck, the Henry B. Smith, was discovered at the bottom of Lake Superior five months ago.

By the way, the largest ship ever to sink in the Great Lakes was the Edmund Fitzgerald, at a length of 729 feet. It went down in 70 mph winds and 40-foot waves at the eastern end of Lake Superior.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

When a hurricane brought snow to North Carolina

News media has been full of reports this week about the one-year anniversary of Sandy, the superstorm that ripped the coastal areas of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.

Sandy doesn't have the "hurricane" title because it lost tropical characteristics before moving ashore, but that's a silly distinction to people who had to deal with the storm. In the real world, it behaved like a hurricane.

Many residents of the Mid-Atlantic are still dealing with the impact, a year later.

But you might have forgotten, or never realized, that Sandy had another interesting to it. While delivering damaging winds and storm surge to the coast, it arrived late enough in the year to deliver chilly air into the Appalachians.

It was just chilly enough at higher altitudes to create an early-season snowstorm. For much of the region, in fact, the Sandy snowstorm was the heaviest of the winter season, and it came in late October.

Larry Lee and Pat Moore of the National Weather Service office in Greer, S.C., wrote an interesting and comprehensive report on that "other side" of Sandy. That report can be found on the Weather Service website and is an interesting read -- especially for weather geeks.

There was enough moisture to drop several feet of snow in some parts of the N.C. mountains. While not included in the report, there also was some very heavy snow in southern West Virginia and even the higher altitudes in Virginia.

The cutoff between heavy snow and rain was a tight gradient. Lee and Moore note that Asheville got little if any snow, but more than a foot accumulated a short distance away.

Check it out, if you get a chance.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

European version of Sandy?

The St. Jude's Storm wasn't a hurricane, but it came nearly a year to the day after Sandy battered the United States' coastline from New Jersey to Rhode Island.

And it was the worst storm to hit much of Europe in at least a decade.

So named because it roared across the United Kingdom and into the European mainland Monday, which is St. Jude's feast day in some Christian denominations, the storm killed 15, caused millions of dollars' damage, and left hundreds of thousands of residents and businesses without power.

It was another reminder that Europe is certainly not immune to Atlantic-bred storms.

Some of the storm's fuel came from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lorenzo in the eastern Atlantic, but the system was a cold-core storm -- definitely not tropical. Meteorologists had plenty of warning, and the southern parts of Wales and England were on alert when the storm made landfall Monday morning.

After ripping across the United Kingdom, the storm plowed into the European mainland, damaging northern France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and southern Sweden. Then it pushed eastward, battering the Baltic nations (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) before roaring into Russia near St. Petersburg.

A 14-year-old boy playing in the surf on the southeast coast of England was washed out to sea. So was a woman on an island off the French coast. Nearly a dozen others were killed by falling trees.

Travel across the English Channel -- both above land (ferry) and below (Eurostar high-speed train) -- was halted for several hours.

Officials reported more than 270,000 power outages in Wales and England, and 30-foot waves battered the southern coast. Wind gusts of more than 100 mph were reported at gauges a short distance off the coast.

There were numerous reports of winds gusting around 80 mph in northern Europe.

About 100,000 power outages were reported in Latvia. At St. Petersburg, strong winds forced a rise in the Neva River, and the water level climbed 10 inches in an hour.

The St. Jude's Storm pales in comparison to the system called the worst ever to hit the United Kingdom -- on Nov. 26, 1703. That storm had winds of about 80 mph, but it hit heavily populated areas in an era when storm protection was a rarity. As a result, about 10,000 people were killed in south central England. Tens of thousands of trees were blown down.

Much of the Netherlands' coastal protection system was upgraded after a storm that struck Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 in 1953. Nearly 2,000 people died in that country when ocean water overwhelmed coastal communities. Another 2,000 deaths were reported in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe.

Monday, October 28, 2013

On snow, frost, severe storms, and Halloween ...

Thoughts on a variety of topics after a weekend trip to western Maryland, where snow fell briefly Thursday afternoon ...

October freeze: The weekend cold snap produced the chilliest weather in the Carolinas this early in the season since 2006.

The low temperature Saturday morning in Charlotte was 27 degrees (which was colder than where I was, north of Frederick, Md.). That set a record for the date, and only once in Charlotte weather history -- on Oct. 26, 2006 -- has it been so cold this early in the season.

The 55-degree high temperature Friday was the chilliest maximum October temperature in Charlotte since a 53-degree high on Oct. 17, 2009.

Southeast snow: You probably saw where snow fell in the North Carolina mountains Thursday, and there were even minor accumulations for a while in some of the higher elevations.

You might not have realized, however, that more significant snow fell Thursday in the traditional "snow belt" areas along the Great Lakes. Several inches of very wet snow accumulated in the higher elevations southeast of lakes Erie and Ontario.

Deep low pressure to the north of the Great Lakes was funneling a strong supply of cold, unstable air into the United States. When that unstable air crossed the Great Lakes, it picked up moisture and deposited it as snow on the shore, especially in the higher areas a bit inland from the lakes.

Stormy week ahead: It looks like one of those strong autumn storm systems will push eastward across the United States over the next few days. It will plow into some rather mild air, and the result likely will be an outbreak of severe weather Tuesday and Wednesday in the Midwest and Mid-South.

By Thursday, that low will drag a cold front, stretching from the Great Lakes into the South. Strong thunderstorms are likely again, but meteorologists aren't certain if the instability factor will be as high as it is expected to be Tuesday and Wednesday.

Strong wind shear will accompany the front as it moves into the Carolinas on Thursday night. Right now, it's too early to know if there will be enough instability for severe thunderstorms to break out. But it's possible, and we'll have to watch the forecast unfold this week.

Halloween: Those thunderstorms and the cold front will arrive a bit too late to do much damage to trick-or-treating Thursday evening. It's possible a few showers could arrive in the Charlotte region ahead of the main band of precipitation -- possibly as early as the evening hours. But most areas are likely to remain dry.

It will be mild, too. High temperatures are expected to reach the low and mid 70s, and with ample cloud cover, conditions will remain warm Thursday evening, even after the sun sets.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Carolinas' hurricane threat ending?

An evolving weather pattern could bring at least a temporary end to a Carolinas hurricane season that never really started.

It's too early to stick a fork in the 2013 tropical weather season for our part of the country, but the forecast trend for the remainder of October is not the kind of pattern that would favor tropical storms or hurricanes along the Carolinas coast.

A deep trough is forecast to set up shop over the eastern United States, and most long-range computer models predict the pattern will continue for the remainder of October. The trough will allow cold air to funnel southward, covering much of the area east of the Mississippi River.

This pattern will bring some snow to the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes, as increasingly colder air moves into that part of the country next week.

In the Carolinas, it will translate into clear skies, chilly temperatures and low humidity levels for much of next week. After an October with a steady diet of highs in the 70s and lows in the 50s and 60s, it'll be more like daytime highs of 65 degrees and morning lows in the lower 40s.

At this time of year, the most common breeding ground for tropical storms and hurricanes is the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.  Accu-Weather posted an article article today in which meteorologist Dan Kottlowski says the changing pattern actually might foster development of tropical storm activity.

But atmospheric steering currents would push any tropical systems either westward into Mexico or out into the Atlantic off the Florida coast. It's possible that rain from a tropical system could push northward into the Carolinas, but a direct hit from a storm would seem unlikely, given the predicted pattern.

It probably will be early November before the new pattern relents, and by that time, we'll be thinking more about winter weather than hurricanes.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

It's Great Southeast ShakeOut Day

Thousands of students and workers across the Southeast stopped what they were doing and ducked for cover at 10:17 a.m. Thursday.

They were participants in the second annual Great Southeast ShakeOut, a drill which is part of Earthquake Awareness Week. Participants were practicing how they should respond in the event of an earthquake.

I'm sure everyone in the Charlotte region realizes that the idea of an earthquake in this region is not far-fetched. Sure, we're not in a prime zone, but the ground has shaken many times in recent years.

According to the ShakeOut website, at least two Charlotte schools -- Idlewild Elementary and McKee Road Elementary -- were among the participants. So were a number of business offices.

More than 1.6 million people were expected to participate in Thursday morning's drill.

In recent history, you probably remember the Aug. 23, 2011, earthquake which gave the Charlotte area a jolt. That quake, with a 5.8 intensity, was centered about 40 miles northwest of Richmond. It was the strongest earthquake in the eastern United States since 1897.

The big one, of course, was the quake that hit Charleston on Sept. 1, 1886. That one had a 7.3 intensity, and it left at least 60 people dead. The quake was felt as far away as central Ohio and Havana, and it gave the Charlotte region a serious shake, according to reports at the time. In recent years, earthquakes have been reported in Charleston in November 1952, August 1959, March and July 1960, and October 1967.

Authorities say a quake similar to the 1886 shake in the Charleston area would result in a huge loss of life, along with severe property damage.

A 5.2 earthquake, centered near Waynesville (west of Asheville) was reported on Feb. 21, 1916. That temblor was felt several states away but did little damage.

I've written before about the Dec. 13, 1879, earthquake that was centered in southeastern Mecklenburg County. That one had a 4.0 intensity.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Cold air to descend next week

It's looking increasingly likely as if a buckle in the jet stream will allow the first real shot of cold air this season to push into parts of the continental United States next week.

While somewhat-cooler conditions could reach the Carolinas, it looks for now as if the really chilly stuff will be confined to areas northwest of the Charlotte region.

But the configuration of the cold air outbreak could provide a hint of what is to come this winter, if you believe some of the long-range forecasts.

It has been a mild month so far for the Midwest and much of the East. Temperatures this month in places like Chicago and St. Louis have averaged 6 to 7 degrees above average. In the Charlotte area, temperatures have been only a few degrees above average.

All that appears likely to change. Low pressure in Hudson Bay and high pressure south of Greenland could provide a blocking pattern like the kind that bring bitterly cold air and snowstorms to the central and eastern United States in the winter. In late October, of course, there won't be the bitter cold and widespread snow, although parts of the Midwest could see flurries.

The best guess now is that the cold air will funnel southward, creating the typical "U-shaped" pattern that we see in blocking situations. Areas above the outline of the letter U will be in the cold air. That jet stream dip will come southward from Canada into the Dakota, then down across the Midwest, bottoming out in Tennessee and then curving northeast across Virginia and the Mid Atlantic.

If that happens, say goodbye to the growing season in much of the Tennessee and Ohio valleys, along with the Great Lakes.

Nearly all of the Carolinas would stay on the milder side of the cold air outbreak in that scenario.

I've seen a couple long-range winter forecasts that predict the same general pattern from November through February.  We'll talk more about that in coming days.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Devastating cyclone aims at India

A major weather event appears to be unfolding in another part of the world.

While the hurricane season has been a washout here in the Western Hemisphere, one of the strongest cyclones in recent years is poised to strike India early Saturday.

Super Cyclone Phailin is in the Bay of Bengal on Friday and moving toward the eastern coast of India. Forecasters say the storm likely will make landfall about 10 a.m. Saturday (Eastern time), affecting Andra Pradesh and Odisha states.

Phailin (Thai for "sapphire") was a tropical storm just a few days ago but exploded in strength Thursday as it entered the Bay of Bengal. Top sustained winds Friday morning were 155 mph, and the storm's total circulation area is about 40 percent of the size of India. The storm's winds increased about 70 mph during the day Thursday.

With little or no wind shear and very warm water in the Bay of Bengal, Phailin is not likely to weaken.

The water is quite shallow near the coasts of India and Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal, and that contributes to the massive damage caused by waves and storm surge. Forecasters say Phailin is building 50-foot waves.

A strong cyclone struck roughly the same area in 1999, killing nearly 10,000 and causing $2.5 billion in damage.

However, forecasters say Phailin likely will hit land a bit south of the 1999 storm, where the land is a bit farther above sea level. That might temper the impact of the storm surge and waves.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Yes, it's definitely autumn

Most people describe autumn as cool, crisp days with sunshine in a deep blue sky.

But take a look out the window this afternoon. See those grey skies? Step outside.  Feel that northeast breeze with a bit of a chill in it?

That's how you know autumn has arrived.

A look at the weather map confirms it.  Low pressure is moving up the coast. Gale warnings are displayed along the Carolinas shoreline.  Between 2 and 3 inches of rain are expected near the coast, in places like Myrtle Beach and Wilmington.

It's not a strong nor'easter, but it's a good facsimile. And it's a sign that autumn weather is taking hold in the Southeast.

Here in the immediate Charlotte area, the coastal storm will bring cloudy skies and a few showers through Wednesday night. Temperatures will be held in the 60s during the daytime -- about 20 degrees cooler than those summer-like readings we experienced last weekend.

Tropical Storm Karen was a meteorological bust.  Just about the time that tropical storm warnings and hurricane watches were issued for the Gulf coast late last week -- and I began writing about the threat that Karen would bring to the Charlotte region -- the storm was ripped apart by southwest shear.

But a bit of Karen lives on. Some of the moisture drifted across Florida and formed an upper level low pressure system this week along the Atlantic coast. Now that low is drifting slowly northward, staying offshore but spreading wind and rain inland.  It's a taste of what will be coming later this fall and winter.

By late Thursday and Friday, the coastal low finally will push out to sea, off the Virginia coast, and weaken. Sunshine will return to the Charlotte region, and high temperatures will be back in the 70s. In the meantime, you're getting a chance to wear those autumn clothes for the first time this season.

And there's a chance the kind of weather we had late last week, with highs in the mid 80s, won't be seen around here again until later next spring.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Our weekend weather ... and Karen

Our surge of late-summer weather has a few more days left in it before whatever is left of Tropical Storm Karen affects some portion of the Carolinas.

We'll talk about Karen later.  First, the next few days ...

If you were looking for one of those crisp autumn weekends, this isn't it. 

The good news is the weather won't get in the way of any outdoor events. It'll be shorts-and-T shirt weather at high school football games Friday night, and you'll need sunscreen and plenty of water if you're planning to attend a daytime college game Saturday.

The typical Saturday morning events -- youth sports, golf, tennis, festivals -- will go off without a hitch.

We're looking at plenty of sun and daytime temperatures in the middle 80s. Those temperatures are about 10 degrees above average for this time of year, although they're not in the record-level category.

Sunday will be the transition day. It will be dry, for most people, and the warm weather will continue. But a cold front will be approaching from the west, and tropical moisture from Karen will be surging north from the Gulf of Mexico. That will mean a steady increase in clouds during the day. A few showers could develop, mostly to the west of Charlotte.

That sets the stage for Karen.

The computer models are doing what computer models often do -- shooting out a number of widely-differing forecasts. Two trends have developed over the last 18 hours, though:

-- A slowing down of Karen's movement. The storm is not expected to make landfall on the Gulf Coast until early Sunday. That's about 18 hours later than what we thought yesterday.

-- An increasing chance that Karen stays south of Charlotte. This is related to the previous point. The storm's remnants are expected to merge with the advancing cold front. On a faster track, that merger would have taken place Sunday, and Karen's remnants would glide up the front, across the western Carolinas.

But if it happens later, which looks increasingly likely, the front will be farther east. The latest National Hurricane Center forecast track shows Karen moving northeast across Georgia and then taking something of a right turn across South Carolina.

Either way, the Charlotte area stands to get rain and breezy conditions Monday.

I had some spare time Thursday and looked at the archives, to see what a track across South Carolina would mean.  Often, it means the heaviest rain falls well south of Charlotte. But Jake Wimberley of the National Weather Service's office in Greer, S.C., noted that when Hurricane Ida followed such a path in 2009, it brought 3 to 5 inches of rain in much of the area.

We'll keep an eye on this through the weekend.

In the meantime, enjoy summer in October.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Karen headed for the Carolinas

Tropical Storm Karen, which formed Thursday morning in the Gulf of Mexico near the Yucatan peninsula, is headed for the Carolinas, according to nearly all the weather models.

But the exact track of what's left of Karen will play a huge role in determining how much of an impact is felt in the Charlotte region.

There are a couple things that seem reasonably certain, however:

1. The precipitation from Karen will arrive in Charlotte late Sunday and continue into early Monday afternoon.

2. Several weeks of dry weather will put a limit on any flooding potential in the region.

Otherwise, there are a lot of unknowns.

The National Hurricane Center expects Karen to rapidly reach hurricane strength by Friday morning, then weaken as it approaches the Gulf Coast. The weakening will be due to wind shear and an intrusion of some dry air from Mexico.

But Karen likely will be a strong tropical storm, possibly with 60 to 70 mph winds, when it makes landfall early Sunday somewhere between the Florida panhandle and extreme eastern Louisiana.

The National Hurricane Center's official forecast track carries the storm northeast, along an advancing cold front, across Georgia and the western Carolinas, a short distance west of Charlotte. But the GFS model forecasts a more easterly track.

If the GFS were to verify, the heaviest rain and the threat of severe storms would remain east of Charlotte. But the Hurricane Center's track would put Charlotte, and the area east of southeast of the city, in the bulls eye.

At the minimum, the Monday morning commute in Charlotte will be soggy.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Tropical trouble an outside risk for weekend

The tropics have been extremely quiet all season, despite forecasts of a busy hurricane season in the Southeast and the Gulf of Mexico.

But a tropical system could bring weather troubles to the Carolinas late this weekend.

Could .....

The National Hurricane Center is watching an area of disturbed weather in the western Caribbean Sea, and forecasters have given it a 50 percent chance of becoming an organized tropical depression or storm within the next five days.

By late in the weekend, a cold front is expected to be pushing eastward across the United States, bringing an end to the 80-degree weather that the Carolinas will experience the next few days.

Forecasters think the tropical system could link with the cold front and move northward along the frontal system.

The computer models, as you might expect, are all over the board. As meteorologist Andrew Kimball at the National Weather Service's office in Greenville-Spartanburg noted this morning, the various forecasts have the tropical system reaching the U.S. coast anywhere from the Florida panhandle to western Louisiana.

If the system were to move northward across Georgia and the western Carolinas, it could mean heavy rain and severe weather for the Charlotte region, perhaps late Saturday and Sunday. As Kimball notes, a path through the South Carolina Midlands would spare our region of the rain and severe conditions.

We'll watch this over the next several days.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Lies ... and (weather) statistics

I'm sure you've heard the old saying about the three kinds of lies, in which the third "kind of lie" is statistics.

That bit of wisdom played out during the weekend with Charlotte's weather.

If you look at the monthly statistics from Charlotte Douglas International Airport, we've had above-average rainfall for the month. The official rainfall total is 2.89 inches, and that is nearly a half-inch above average for this time in September.

As we all know, that's a deceptive number. If you look at that total, you'd think September has been a relatively wet month.

In fact, measurable rain has fallen only three days. And 2.74 inches of that 2.89-inch total came Saturday night, with the passage of a cold front. There also was .14 of an inch Sept. 1, and .01 of an inch the next day.

It has been, in short, a dry month -- despite what the numbers say.  Certainly, the heavy rain Saturday night will help bring a little life to growing things in the region, and it will give a boost to the water table.  But it hasn't been a wet month.

John Tomko, who does the number-crunching at the National Weather Service's office in Greer, S.C., is fond of saying that meteorological averages are merely the result of extremes. In other words, our annual Charlotte snowfall of about 5 inches really comes from some winters with 8 or 10 inches, averaged out with winters with an inch or less.

Incidentally, Charlotte is now 7.25 inches above average at this point of the year, with 38.21 inches. We already have received 5 inches more precipitation than all of last year, and we're approaching the average number for the whole year.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Your weekend: Wet, then nice

It looks like we'll be able to salvage one dry day from the coming weekend.

That's good news is you have outdoor plans Sunday.  If you have plans for Saturday, it's not so good.

A cold front will push across the Carolinas on Saturday. Earlier in the week, some of the computer models hinted that the front would move very slowly across the region, giving us a good chance of rain for several days.

But the models now are pretty consistent in pushing the front east of our area later Saturday night and early Sunday. So let's deal with the good parts of the weekend first.

Friday night will be great for high school football, Festival in the Park, or anything else you have planned.

Temperatures actually are a bit on the warm side, with Friday afternoon readings in the middle and even the upper 80s. Expect temperatures in the 70s on Friday evening.

Sunday also should be a keeper. A few showers might linger into the morning hours, but they should push east of the Charlotte region by sunrise, or maybe an hour or two later. That will set the stage for a very nice day, with at least partial sunshine and high temperatures climbing into the upper 70s.

If you're headed to the Carolina Panthers' game against the New York Giants, figure on temperatures around 72 degrees at kickoff.

Then there's Saturday.

It's pretty much a given that the afternoon and evening will be wet, and possibly stormy. The computer models show a fair amount of atmospheric instability, especially along and southeast of the I-85 corridor. That means a chance of thunderstorms.

The big question is when the showers and storms will arrive. In Charlotte, we might be able to salvage the morning hours, but don't be surprised if a shower arrives before noon.

Next week looks like a return to dry and seasonal temperatures.  There is no rain in the forecast after Saturday night for several days. Our afternoon highs next week will be mostly in the upper 70s.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Wet or dry this weekend? It's still not clear

Weekend weather is a big issue in the Carolinas, and this weekend's forecast carries a lot of importance to people for many different reasons.

There are a lot of outdoor events on the schedule, ranging from football to festivals.  And while we have a slightly better idea about the weekend weather than we had yesterday, there still are some unanswered questions.

At this point, on Thursday evening, a couple things are clear:

FRIDAY EVENING ... If you're headed to a high school football game or the AutoFair at Charlotte Motor Speedway, you'll have no problems. The only exception to this is in the mountains, where showers and thunderstorms are possible Friday afternoon and evening.

For everyone else, though, the weather should be OK.  Forecasters expect a mix of clouds and sun with mild temperatures. Daytime highs should be in the low 80s, with evening temperatures falling into the upper 60s by midnight.

SATURDAY MORNING ... If your plans include children's sporting events, a golf game or tennis match, or perhaps heading to AutoFair or the Festival in the Park at Freedom Park, you're probably OK.

A cold front will be advancing on the Charlotte region Saturday, and clouds will be on the increase. On Wednesday, computer models were predicting the heaviest rainfall for Saturday night and Sunday, but the models now say the showers and storms will arrive by early afternoon.

SUNDAY ... This is good news.  Where the forecast looked very wet just 24 hours ago, it now has a drier appearance. Most of the computer models now predict the cold front will push east of the Charlotte region late Saturday night, allowing for partial clearing by noon Sunday.

That should clear the way for fans headed to the Panthers' game against the New York Giants, or for Festival in the Park and the AutoFair.

Now, for the uncertainty.  There are still some areas we're not sure about ...

HOW MUCH RAIN SATURDAY, AND WHEN? ... If your plans include attending a college football game or any of the previously mentioned outdoor events, it appears as if you'll get wet. But the computer models can't agree on whether the rain will be scattered and fast-moving, or if it'll be heavier and more prolonged.  The forecast trend over the past 24 hours has been for a faster-moving system Saturday, but it's a safe bet that you'll encounter some rainfall Saturday afternoon and evening.

RAIN EARLY NEXT WEEK?  The official forecast from the National Weather Service is for partly cloudy skies and seasonal temperatures Monday and Tuesday.  But if you look at some of the computer-generated forecasts, the Charlotte region still could be facing some very wet weather. Some of the models show a slow-moving low pressure system crossing the area, especially late Sunday and Monday.

We should have a better idea on this by Friday.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Gulf storm likely ... then what?

The area of disturbed weather which is meandering in the southern Gulf of Mexico is likely to become a named tropical storm within a day or two, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Even though the system might never approach our part of the world in the Carolinas, it will be something to watch.

The storm, which would be named Jerry, is expected to continue wandering rather aimlessly between the Yucatan Peninsula and the Mexican mainland for a day or two.

Then, forecasters expect a cold front to push down from the northwest. The question is:  Will Jerry link up with the front?

If so, the storm will bring gusty winds and heavy rain into the Texas coast.

At this point, it doesn't appear as if Jerry would become more than a tropical storm, and that would be good. When hurricanes are in the western Gulf of Mexico, bad things happen to our gasoline supplies and prices.

One interesting scenario concerns the possibility that Jerry wouldn't make the connection with the cold front and slide northeastward, up the front.  In that case, it would continue a slow drift in the Gulf, waiting for some larger system to provide a steering current.

I read a couple theories today that suggest Jerry might eventually push eastward next week and provide a threat to the eastern Gulf Coast or even Florida.  In that case, some of the heavy rain from the system could become a part of our weather.

As it stands, we appear likely to get a significant non-tropical rain event late in the weekend, as low pressure forms along the same cold front -- the portion in our part of the Southeast.

After several weeks of very, very quiet weather, things could begin getting noisy again.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A near-miss at a hurricane record

The modern record for latest first hurricane of the season has stood the test.

Tropical Storm Humberto became Hurricane Humberto shortly before 6 a.m. Wednesday, preventing 2013 from going into the books as producing the latest first hurricane since the U.S. government started tracking these storms for real in the mid 1940s.

The standing record was set in 2002, when Gustav became a hurricane about 8 a.m. on Sept. 11.

Humberto achieved that status a few hours earlier than that this morning.

Either way, it remains a very quiet year in the Atlantic and Caribbean basin. Humberto is expected to threaten only the Cape Verde Islands in the far eastern Atlantic Ocean.

An area of thunderstorms over the southern Gulf of Mexico could organize into a named system by Thursday or Friday, but all the computer models indicate that storm would push westward into the Mexican coast, far south of Texas.

There also is a disorganized area of showers and storms, a tropical wave, that will push from the northwest Caribbean Sea into the Gulf by the end of the week. But there are no indications that weather system will organize.

Friday, September 6, 2013

We're approaching a (non) hurricane record

Remember all those forecasts about above-average hurricane activity this season in the Atlantic basin?

Well, we're closing in on a very different type of record -- the latest in the season without a hurricane.

Since the U.S. government's weather agencies have been keeping tabs on hurricane activity in the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, the latest first hurricane was Sept. 11, 2002. That was Hurricane Gustav, which eventually reached Category 2 strength, grazed parts of the East Coast, and eventually hit Newfoundland.

With only a few disorganized systems in the Atlantic basin today, and conditions that are very unfriendly for hurricane development, it seems almost a certainty that we'll break the record.

The government has been watching hurricanes actively since 1944, according to what I've been able to determine. Weather records show the first hurricane in 1941 also came on Sept. 11, but there are no indications that we've ever gone later than that date without a 'cane.

The season started with a bit of a bang, with several systems reaching tropical storm status in July and early August. But over the past few weeks, the few tropical storms that formed were ripped apart by a strong westerly upper level wind flow. That's the type of situation you see in an El Nino year, but scientists say we're not experiencing El Nino conditions currently in the Pacific Ocean.

By the way, those westerly winds also insure that if anything were to form in the Atlantic currently, it would get shoved away from the East Coast.  It's a different story in the Gulf of Mexico, but there is nothing threatening the U.S. Gulf Coast at this time.

Incidentally, the second-latest date for a first hurricane in recent years was in 2001. Erin became a hurricane on Sept. 8 of that year.

Meteorologists remind us of two things, however.  First, all it takes is one strong hurricane to make it a memorable year.  Second, a series of storms can form in a hurry.  In 1941, for example, there were three major hurricanes (what we know today as Category 3 or stronger) after that initial Sept. 11 storm.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Where are the hurricanes?

We're reaching the traditional peak of hurricane season in the Atlantic and Caribbean basins, yet there isn't a sign of tropical weather activity.

Barring an explosion of development in September, it appears as if the long-range forecasts of an above-average number of named storms this year will fall flat.

After a bit of activity in late July and early August, the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico have been largely quiet for the past several weeks.

Some of the ingredients for tropical storm development are there, but one factor -- strong high pressure in the Atlantic -- is not around. Instead, weaker high pressure has dominated the Atlantic this summer. The strongest high pressure has been over the western United States, with a low pressure trough hanging over the eastern part of the country, and a weak Bermuda high in the Atlantic.

Tropical storm development requires high pressure near the low pressure system.  Air from the high pressure is fed into the developing low, aiding the system to strengthen.  With weaker high pressure in the Atlantic, the few systems that developed have not strengthened.

In addition, hot dry air has been blown off the African coast by the jet stream since early August. That dry air inhibits the development of tropical storms and hurricanes.

I've seen some forecasts of conditions changing in the first 10 days of September, but it's quiet now.

Incidentally, this will mark only the sixth year since the late 1940s that we've made it to September 1 without a hurricane. The last time was in 2002. The other years were 1967, 1984, 1988 and 2001.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Finally ... dry weather

It is coming a few days later than expected, but it appears as if an extended period of dry weather is coming to the Carolinas.

It will start this weekend with some beautiful conditions, but by later next week, our Charlotte-area weather will turn very summer-like.

I mentioned last week that some of the long-range computer models were hinting that our seemingly endless run of wet weather would be replaced by drier and rather warm conditions. That was supposed to have happened sometime around now.

Instead, it looks as if we'll have another shot of thunderstorms Friday, as a cold front moves through the region. But high pressure moving in behind the front will dry things out.

Saturday's weather figures to be pretty nice, with highs in the mid 80s. Sunday might be a degree or two cooler, and humidity levels will be quite low.

The forecast next week, when Carolinas children return to school?  It figures -- traditional summer weather will arrive.

For the first time that I can remember all summer, we'll see a big high pressure ridge establish itself across all of the South.  That will suppress precipitation chances and bring an extended string of clear days.

Meteorologists expect a week of dry and mostly clear weather.  Temperatures early in the week will be in the low and mid 80s for high temperatures, but we're expected to be near 90 by later in the week.

Meanwhile, the tropics continue to be quiet.  There's no sign of tropical storm development, and we're now moving into the height of the season.  If activity doesn't pick up soon, it might be time to revisit all those forecasts about a busy tropical weather season.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Wet weekend ... but how wet?

Hopefully, you've buried any plans for summer-type outdoor activities this weekend.  That ship has sailed.

Rain and chilly weather is certainly in our future the next few days, but there's a question about exactly how much rain is coming?

That's a sensitive topic in this part of the world, given our flooding episodes of June 28, June 30, July 11, and July 27.  And there's a chance that some heavy rain could fall again this weekend in the Carolinas, although the betting right now is on the eastern part of the two states.

The culprit will be a tropical system in the Gulf of Mexico.

The National Hurricane Center expects the low pressure system to move west-northwest, from its current position near Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula toward the Mexico-Texas border on the other side of the Gulf. But many forecasters also expect a lot of the system's moisture to be transported northeast, across the Florida Gulf Coast and into Georgia and the Carolinas.

This would happen Saturday, most likely, although it could continue into Sunday.

Justin Roberti of Accu-Weather says the highest chance of flash flooding this weekend in the Carolinas will be in the central and eastern parts, but the corridor drawn on an Accu-Weather map supplied to the media extends westward into Charlotte's eastern suburbs.  We're talking about Union, Anson, Stanly and Lancaster (S.C.) counties, and possibly into eastern Mecklenburg.  That's mighty close.

Bottom line ... be prepared to get quite wet this weekend.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Tropics getting active again

After a couple weeks of inactivity, the tropics are warming up again.

The satellite map Wednesday afternoon showed two potential named systems, one of which could be a player in the Charlotte-area forecast later this week.

That system was centered over the northwest Caribbean Sea on Wednesday afternoon.

The National Hurricane Center says there's a 60 percent chance of development into a tropical depression or storm within the next three days, and a 70 percent chance over the next five days. That system is expected to push northward in the Gulf of Mexico.

While a few computer models take the system westward, toward the Mexico-Texas border, most forecasts show the storm aiming at the Gulf coast, especially from Mississippi eastward to the Florida Panhandle.  If that happens, a dying tropical system could spread heavy rain into the Southeast.

Right now, it looks as if Georgia, western South Carolina, and Tennessee are most at risk of heavy rain Saturday and Sunday.  But it wouldn't take much of a course adjustment to bring the heavy rain into the Carolinas.

The other area being watched is in the eastern Atlantic -- a classic Cape Verde system.

On Wednesday afternoon, an area of disturbed weather was south of the Cape Verde Islands, and the Hurricane Center is calling for an 80 percent chance of development over the next five days.

It's far too early to tell what might happen to that system, although conditions in the central Atlantic are not exactly conducive to development.  But after being quiet for several weeks (due at least in part to dry air being blown from the Sahara Desert into the ocean), it looks like the eastern Atlantic is becoming an active area again.

And it's just in time for the tropical season to reach its peak.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The 'August Cool Snap' Theory

The cool snap predicted for later this week is no surprise to some people in the Carolinas.

Over the years, I've heard several different versions of the "August Cool Snap" theory, which states that Charlotte's brutal summer heat usually is broken -- for a few days, at least -- by cooler weather at some time during August.

I first heard about it from the late Gerry Leland, who worked at The Observer for 37 years before retiring in the 1990s. He believed the cooler temperatures came in the second week of the month.

Attorney Dick Huffman in Salisbury reminded me about the theory again Tuesday morning. He was married 30 years ago today, and he recounted how he quieted his bride-to-be's fears about a hot mid-August day by telling her the weather would be fine.

"To my amazement, it was wonderful, with highs in the upper 70s or low 80s," Huffman recalled.

He says that many years, he has noticed a spell of cooler weather sometime around his anniversary, although he says it doesn't always take place.

Meteorologists say a Canadian high pressure system will limit daytime highs to the upper 70s and lower 80s Wednesday and Thursday, and thick clouds and rain could do the same thing Friday and Saturday.

So I went back and looked at August weather over the past 10 years, and like many other statistical studies, it's a matter of interpretation, to some degree.

Do you call it a "cool spell" if daytime highs are 85 to 87 degrees, but morning lows are around 60 -- about 10 degrees below average.  Lows of 60 degrees signal very low humidity, and that would feel very nice in the middle of August.

Here is what happened the past 10 years, and I'll let you decide on this issue of the August Cool Snap.

2012 ... From Aug. 13-17, we had a stretch of days with highs in the mid 80s, but morning lows in the low 60s. Humidity levels were quite low.

2011 ... After hitting 90 or more on nine of the first 10 days of the month, it got more moderate. Morning lows on the 16th and 17th were near 60 degrees.

2010 ... Forget it!  There was nothing remotely close to a cool down.

2009 ... The high on Aug. 12 was only 74 degrees, and morning lows from Aug. 13-16 were in the mid 60s.

2008 ... The first 10 days were hot (mostly 90s), but it was a lot cooler on the 13th and 14th. Aug. 13 had a high of 76 after a morning low of 60. The next day, the high and low were 82 and 61. Temperatures stayed moderate for the next week, before turning hot again at the end of the month.

2007 ... Worse than 2010. There were six days of 100 degrees or more, and Charlotte hit at least 90 degrees every day in August.

2006 ... A definite cool down from Aug. 11-13, with a high of 73 on the 11th and morning lows in the low 60s.

2005 ... From Aug. 7-10, highs were only in the mid 80s, but it was warm at night.

2004 ... The poster child for the August Cool Snap theory.  The morning low on Aug. 7 was 50 degrees (a record), and it was 55 on Aug. 8. Daytime highs were only 80 degrees.

2003 ... The beginning of the month was moderate, with highs in the low to mid 80s. It got hot late in August that year.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Summer to arrive ... just in time for school?

I spent last week at the North Carolina coast and had planned to write about the big difference in weather this summer between the Piedmont and the beaches, but that will have to wait for another day.

There's a bigger story to talk about -- a potential shift in the weather pattern next week.

Both the Global and European weather models are predicting a big change, starting about the middle of next week (sometime around Aug. 21). If you believe what the models are saying, we'll see the start of some typical summer weather in the Carolinas.

Naturally!  It'll arrive near the end of meteorological summer, just in time for school to start.

Since the beginning of June, we've been locked -- most of the time -- in a pattern dominated by a trough in the eastern United States and Bermuda high pressure. The trough has allowed the jet stream to dip into the Southeast, and that has produced frequent rounds of stormy weather and plenty of days when high temperatures fell short of seasonal averages.

We've finally hit a string of 90-degree days, but that has been the exception. For the most part, it has been a cloudy, stormy summer.

The GFS and Euro models indicate that will change next week -- after the cold frontal passage late Tuesday, then the two or three days of unseasonable cold air damming, and then a possible tropical system over the weekend.

The Global model predicts high pressure will establish itself somewhere near the Mississippi River and dominate our weather for at least several days.  That would indicate hot and dry weather for the latter one-third of August.  The European model predicts the jet stream will be pushed back into Canada (where it typically exists in the summer), and the Southeast will be under the influence of a Bermuda high.  That would mean hot, sultry conditions, with a few afternoon and evening storms.

Either of those solutions would be a lot more typical of what we expect in the Carolinas during the summer.

Of course, those are 10-day forecasts, and the accuracy is a lot less stellar than short-range predictions.  It will be interesting to see how this develops.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

What happens in August?

There are several things I'm certain about in August.

School will start, and the many thousands of students headed to the classrooms will include my granddaughter Gracie, entering kindergarten.

The Panthers will win a couple exhibition games, and some of their fans will predict a 13-3 season and a Super Bowl appearance. The Tampa Bay Rays and Pittsburgh Pirates will keep winning. My Cleveland Indians won't.

And I'm pretty certain -- based on everything I've seen -- that August weather in the Charlotte region will look a lot like June and July.

Oh -- and your August vacations at the Carolinas beaches probably won't be impacted by tropical storms or hurricanes.

In short, August looks like another month of no heat waves and a lot of unsettled weather.  I fear we haven't seen the last of severe thunderstorms and flash flooding.

Our summer weather so far has been the result of a blocking pattern. For most of the past two months, we've had a Bermuda high pressure, another high pressure system in the western United States, and an area of weakness (a trough, or dip in the atmospheric currents) in the eastern United States.

That dip has brought a string of low pressure systems into the Southeast.  Sometimes they've been accompanied by cold fronts, most of which dissipate somewhere in the Carolinas.

That has produced some monumental rainfall totals, like the 25-plus inches since June 1 in Hickory. Some areas in the North Carolina mountains have exceeded their average annual rainfall totals, with five months still to go.

The long-range computer models point to a continuation of the pattern.

If this type of pattern develops in winter, those of us in the Carolinas are using snow shovels and ice scrapers.  In the summer, it means moderate temperatures and a lot of rain.

Tropical weather activity should be quiet in the Atlantic for the next few weeks. Satellite photos show a lot of dry air being blown westward into the Atlantic from Saharan Africa.  That usually puts a lid on the development of tropical storms and hurricanes, and forecasters seem to think it will continue into at least the middle of August.

That won't stop the development of tropical systems in the Gulf of Mexico, but the Carolinas coast should catch a break for at least a few weeks.

Remember, though. Once conditions become more favorable for development in the Atlantic, the current pattern over the eastern United States (Bermuda high and eastern U.S. trough) would favor tropical storms and hurricanes making a run at the Southeast coast.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

OK ... Where are the 90s?

I've resisted getting sucked into this "where are the 90s?" talk, because I figured that was a foolproof way of triggering an all-out heat wave.

But we're approaching the end of July, and it appears almost certain that we'll finish the month with only four 90-degree days.

Clouds and rain, possibly heavy, are likely Wednesday, for the last day of the month.

That will give us a grand total of eight 90-degree days so far this summer -- four each in June and July. We had 23 days of 90 or hotter at this point last year, and that wasn't a terribly unusual summer.

So I'm game ... where are the 90-degree days?

I was looking at some long-range forecasts for August, and while I'll focus more on that tomorrow or Thursday, suffice to say that there are no major changes in sight.  It looks like we'll continue the current pattern for a week or two, then perhaps slide back into a real stormy and wet period (similar to late June and early July).

We certainly won't tie the all-time record for fewest 90-degree days. That mark is eight, set in 1967. We're already there, and it's not reasonable to expect we won't get another 90-degree day this summer. That also probably puts the No. 2 mark (nine, in 2003) and the No. 3 mark (11, in 1910) out of reach.

But we might be somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 to 14 days of 90 or warmer this summer, and that would be in the top 10 (or bottom 10) of 90-degree days in Charlotte.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The tropics: The Carolinas' 'elephant in the room'

As the absolutely insane rainfall numbers continue to mount this summer across the western Carolinas, the tropics loom increasingly large as a source of concern for the next few months.

The hurricane season likely will be ramping up during the next several weeks, and we should be concerned with then activity we've already seen.

In short, an active hurricane season along the Southeast coast could be absolutely devastating in the western Carolinas, given the heavy precipitation we've already received.

The tropical pattern so far:  Systems have formed in the Cape Verde area of the eastern Atlantic (a lot earlier than is usual in the season). They've followed a generally westward path, in a corridor that includes Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. So far, strong westerlies and dry air have shared apart the systems, and that was the case with Tropical Storm Dorian last week.

Eventually, however, those westerlies are expected to relax. Westward-moving tropical systems will be able to intensify as they approach the continental United States, and we could be looking at a steering pattern similar to September 2004, when several storms made landfall in eastern Florida before sweeping across Georgia and the western Carolinas.

The remnants of hurricanes Frances, Jeanne and Ivan caused major flooding in the Carolinas foothills and mountains that year.

Now, fast-forward to 2013.  We've already received staggering amounts of rainfall in the region.

WCNC meteorologist Brad Panovich has been keeping tabs on Brevard, west of Asheville. He notes that Brevard's rainfall total this year is 72.02 inches. That's more than 17 inches above the record total for the WHOLE YEAR!  Greenville-Spartanburg and Asheville have received about 10 inches more than average rainfall in July.

Take a look at this chart on Panovich's Facebook page -- it's a list of where various reporting stations stand, at this point in the year, for rainfall. If you see a "1" next to a city, it means that reporting station is on track for its rainiest year ever (Brad Panovich's page).

In the last week, automated gauges have reported more than 6 inches of rain at Triplett (Watauga County) and at Claremont (Catawba County). There are several reports of 12 to 15 inches of rain having fallen since late June in parts of northern Mecklenburg and Cabarrus counties.

There are places in my yard where my lawnmower hasn't reached since June.  It's simply too wet to mow.

Add a dying tropical storm, with its 6 to 12 inches of rain, and you have catastrophic flooding.

The tropics are always important to people in the Carolinas, but they'll be even more important this year.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

First take on Dorian ...

Tropical Storm Dorian has been a threat only to fish so far, as it remains far out in the Atlantic Ocean.  It will be a few days before the storm nears any land masses, and by that time, it might have dissipated.

Most of the computer models take Dorian on a west-northwest track for the next couple days, but its future is really a question mark.

Working in favor of the storm's development ... Dorian is working with a moist atmosphere, and there is little wind shear to disrupt its organization.

Working against development ... Marginal surface sea temperatures (although Dorian will be moving into warmer waters later today and Friday), and the forecast of stronger wind shear and drier air later in the week.

Historically, most storms forming in the Cape Verde area this early in the year curve away from the Southeast coast, and that's entirely possible this time.  For the next few days, Dorian will be steered to the west, along the south side of a high pressure ridge in the Atlantic.

A trough is forecast to develop along the East Coast this weekend.  If the trough is deep, it would capture Dorian during the weekend and steer the storm northward, away from the United States. But there are some forecasts of a weak trough. In that case, the storm would continue westward, possibly threatening the Bahamas and the Florida coast by early next week.

As you all know, it's far too early to make a solid prediction.  But we should have a much better idea by late Friday or Saturday.  By then, the "wild" guesses will turned into "educated" guesses.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

July 1916 -- Carolinas' monster flood

Round after round of heavy rain belted the western Carolinas from early June through the middle of this month, washing out roads and causing plenty of damage across the region.

Some of the flooding along Mountain Island Lake was the result of heavy rain falling in the mountains, then coming down the Catawba River and its chain of reservoirs.

But the real king of July floods came 97 years ago.

A reader in Catawba County reminded me of the July 1916 floods, which were responsible for some of the worst storm-related damage ever in the Carolinas.

And as I've written many times before, it all was the result of a dying tropical weather system -- not a full-fledged, land-falling hurricane, but what was left of one. Tropical systems that move inland are capable of producing gigantic rain totals, as we learned a couple times since Tropical Storms Jerry (1995) and Danny (1997) came through the Charlotte area.

The 1916 flood was caused by the remnants of a hurricane which made landfall early Friday, July 14, near Charleston. There was little damage in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, but as the hurricane moved inland and weakened, the heavy rains spread rapidly and intensified in the mountains.

Charlotte got only 5.15 inches of rain from the storm, although sustained winds of 40 to 50 mph caused plenty of problems with downed trees and structural damage.

In the mountains, the orographic effect of incredibly moist air rising in altitude triggered extremely heavy rains. There were measurements of 20 to 24 inches in some mountain areas from July 14-16.

A recording station at Alta Pass in the mountains logged 22.22 inches, a record for a 24-hour period in the United States.

Damage, in 1916 dollars, was estimated at more than $21 million. The death toll was a guesstimate, but the number of 80 fatalities was mentioned in several reports.

Extreme flooding was reported in places like Lenoir, Taylorsville, Statesville and in the mountain counties. Dozens died, roads were completely wiped away, and businesses were destroyed. I read one account of flooding washing away a cemetery, leaving nothing behind -- not even the graves.

Just as was the case this summer, the heavy mountain rain drained into the Catawba River's headwaters and rushed downstream.  In 1916, however, there was no chain of reservoirs.  Duke Energy this month was able to regulate the water flow through the various reservoirs and prevent a widespread outbreak of serious flooding. That wasn't possible in 1916.

So the Catawba River roared out of its banks, washing away bridges and roads.

Residents near Mount Holly stood a distance away from the raging river and watched debris float downstream. They say livestock, parts of houses, sections of bridges, trees.  All of that had been uprooted farther up the river and was headed toward South Carolina.

The Southern Railway bridge north of Mount Holly collapsed on the evening of Sunday, July 16, with 18 reported deaths.  As darkness fell, according to reports, some of the men grabbed on to trees in the river in an effort to survive. By the next morning, the trees were submerged.

By some estimates, the river rose 50 feet above its usual level.

Late on the 16th, the Southern Railway bridge in Rock Hill collapsed.  When that 500-foot span went down, rail traffic between Charlotte and Jacksonville was halted.

You can find a number of accounts of the flooding, but two that I found interesting were from UNC-Asheville and from a historical study in Catawba County.

If you're not a native of the Carolinas -- as many of us are not -- the July 1916 flood gives you a healthy respect for the incredible amounts of rain that can fall in a hurry around here, especially when the tropics are involved.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Rip current deaths 'shocking'

Rip current deaths along the Carolinas coast are a sad part of the annual vacation season, but the number of fatalities this month is really staggering.

By my count, there have been at least nine people killed on Carolinas beaches since July 3, and a 10th person is missing.  Dozens of rescues have been reported, and a number of people were hospitalized with serious complications from their time in the surf.

The deaths have ranged geographically from the beaches north of Wilmington down to near the South Carolina-Georgia border.

Interestingly, there have been no reports of rip currents deaths from the area where they are most dangerous -- the Outer Banks.

It's almost a cliche to say that people don't understand rip currents, but I'm most surprised at how many of the victims are Carolinas residents who should be more familiar with the risk.

One official of a small town along the Carolinas coast told me last week that "it's one thing to understand what to do in a rip current, but quite another when you're actually being dragged into deeper water."  I understand that point.  Fear and panic make us forget what we should know.

The high death toll this month caught the attention of Dr. Robert Brander, a professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.  He wrote me last week, saying he is a surf scientist who focuses on rip currents and has set up a safety program titled "The Science of the Surf."

"We have made great inroads educating people about rips here in Australia," Brander said, "but the drownings in the U.S. this year have been shocking."

Brander has assembled an interesting rip current website, and I recommend you take a look at it -- especially if you're planning a beach trip anytime soon (and don't forget that rip currents also take place in the Great Lakes).

While you're at it, you can participate in Brander's survey on rip current awareness. You'll find it here.