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.