Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Panthers' game day weather looks colder, wetter

It's looking more like Carolina Panthers' fans will be sitting in a chilly rain Saturday at Bank of America Stadium for the NFL playoff game against Arizona.

The later computer guidance shows strong high pressure over New England and a strengthening low pressure system moving from the Gulf of Mexico up toward the Ohio Valley on Saturday.

This is a scenario we have seen many times in recent months.  It's classic cold air damming, with a flow of chilly air being pumped into the Carolinas Piedmont and Foothills off the Atlantic. That cold air is dense and nearly impossible to dislodge.

Low pressure probably will create a warm front that will lift temperatures into the 60s to the south of Charlotte, but we'll be stuck in the upper 40s and lower 50s during the rain on Saturday and early Sunday.

So as of late Tuesday afternoon, the best guess for kickoff is for temperatures around 47 degrees and intermittent rain, probably becoming more consistent as the game goes on.

Monday, December 29, 2014

First look at Panthers-Cardinals: Wet, mild

If we've learned anything from weather computer models since early December, it's that they change frequently and are not terribly reliable beyond a few days.

But there seems to be agreement, five days away, that weather in the Carolinas this weekend will be unsettled.

The first guess for conditions at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, when the Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals kick off their NFL wild-card playoff game, is for a chance of rain and temperatures above average for early January.

The various computer guidance input seems to agree on wet weather for the weekend, but the details are where everything gets tricky.

Will it rain all day Saturday?  Will the rain be light, sporadic, or heavy?  Those are questions we can't answer yet.

Very cold air is plunging into the continental United States this week, but the core of that cold will remain north of the Mason-Dixon line in the eastern United States. The Midwest and West will see a more southward push of the cold air.

Some of the cold will seep into the Southeast from Tuesday into Friday, but high temperatures those days will still reach the mid and upper 40s.

By the weekend, a moderating trend is likely. That's why the National Weather Service is predicting a high in the upper 50s Saturday.

In a few days, we'll have a better feel for exactly how wet it might be Saturday.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Coming up: A very mild January for Carolinas

Remember the other day, when I wrote that a few computer models were hinting that the much-publicized "pattern change" to cold and stormy weather might not be coming as expected at the beginning of the year?

I wrote that it was just a few runs of the models and not yet a trend.

Now it's a trend.

Most of the long-range guidance, including the pretty reliable Coupled Forecast System (CFSv2) operated by NOAA, is pointing to a mild January in the Southeast. In fact, temperatures could be well above average, if everything breaks the way it seems.

This marks a pretty big bust in many of the long-range forecasts that had called for a chilly and stormy winter, with the worst of the wintry weather arriving in early January.

First of all, this doesn't mean that it won't get chilly in the Carolinas, because it will -- next week. We're looking at several days of below-average temperatures before and immediately after New Years, although it won't be bitterly cold -- just highs in the mid and upper 40s for a few days.

Second, it doesn't mean arctic cold won't push into the United States. It looks like a blast of cold will slide southward from Canada into the Midwest, dumping cold air into Texas all the way to the Rio Grande next week.

But the computer guidance insists that the cold air won't push east of the Appalachians. Many of the forecasts show a persistent high pressure ridge off the Florida coast. Those southeast ridges are a death knell to wintry weather in the Southeast.

The Arctic Oscillation (AO) refuses to go negative, which keeps a steady west-to-east flow across the southern United States.

This doesn't mean our weather won't turn much colder in late January or February, but it means the computers certainly don't think it will happen anytime soon.

What caused the forecasts to go so wrong?  I've been reading a lot of possible explanations, but it's really a reminder that what the science of meteorology has improved a lot in recent years, there are still many things we don't understand. One theory I've seen thrown around the past few days is solar activity, with the theory being that strong solar activity overrides many of our other weather factors.

Greg Fishel of WRAL-TV wrote on his Facebook page on Friday afternoon that the last time we had a pattern like the one developing in early January was in 2005 and again in 2006. Both years, we had highs in the 60s and 70s.

Those two winters produced some of our lightest snowfall ever -- a trace in 2004-05 and 1 inch in 2005-06.

All it takes is one big storm to give us a big snowfall total, but it doesn't seem likely any time soon.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Winter ... now you see it ... now you don't

Those of you who follow weather very closely might be bored by what I'm saying today. Casual followers of weather might want to read on, however.

You all know about computer models -- the computer-based guidance that is a tool used by meteorologists in forecasting the weather.

The models update several times a day, and those who follow the updates closely are sometimes known by the term "model-huggers." Model-hugging can be a frustrating experience, and the last 48 hours is an example of that.

By following some of the output of the Global model, you'd have thought a few days ago that the Carolinas (and much of the central and eastern United States) were heading into arctic cold and winter storms, starting shortly before the end of the year.

Then on Sunday night came new models, indicating that maybe the very cold weather wouldn't be sinking far enough south and east to affect the Carolinas. Maybe it would remain bottled up in Canada, or perhaps moving no farther southeast than the Midwest.

In other words, forget about wintry weather for a while.

Experienced meteorologists tend to study the trends before making forecasts.

The trend late last week pointed to a pattern change for the Southeast. There were indications that we'd move from our December pattern -- with temperatures averaging around seasonal norms and no real threat of wintry weather -- to a wintry, stormy pattern.

One facilitator of that change would be the deep low pressure system that is expected to push northward from the Deep South into the eastern Great Lakes and southern Canada over the next few days.

Now, based on the last few model runs, all that is in doubt again. The most recent computer guidance says the current Carolinas weather pattern will continue, for the most part, into at least the first several days of January.  In other words, no pattern change.

But the model runs late Sunday hardly constitute a trend.  That will be determined from what the guidance tells us over the next few days.

Today's Christmas facts ... Last week, I wrote about the most successful (financially) Christmas movies. But what are the most popular?

The website What To Do With The Kids (which can provide ideas on keeping children busy during the holidays) says it interviewed people last year on their favorite holiday movies.  The response:

1. "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" (the 1966 animated version); 2. "The Polar Express" (2004 animated version); 3. "It's A Wonderful Life" (1946); 4. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (1964, animation); 5. "Elf" (2004); 6. (tie) "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (1965, animation); "The Santa Clause" (1994); "Frosty the Snowman" (1969, animation); 9. "The Grinch" (2000); 10. "Miracle on 34th Street" (1947 version); 11. "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" (1989); 12. "A Muppet Christmas Carol" (1992).

Incidentally, "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" was also No. 1 in the last poll conducted by the website, in 2011.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Stormy (and important) weather week ahead

Sunshine will be at a premium for much of this week in the Charlotte area, but the big news will be a storm system that could become strong enough to alter weather patterns in the continental United States for the rest of December and at least a part of January.

First, the local weather situation ...

We'll remain in a cold air wedge pattern through Tuesday, with high pressure based over the Northeast. Sunday is likely to be cloudy and cool, with a high of 50 degrees in Charlotte. A bit of sunshine is possible in the afternoon, but fans attending the Panthers' game against the Cleveland Browns will see mostly cloudy skies.

A storm system expected to form off the coast late Sunday is predicted to bring light rain to Charlotte and the rest of the Carolinas from late Sunday until late Monday.

But the big story arrives Tuesday. It appears as if a pair of low pressure systems -- one in the Midwest, the other moving across the South and then bending northward over Tennessee, Kentucky and into the eastern Great Lakes -- will tug a cold front east across the country. The low will deepen rapidly late Tuesday and Wednesday and eventually move into southern Canada.

Some meteorologists think that low pressure system will become strong enough to cause a buckle in the jet stream and possibly open the way for arctic air to surge back into the continental United States (where it has been largely missing since November).

The midweek storm will bring heavy rain in the East, and the Charlotte region might experience some of that late Tuesday and early Wednesday. Dense fog is likely in the Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic, but the biggest story will be the winds. The low pressure system will be deep enough to create a strong wind field over the eastern half of the United States. That could play havoc with flight schedules late Tuesday and Wednesday in some of the East Coast's biggest airports.

And as the storm system pushes into Canada, much colder air on the back side will sweep across the Great Lakes and bring a round of heavy lake-effect snow in the usual spots -- upstate New York, northwest Pennsylvania, northeast Ohio, western Michigan and northwest Indiana.

Even in the Charlotte area, Christmas Day is likely to be windy and chilly.

A big question is when the much-publicized "pattern change" is coming -- or if it's coming. Some meteorologists have been talking for weeks about a switch to colder and stormier weather around New Year's in the East and Southeast. But some of the more recent computer guidance is pointing toward the Midwest as the bullseye for the cold weather.

More Christmas trivia ... I've been having some fun with Christmas facts for the last few weeks, and this chapter will look at some of the trendiest holiday gifts in the past. According to an Esquire article from two years ago, these were the most popular gifts of some Christmases in the past (these will bring back some memories, no doubt):

2010: Apple iPad; 2009: Nook eReader; 2007: iPod Touch; 2006: Play Station 3; 2005: Xbox 360; 2001: Bratz dolls (I don't remember these, but Esquire said the dolls depicted teen girl with large heads and skinny bodies).

1999: Pokémon (I remember reporting on fights that started in schools among students who collected the Pokémon cards); 1998: Furby; 1995: Beanie Babies; 1993 and 1994: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers; 1990: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; 1989: Game Boy.

1985: Care Bears; 1984: Transformers; 1983: Cabbage Patch Kids (torture is driving from Charlotte to Cleveland with a 3-year-old daughter playing the "Cabbage Patch Kids" theme song on a tape player in the back seat for 535 miles); 1981: Smurfs; 1978: Hungry Hungry Hippos.

1975: Pet Rock; 1959: Barbie doll; 1952: Mr. Potato Head; 1936: Monopoly.

For pictures and a better description of those gifts (and for some of the other years), be sure to check out the Esquire article.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Weekend storm could hit Christmas travelers

Many people will begin their Christmas travels this weekend, and anyone planning to leave Saturday for destinations north of North Carolina might encounter bad driving conditions.

The first of what is expected to be three Christmas season storms will cross the South on Friday and Saturday. The storm almost certainly will bring a chilly rain to the Charlotte region, but the N.C. mountains could get a substantial amount of snow. And areas farther to the north appear headed for a snow or ice event.

There still is considerable disagreement in computer guidance about the weekend storm.

The Global computer model depicts a weak storm system with not much in the way of precipitation. The European model shows a stronger storm that crosses the Carolinas as it curves up the East Coast. Temperature profiles for Charlotte and the rest of the Piedmont are a bit too warm for anything frozen.

John Tomko of the National Weather Service's office in Greer, S.C., said Monday that a cold rain is likely for the Piedmont and foothills, with the snow threat reserved for the mountains.

But Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania would be in the cross-hairs for heavy snow -- should the European model be correct. Precipitation likely would end in those areas by late Saturday, so postponing a trip up north for 24 hours might not be the worst idea.

The second storm system, which would arrive sometime around Christmas or the day after, hasn't really formed yet and is just an area of disturbed weather in the Pacific Ocean. But some of the long-range computer guidance in the last day or two indicates temperatures once again will be a bit too mild in Charlotte for anything other than rain.

But that's 10 days away, and a lot can change by then.

Christmas fun facts ... Today we'll focus on meteorology again, with NOAA's report on chances of a white Christmas in various parts of the country.

NOAA's report, issued a few days ago, doesn't take into consideration computer modeling for the next few weeks. It's based on the past, and records show the chance of a white Christmas in Charlotte is less than 10 percent.

But if you're headed into a potentially snowy area for the Christmas holidays, check out NOAA's report on the chances of a white Christmas.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

2 Christmas week storms, many possibilities

The details remain very sketchy, but it's becoming more obvious that our quiet weather pattern in the Carolinas has a little less than one week remaining.

As I wrote on Friday, the long-range guidance continues to show a pair of storm systems crossing the United States on Christmas week. The first system will affect the Carolinas next Saturday and Sunday, with the second storm arriving sometime around (or immediately after) Christmas.

There are a couple possibilities for the first storm, but none of them involve snow in the Charlotte area.

The system is forecast to enter the West Coast, but that's where the computer models differ. One possibility is for the storm to be fairly strong and curve northward across western Tennessee, western Kentucky, and into the Great Lakes. That would be a rain-maker for the Carolinas.

Another scenario would have the system weakening as it moves eastward, bringing only showers to the Charlotte area. The Global computer model favors that possibility.

And a third scenario would send a strong storm system across the Deep South, bringing a cold rain to the Charlotte area and snow to the mountains. There even could be snow along and north of the Interstate 40 corridor.

The first storm could set the table for a better chance of wintry weather in the Carolinas with the second system. It would leave a layer of snow on the ground in the Midwest, which means colder air would funnel into the Carolinas.

Christmas Fun Stuff ... As you dig for your wallet to pay for those Christmas gifts, you might be interested to know that Carolinas' residents are among the nation's leaders big spenders.

The website WalletHub reported it studied spending, debt levels and personal belongings, and it ranked South Carolinas 11th and North Carolina 13th among the big spenders in the country.

Biggest spenders during this holiday season are in Mississippi, followed by Idaho, New Mexico, Florida and Utah in the top five. The thriftiest people, according to WalletHub, live in the District of Columbia. Ranking 47th through 50th are Maryland, California, Massachusetts and New York.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Stormy period ahead for Christmas week

Much of the long-range computer guidance is painting a stormy picture over the United States during Christmas week.

It is entirely possible, in fact, that the coming week will mark the end of our recent run of relatively calm weather. The Christmas holiday might mark the changeover to colder and stormier conditions that have been predicted by a number of forecasters for January and February.

There's no doubt that the coming week will be very pleasant. Temperatures will be at or above 60 degrees through Monday, and then a weak cold front will drop daytime readings only a few degrees for the rest of the week.

For several days, computer guidance has been predicting a pair of storm systems -- the first arriving next Saturday or Sunday (Dec. 20 or 21) and then another around Christmas Day or Dec. 26.

By all appearances, the first storm will bring a cold rain to the Carolinas. All of this probably will change many times between now and next weekend, but the latest forecast track takes the storm across Texas and Oklahoma, and then up through Tennessee and into the eastern Great Lakes.

There might be enough cold air in place across North Carolina for some icing problems, but it really looks as if rain will be the most likely scenario.

It could be a different story with the second storm, especially if the first system is able to drag colder air into the Southeast in its wake.

It will be interesting to watch all this unfold in the coming week.

The real long-range guidance is hinting at a return of arctic air into the eastern United States after Christmas. But this is well off in the distance.

Christmas Trivia ... In earlier blog entries, I wrote about the Charlie Brown Christmas Special and the most successful holiday movies.

Today, we'll focus on Christmas snowstorms.

Anyone who has been in Charlotte for more than a few years knows that it's snowed fewer than a half-dozen times on Christmas Day. The most recent was 2010, when a storm system crossed the northern Gulf of Mexico and brought 1 to 3 inches of snow from northeast Georgia to the Charlotte area. Totals of 4 to 8 inches were reported in some of the foothills.

The most amazing Christmas storm, however, took place in 1989 and affected the coast.

Very cold air was in place that year, a few days before Christmas. A low pressure system moved up the East Coast and dumped heavy snow from northern Florida to North Carolina before veering out to sea. Charlotte had hazy sunshine and very cold temperatures. It was a different story along the coast.

Jacksonville, Fla., had its first white Christmas, with 2.5 inches falling Dec. 22 at Jacksonville Beach and 0.8 inches at the city's airport. On the Georgia coast, Brunswick had 4 inches and Savannah 3.6.

The snow fell Dec. 23 and early Dec. 24 on the Carolinas coast, with South Carolina totals of 14 inches in Myrtle Beach, 8 inches in Charleston, and 4.3 inches in Florence. North Carolina totals were 19.5 inches in Longwood, 15.3 inches at the Wilmington airport, 15 inches in Southport, 13.3 inches in Cape Hatteras, and 2.7 inches in Fayetteville.

Columbia and Raleigh each got a trace.

Zero-degree weather accompanied the snow.

The Wilmington office of the National Weather Service has a write-up on this storm. It truly was a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Weather won't cooperate with ACC

It looks as if part and possibly all of Saturday's ACC football championship celebration and game in Charlotte could take place in a rainy setting.

Low pressure is expected to develop and move up the Appalachians on Saturday, bringing a steady rain to the Charlotte region. The heaviest of the rain is expected in the afternoon and early evening, as a cold front approaches.

There could even be a thunderstorm in the mix.

The good news is temperatures will be milder than Friday. In advance of the cold front, we could see readings approach 60 degrees Saturday afternoon. Those temperatures will fall when the cold front passes, which likely will be near the 8 p.m. kickoff at Bank of America Stadium between Florida State and Georgia Tech.

The threat of rain on ACC football championship Saturday is nothing new in Charlotte. We've had to deal with it a couple times since the title game was moved here in 2010.

Once the cold front passes through, the rain will end. Temperatures will drop through the 50s, but the rest of the evening should be dry.

By the way ... in case you're wondering, the long-range forecasts indicate a changeover to colder weather in the last week of December.  That will arrive in time to put a chill on the Belk Bowl, to be played Dec. 30 in Charlotte.

More Christmas Trivia ... The other day, I mentioned that I'd be looking at some interesting Christmas facts in the coming weeks.

Today, let's look at the most successful Christmas movies, as measured by total ticket sales. Want to guess what it is?  No, it's not "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation." In fact, Clark Griswold and the gang didn't even crack the top 10.

The all-time leading money-maker is "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," which has earned more than $260 million since its release Nov. 17, 2010.

Second, with $183 million, is "Polar Express." That Tom Hanks movie off the iconic Christmas book debuted Nov. 10, 2004.

The rest of the top five: "Elf," with $173 million since its Nov. 7, 2003, release; "The Santa Clause," with $144 million since its Nov. 11, 1994, release. And "Santa Clause 2," which has earned $139 million. It was released Nov. 1, 2002.

"National Lampoon" is 12th, with $71 million in the theaters. Of course, it was released Dec. 1, 1989, when tickets were a lot less expensive than now. Another classic, "A Christmas Story," is 28th, with $20 million. It was released Nov. 18, 2003, and became a much bigger movie on TV than it ever was in the theaters.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

What happened to winter? ... and a note about Charlie Brown

The back-door cold front that pushed south from Virginia and crossed Charlotte on Tuesday morning certainly brought an end to the unseasonably warm weather we had Monday, but it didn't deliver anything remotely resembling winter conditions.

Instead, we had temperatures around 50 degrees Tuesday afternoon, instead of the low 70s that warmed the region Monday.

But we'll be back in the 60s on Wednesday and possibly Thursday, then fall back to the upper 40s and 50s Friday. That will be due to another back-door cold front arriving later Thursday.

Still, we're talking about 40s and 50s as the cooler temperatures, and overnight lows are forecast to stay above freezing.

That's a lot milder than the frigid weather we experienced in November, and the news is that there's still no sign of a return to really cold weather. Meteorologists who specialize in long-range forecasts say it appears as if we'll remain mild -- with seasonal temperatures and occasional above-average readings -- through at least the first half of December.

If you'll remember, the catalyst for the November chill was a strong hurricane that pushed into the Gulf of Alaska as a very strong storm system and disrupted the jet stream. Now we're watching another storm, Typhoon Hagupit.

It's unclear is Hagupit, which is expected to become a super typhoon (a Pacific version of a major hurricane), will push westward and cross the Philippines, or curve north and pass east of Japan. If Hagupit curves northward, it could wind up in the Gulf of Alaska in another week or so, and that might trigger another outbreak of bitter cold in the eastern United States.

In the meantime, there's no sign of real winter for the Carolinas, and it looks as if it will be at least mid-December -- and, likely, later than that -- before we return to really cold conditions.

Christmas stuff (today, Charlie Brown): Over the next few weeks, I'll add a little seasonal touch to my blog. On occasion, it'll have a weather connection, but it also might be other holiday trivia -- or a list of the best and worst Christmas songs and movies.

I thought I'd start with Charlie Brown, one of my favorites.  The original Christmas special will air Tuesday night at 8:30 p.m. on ABC (WSOC-TV in Charlotte). It'll air again at 8 p.m. Dec. 16, also on ABC and WSOC.

Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of this special, and I found some interesting facts.

For example, did you realize that the 1965 TV special was groundbreaking? "Peanuts" writer Charles Schultz and the TV show's director, Bill Melendez, took the unusual step of using children for the voices of the characters. Typically, adults were the voices of cartoons. An 8-year-old named Peter Robbins was the voice of Charlie Brown. Robbins later went on to sell real estate and encountered legal problems a few years ago.

Some other interesting facts:

-- While the show was being recorded, the rock group Jefferson Airplane was recording an album in the next studio. Members of Jefferson Airplane came over and got the autographs of children in the Charlie Brown special.

-- Melendez and others involved in the production thought the show was horrible, and they expected a total dud. They were shocked when the cartoon was met with nearly universal acclaim.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Toasty forecast for early December

I know people who want cold temperatures during the weeks leading up to Christmas. They say it gets them in the holiday spirit.

I also know people who have been shivering this month and are not happy about November's cold weather.

Here is some pleasant news for the latter group:  The first part of December will be warmer, according to just about every long-range forecast.

The change to milder weather is likely to start at the end of this weekend and early next week, when the overall atmospheric pattern across the United States changes to a zonal flow.  Instead of the huge kink in the jet stream that sent arctic air cruising southward into the United States in recent weeks, we'll be looking at more of a west-to-east flow of weather systems.

That means warmer temperatures.

The polar vortex will intensify at the North Pole, which will bring the frigid air back to the far north. And that will allow milder air from the Pacific Ocean to dominate weather across the United States.

The best guess from meteorologists is that temperatures will run somewhere in the ballpark of 4 to 6 degrees above average for the first two weeks of December. Normal highs and lows in Charlotte at that time of year are around 55 and 34 degrees.

This month is likely to finish among the 10 coldest Novembers on record in Charlotte. As of Sunday, the average temperature in the city was 5.3 degrees below seasonal norms.  That deficit decreased with Monday's mild weather, but it will build again with chillier conditions returning for the rest of the week.

That means your heating bills will be a lot higher than usual for November.

How long will the mild trend last?

The long-range forecasts for December show question marks after the first two weeks of the month. Meteorologists who specialize in seasonal forecasts have said that December and early January are likely to be changeable, before a cold snap arrives in the latter half of January and into February.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Problems ahead for big Thanksgiving travel day?

A few days ago, we were giving Thanksgiving travelers the all-clear signal for Tuesday and Wednesday. Now that outlook isn't so rosy.

Both the Europeans and Global computer models are predicting the development of a low pressure system along the Carolinas coast Wednesday, and that spells possible trouble for travelers.

"There definitely will be a coastal low," National Weather Service meteorologist Scott Krentz said Saturday evening. "The big question is how close to the coast it will be."

The closer to the coast, the farther inland for precipitation.

Wednesday is the biggest travel day of the year, and rain will make a mess of things for those flying or driving somewhere for Thanksgiving. Right now, it appears as if the biggest problems will be for anyone headed toward eastern North Carolina, including the Raleigh area, or up into central and eastern Virginia.

I must point out that temperatures will be chilly Wednesday, and although the precipitation almost certainly will fall as rain, some of the information being churned out by the computers says "snow," especially for northeastern North Carolina and farther to the west in the N.C. mountains.

I've traveled on a rainy Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and it was miserable.  A steady rain turned a trip up I-85 to Richmond into an ordeal.

We should have a better idea on the makeup of the storm, including its path, by later Sunday or early Monday.

But it's definitely a new -- and unwanted -- wrinkle in the Thanksgiving travel picture.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Good news for Thanksgiving?

It looks as if weather patterns across the eastern United States are shaping up nicely for Carolinas residents during the Thanksgiving holiday week.

Translated ... travelers apparently won't have to deal with big storms, and those who enjoy a winter-like feel to the air will get their wish on Thanksgiving Day.

If your preference is for shorts and T-shirts on Thanksgiving, sorry!

Thanksgiving week will be ushered in with a fairly significant storm system across the eastern United States. Low pressure will move up the Ohio Valley late Saturday and Sunday. A weak cold air damming event could develop in the Carolinas Piedmont and Foothills on Sunday, but it probably won't last long -- especially in the Piedmont.

That will set the stage for a rainy Sunday, with temperatures in the 60s.

By the way, the atmosphere will have one element needed for severe weather Sunday -- wind shear. But instability will be lacking, so we're probably looking at showery weather.

The showers will taper off Monday, and we'll be in a warm sector for the day before another cold front arrives. That means highs in the upper 60s and lower 70s.

The next cold front arrives Monday night, and it will be followed by another front later in the week. By Thanksgiving, we're probably looking at high temperatures in the low to mid 40s for Charlotte, with sub-freezing morning lows. But there are no signs of major storm systems, even for the weekend after Thanksgiving.

Incidentally, our warm-up Sunday and Monday will sweep into the North. Highs in the 60s are possible for New York and Philadelphia.  Places along the Great Lakes that were hit with heavy snow this week will see a rapid melt-off Sunday and Monday.

For Thanksgiving holiday travelers, the advance outlook is good.

"I don't see anything that will be a problem in the Southeast for travelers on Tuesday and Wednesday," said Chris Horne, of the National Weather Service office in Greer, S.C.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Cold? Absolutely! Record-breaking? No!

A lot is being made by weather watchers -- including me -- of the cold wave arriving in the Carolinas later Wednesday.

For several nights, we've watched national newscasts showing heavy snow and bitter cold in the Rockies and Midwest. Even Texas has gotten into the act, with temperatures taking a 40-degree nose dive.

Terms like "polar vortex" and "arctic blast" are being thrown around, and you'd almost think we were in the thick of winter.  That's not the case.

First, here are a couple things that the cold wave will do:

1. Last a while.  This pattern change will last at least two weeks, until around Thanksgiving. A couple reinforcing surges of cold air will push into the United States and reach the Southeast next week and early the following week.

2. Drop temperatures considerably.  We've been in the 70s for several days, and that will end after today.  Thursday will be a cross-over day, with highs in the 50s as colder air filters in. A secondary cold front will arrive later Thursday, dropping Friday's highs to the 40s.  That's a lot colder than anything we've had for a while, and it's well below the seasonal average high in Charlotte for this time of year -- 63 degrees.

3. Bring snow -- to parts of the North.  The traditional "lake-effect" snow areas around the Great Lakes will get a lot of snow from these various surges of cold air. We're talking about upstate New York (from Lake Ontario); the area from Cleveland's eastern suburbs to Buffalo (Lake Erie); Michigan's Upper Peninsula (Lake Superior); and the corridor from South Bend, Ind., up along western Michigan's shore (Lake Michigan).

But here are some things the cold wave is not:

1. A record-breaker.  A few records might be broken, but here's something to think about. The coldest morning low temperature in the first surge of cold air this weekend in Charlotte will be 24 or 25 degrees Saturday. The record low for Saturday is 20, set in 1969.

2. Unusual.  "The upcoming pattern will feature a trough in the eastern United States, and that's typical in winter," said John Tomko, of the Weather Service's Greer, S.C., office. "It's just a few weeks earlier than usual. But it's the kind of pattern we always see."

3. Aiming at the Southeast.  Tomko said the trough will be strong but broad, rather than deep. What does that mean?  Instead of the coldest of the air surging all the way into the Deep South, it will run out of steam to our north -- over Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia. "Certainly, colder air will reach our area," Tomko said. "But the coldest air will be held to our north."

Monday, November 10, 2014

As advertised, the cold air is coming

The weather pattern change that we started talking about early last week is unfolding Monday across the northern part of the United States.

A very strong storm system that battered western Alaska last Friday helped create a kink in the jet stream, and that is allowing an outbreak of arctic air to blast into much of the United States.

The cold air will reach the Charlotte region Thursday, but the heart of the arctic outbreak appears to be aimed at the central third of the United States. Places like Des Moines, Iowa, are not forecast to climb above freezing for much of the week. In Dallas, where the front is expected to arrive Tuesday, post-frontal high temperatures will only reach the 40s.

The cold air will trigger an outbreak of heavy lake-effect snow squalls in the Great Lakes.

And forecasters said long-range guidance from the computer models points to a second surge of cold air about a week from now. The coldest of that air might be aimed farther eastward, toward the eastern Great Lakes, the Northeast, and the Southeast.

This change in the pattern will last a while -- probably two weeks and maybe a bit more. That will take us into the beginning of Thanksgiving week.

So far, there are no strong indications that storm systems will form in the Southeast while the heart of the cold is around. And that will prevent an early-season snow or ice event, although there is a chance that a low pressure system expected to form in the Gulf of Mexico on Friday could bring snow to the North Carolina mountains Sunday.

We said good-bye to the 80s with the arrival of a strong cold front a few days before Halloween. Now it looks as if the next outbreak of very chilly air will mark an end to the 70s, at least for a while.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Still looking cold for later next week

Computer guidance still indicates an outbreak of unseasonably cold air will push into the Carolinas next week, although it now appears as if the really chilly conditions might not arrive until Wednesday or even Thursday.

But everything basically looks the same as it did 24 hours ago.

A huge storm system is forecast to develop in the Aleutians on Friday, bringing winds of 75 mph and 45-foot waves into the Bering Sea. That system then will contribute to a kink in the jet stream, allowing polar air to dive southward into the continental United States.

This is a big change in our pattern, and computer models tend to have problems locking onto a solution. That means you might see a lot of changes in advanced forecasts over the next few days.

But barring something unexpected, it appears likely that we'll see temperatures later next week that are more like January than November.

There also are some hints of a storm system developing along the polar front later next week, but let's not get excited about that yet.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Alaska super storm could mean cold November for us

The remnants of a strong typhoon are expected to develop into a super storm off southwest Alaska and then could help bring the Carolinas some of its coldest November weather in years, starting next week.

That is the scenario gaining favor among meteorologists and computer models this week,

Some guidance from the trusted Global and European computer models paint a picture of daytime highs in the 30s and morning lows around 20 degrees in the Charlotte area by the middle of next week, in fact.

How will all this happen?

It starts with Typhoon Nuri, which was a Category 5 storm with 180 mph winds before weakening northeast of Japan during the past day. Nuri is forecast to swing northeast, into the north Pacific, and head toward the Bering Sea as it morphs into a very powerful non-tropical system.

In its morning summary, the National Weather Service office in Anchorage said the Aleutians storm could set a record for lowest barometric pressure Friday. Winds in the western Aleutians are forecast to be at hurricane force, with waves of 43 feet or more.

This is where the forecast moves into the "theory" category.

Meteorologists have noticed in recent years that strong storm systems near Alaska can ripple the jet stream, causing a big dip from Alaska across western Canada and into the eastern United States. That is the recipe for blasts of cold air to push into areas east of the Mississippi River.

You can find a write-up of this situation here and there's another one here.

The computer models are picking up on this situation and are predicting a surge of cold air into the United States around Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. Typically, a pattern shift like this doesn't go away quickly, and this could persist through the month of November.

Last weekend's snowfall in the Carolinas, interestingly, was the work of the remnants of another former tropical system, Hurricane Ana, which had threatened Hawaii earlier.

We'll be watching this situation over the next week.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Maybe some snow for Charlotte, after all

Bulletin boards on meteorology websites have come alive in the past 24 to 48 hours in advance of the arrival of an unusual autumn storm system that appears likely to bring a real taste of winter to parts of the Carolinas.

The approaching system is an early wake-up call for snow-lovers, who probably thought they'd have to wait another month.

Let's start out by saying that you won't need to worry about shoveling snow in Charlotte. There hasn't been accumulating snow here before Nov. 11 since 1878, according to the National Weather Service.

But at least some of the computer guidance used by the Weather Service and other professional meteorologists continues to insist that the ground might get coated Saturday in areas not far from Charlotte.

The National Weather Service has jumped aboard the Snow Express and decided Thursday afternoon to mention snow as part of the forecast for Charlotte on Saturday morning. The official forecast calls for "little or no accumulation," but it's amazing that the Weather Service even has to deal with the possibility of accumulating snow this early in the season.

The likely scenario is that some folks near Charlotte will see snowflakes mixing with the rain showers at times Saturday morning.

It looks as if it will be a much more wintry picture in the mountains.

The storm system is in western Canada on Thursday. It is forecast to push quickly across Canada and then dive southeast, wrapping around a kink in the jet stream. The storm system, which computer models predict will be quite strong, is predicted to across the Carolinas on Saturday and then intensify when it reaches the coast. After that, it might push up the East Coast, possibly as some version of a nor'easter.

One National Weather Service report indicated Saturday's storm system -- considering the strength and the cold temperatures accompanying it -- is a once-in-50-years event.

Winter storm warnings are posted for the North Carolina mountains bordering Tennessee, where 4 to 6 inches of wet snow is a good bet Saturday. Appalachian State University has a home football game at 3:30 p.m. Saturday against Georgia State.  Conditions in Boone might be interesting.

Winter weather advisories are in effect for lower mountain elevations, including Asheville. But since the ground is still quite warm and Saturday is only the first day of November, it just seems too early for an accumulating snow event in non-mountain areas.

So forecasters are hedging their bets a bit about snow in places like Asheville.

In Charlotte, Saturday is likely to be a raw day. We'll have mostly cloudy skies, off-and-on rain (with maybe a few snowflakes mixed in), cold temperatures and a gusty breeze. Highs might not climb out of the lower 40s, especially if it stays cloudy all day.

It was in the 80s Tuesday. It seems weird to be talking about snow on Saturday. But as longtime Carolinas' residents know, that's often how it works out.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Try your hand at forecasting winter snow

The folks at Grandfather Mountain are giving everyone a chance to be a meteorologist -- and possibly win an outing to the North Carolina high country tourist spot.

Grandfather Mountain's ninth annual Winter Weather Contest calls for participants to answer 10 questions and a tiebreaker related to snowfall, temperature and wind on Grandfather Mountain between Nov. 15 and April 15.

For example, you'll have to guess when the first significant snowfall -- 6 inches or more -- will take place at Grandfather Mountain. Last winter, that didn't take place until early February.

You'll also be asked to predict the coldest temperature this winter. Last season, it dropped to 17.89 degrees below zero. Another question concerns the highest winter wind speed. A gust of 120.7 mph was measured two winters ago.

The winner will receive a day pass for six people to Grandfather Mountain and lunch at Mildred's Grill.

Grandfather Mountain, which stands a good chance of seeing snow Saturday (but not 6 inches' worth), is open during the winter except on Thanksgiving and Christmas -- and when heavy snow or ice closes roads in the area.

"Grandfather Mountain is known for its serene beauty and extreme conditions in winter, so the contest is a great way to share the excitement of this season," said Kellen Short, public relations specialist for Grandfather Mountain.

You can answer the questionnaire online.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Cold air on the way. Snow? Probably not.

Enjoy those 80-degree temperatures today, if you're a lover of warm weather. This might be the last time we see the 80s until 2015.

A cold front is headed for the Carolinas on Wednesday, followed by the arrival of even colder air for the weekend.

There have been rumblings in the weather world of possible snow this weekend in the northwest mountains of North Carolina, but that might be a bit of a stretch.

Regardless, our weather is headed for a big change.

October has been a warm and dry month in the Carolinas. And if you remember back to the long-range forecasts issued several weeks ago, that was exactly the forecast.  We were expecting above-average temperatures in October and possibly into November and December, although those two months would be more erratic -- with some shots of cold air interrupting the warmth.

So far this month, we're 2.4 degrees above seasonal norms in Charlotte, and our rainfall of 0.86 inches is 2.14 inches below average.

It doesn't look as if the rainfall trend will change, although a few showers are possible Wednesday when the cold front crosses the region. But the temperatures will do an abrupt about-face, according to meteorologists and computer models.

Highs on Wednesday will be held to the mid 70s, then the mid 60s Thursday and Friday. Trick-or-treaters on Halloween probably will encounter temperatures around 60 to 62 degrees in the early-evening hours.

Saturday is when you'll notice the difference. Cold Canadian air will pour into the Carolinas, accompanied by a chilly breeze. Highs will only reach the low to mid 50s in the Charlotte area, and just the 40s in the mountains. Sunday morning lows will be near 30 degrees in Charlotte, which could spell an end to the growing season. Monday's lows might be a degree or two colder.

Now, about that snow ...

Some of the computer models have been showing an outbreak of northwest-flow snow showers Saturday in the mountains, but Chris Fisher of the National Weather Service office in Blacksburg, Va., said Tuesday morning that it appears as if most of the moisture will remain north of the N.C. mountains, clipping southwest Virginia and West Virginia.

Either way, the moisture will be short-lived.

Snow-lovers will have to wait for another day, it appears. But since Saturday is only the first day of November, there are plenty of "another day's" to come.

Will we see 80 degrees again this year in Charlotte?  It has reached that mark in November a number of times, but 80-degree days after Halloween are uncommon. The odds favor us waiting until 2015 for weather that warm again.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Warm week ahead, but cold snap is in sight

You'll be able to keep shorts and T-shirts in your wardrobe this week, but keep the cold weather clothes handy. It looks as if the start of November might usher in the chilliest air so far this season.

Our current dry spell -- the longest streak of rain-free days in Charlotte since early October 2013 -- figures to continue a few more days this week, and possibly all the way to Halloween.

Along with the dry weather this week will be unseasonably warm temperatures. The average high at this time of year in Charlotte is 69 degrees, but we'll be well above that for the next several days.

Fans attending Sunday's Carolina Panthers' game against Seattle will see 72-degree temperatures at kickoff, and the high will be somewhere in the mid 70s. You can add a few degrees to that for Monday and Tuesday, and Charlotte's readings each day will be pushing 80 degrees.

Tuesday might be the final 80-degree day of the year for Charlotte, because a weak cold front will arrive Wednesday and drop temperatures back to seasonal levels by Thursday. The forecast for Halloween (Friday) is for mostly sunny skies and high temperatures in the upper 60s, but some of the computer models are predicting rain.  We'll see.

The models agree, however, in a definite turn to colder weather next weekend, and that will continue into the first week of November.

In its afternoon forecast Saturday, the National Weather Service office in Raleigh said temperatures next Saturday might stay in the 50s. There's a similar forecast from the Weather Service's office in Greer, S.C.

That means morning lows next Sunday and on Monday, Nov. 3, probably will tumble into the lower 30s in the Charlotte area, which would bring frost and freezing conditions to most of the region. And that would end the growing season.

Rain is the big question mark.  We're in need of precipitation, although most parents probably would prefer that it come sometime other than Halloween.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Revisiting the Carolinas' earthquake history

Thursday is the annual observance of the Great SouthEast ShakeOut, giving us all a chance to visit the Carolinas' seismic past and also to know what to do if our version of "The Big One" ever comes.

The Great SouthEast ShakeOut is held in the third week of October, and it's basically an earthquake preparation drill.

While the Carolinas certainly aren't on the same sort of shaky ground as California or Alaska, we've had a few shakes around here.

The classic, of course, was the Sept. 1, 1886, earthquake centered near Charleston. That temblor had a 7.3 intensity, caused 60 deaths, and was felt over a large part of the eastern United States and into the Caribbean. It even caused some damage in the Charlotte area.

Speaking of Charlotte ... a 4.0 earthquake was felt Dec. 13, 1879, apparently centered somewhere in the southeastern part of Mecklenburg County. North Carolina's biggest shaker was a 5.2 quake on Feb. 21, 1916, centered near Waynesville, which is west of Asheville.

But most of us have been shaken before in the Carolinas. That happened Aug. 23, 2011, in a 5.8 intensity quake centered about 40 miles northeast of Richmond. That earthquake was felt by many people in the Charlotte area.

The South Carolina Emergency Management Division estimated that the same type of earthquake that hit Charleston in 1886 would cause a large loss of life and extreme economic damage today. Such a quake is certainly possible, as geologists tell us Charleston is in a fault zone.

An earthquake drill is scheduled for 10:16 a.m. Thursday.

According to the Great SouthEast ShakeOut website, a number of Charlotte-area schools and government agencies will participate.

Schools: Bain Elementary, Charlotte Secondary School, J.H. Gunn Elementary, McKee Road Elementary, Vance High and Winding Springs Elementary in Mecklenburg County. Also: Arndt Middle, in Hickory; Albemarle Middle, in Albemarle; and Pine Lake Prep near Mooresville.

Governments: Alexander County; Cabarrus Health Alliance; and Rowan County.

Monday, October 13, 2014

48 hours of weather changes ... some of them not good

It's cloudy, damp and drizzly out there, but some major changes in the weather are on the way for the Charlotte region over the next 48 hours.

We're in one of those situations where a cold air wedge will be eroded, putting us into a sector of warm air -- just in time for a strong cold front to arrive.  The timing on all of this is iffy, but the bottom line is the Carolinas could be looking down the barrel of some severe weather late Tuesday and early Wednesday.

You'll be hearing about all this on the news today and tonight, as the severe weather started Monday morning in the lower Mississippi Valley. The Storm Prediction Center has placed parts of Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky in a "moderate" risk of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes today.

By 10 a.m., I'd already seen one report of a fatality from a possible tornado in Arkansas.

Let's go over the timeline of what is coming between now and Wednesday morning ...

TODAY ... We're locked in a cold air wedge, with temperatures in Charlotte in the lower 60s and drizzle falling.  We're familiar with these conditions, as they've been common-place with our overall weather pattern during the summer and autumn.

High pressure in the Atlantic is pumping cool, moist air into the Carolinas. The cool air, which is heavier than warm air, sinks toward the surface and becomes blocked by the North Carolina mountains. We get low clouds and light rain in the Piedmont and Foothills.

Often, these wedges erode from the south and southeast, as wind circulation in the atmosphere swings out of the south. At 10 a.m. Monday, the wedge was being pushed inland. Charleston was near 80 degrees, as were areas of the Outer Banks.

(Update at 1:45 p.m. ... The wedge is eroding steadily. It's now 80 degrees in parts of Richmond County and near Camden, about 60 miles southeast of Charlotte)

During the day, according to National Weather Service forecasters and the computer models, the warmer air will push north and west.  By early afternoon, we could see Columbia in the low 80s while Charlotte remains in the low to mid 60s.  We've seen that scenario frequently.

It doesn't look as if places like Statesville and Hickory ever will escape the cold air wedge today, but Charlotte -- and especially Rock Hill, Lancaster and Monroe -- should break into the warmer air by mid to late afternoon.

Rainfall should be light during the day.

TUESDAY DAYTIME ... It looks as if the day will begin with partly cloudy skies and mild weather. Overnight temperatures probably won't drop at all, so we'll start the day in the low to mid 60s. Charlotte could hit 80 degrees Tuesday, but by afternoon, clouds will increase as a strong cold front approaches from the west.

Showers and thunderstorm chances will ramp up quickly during the afternoon.

TUESDAY EVENING TO WEDNESDAY MORNING ... This is where the severe weather chances will top out. The Storm Prediction Center says the Charlotte region has a chance of seeing damaging wind gusts and a few tornadoes. Right now, it looks as if the highest threat will be after dark, which is never good.

Our severe weather chances are not as high as in the lower Mississippi Valley today, but you'll almost certainly be hearing a lot of talk tomorrow about the possibility of bad weather.

Flash flooding potential looks to be moderate in the mountains and foothills Tuesday and Tuesday night, but the Charlotte area might escape that problem, assuming the storms are moving quickly enough.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Some clouds, but eclipse should be visible

It won't be ideal viewing conditions, but the weather probably won't ruin our chance to see the lunar eclipse shortly before daybreak Wednesday.

A bigger problem could be the location of the eclipse in the sky.

The eclipse will begin around 5:15 a.m., when the moon begins moving into the earth's shadow. Over the next 100 minutes, the shadow will grow until total eclipse is reached about 6:55 a.m.

Fortunately, since we're in early October, sunrise in Charlotte isn't until 7:24 a.m. So while the sky definitely will be brightening, we will still be able to see the moon at that time. And of course, the early (partial) portion of the eclipse will be visible.

Unfortunately, the moon will be setting in the Carolinas shortly after it reaches full eclipse. By 6:55 a.m., the moon will be about 10 to 15 degrees above the horizon. Translated:  If there's a tree or building between you and the western sky, where the moon is setting, you won't see the total eclipse. You'll need to find a relatively clear view of the western horizon.

The weather could be another issue.

If the eclipse had been this morning, we would've been in trouble. Several weak disturbances are crossing the Carolinas today, spreading showers across the mountains. The systems have been losing their punch as they reach the Piedmont, but during the morning hours, they created a lot of clouds in the western sky.

There might be some clouds in the western sky again Wednesday morning, but the last of the weak disturbances will be moving away by that time. So I think there'll be enough clear sky to get a look at the eclipse.

The next lunar eclipse is next April 4, but it will be visible mostly in the Pacific. The next time we'll get a chance to see one is Sept. 28, 2015.

The next total solar eclipse in the United States is Aug. 21, 2017.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Study: Tornado season starts earlier

A group of scientists from Montana State University issued a report Tuesday that says the tornado season is starting a week earlier than in the past across a part of the Midwest known as Tornado Alley.

The report looked at tornado statistics from 1954 to 2009 and focused primarily on Oklahoma, northeast Texas and Nebraska. Scientists said they found that the peak of tornado season in recent years has been around May 19, compared to May 26 in the early and mid 1950s.

"If we take Nebraska out (of the data), it is nearly a two-week shift earlier," said John Long, a Montana State researcher who was lead author of the study.

The scientists found a link between early tornadoes in Oklahoma and the presence of stronger El Nino conditions. You'll remember that El Nino is a condition of warmer-than-usual surface water temperatures in the eastern Pacific.

El Nino conditions tend to put a lid on hurricane development in the Atlantic and Caribbean, but they also tend to produce a lot of rain and storm activity in the winter and early spring months across a corridor stretching from California and Arizona to Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas.

So it makes sense that El Nino years would produce early tornado outbreaks.

The Montana State researchers didn't spend a lot of time in the study looking for causes of the early tornadoes, but they said it is in line with what you'd expect from a warmer climate.

Hurricane activity: As we expected, hurricane activity in the Atlantic remains rather quiet this season. The strongest storm so far, Category-3 Hurricane Edouard, is moving across the central Atlantic Ocean this week.

It is expected to curve east of Bermuda and head back toward Europe, possibly threatening the Azores with strong winds this weekend as it turns into a post-tropical storm.

Meanwhile, Odile has weakened from a strong hurricane to a tropical storm as it pushes northward through the Gulf of California, between Baja California and the Mexican mainland. That storm is forecast to make landfall in northwest Mexico and then move northward -- in a much weakened state -- into Arizona.

Look for plenty of news coverage in coming days about flash flooding in Arizona and New Mexico. Parts of those states could get very heavy rain later this week.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Yes, that's snow falling up north

Was it really only a week ago when it felt like summer wouldn't end?

Now the Charlotte area is looking at high temperatures only in the 70s for much of next week, and some residents in the northern-most United States awakened to snow on the ground Friday.

Up to 8 inches of snow accumulated in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and the National Weather Service in Sioux City said it was the earliest accumulating snow in the region since 1888. Snow also accumulated the past two days in Canada's Alberta province and in Montana.

Low temperatures are expected to reach the upper 20s Friday morning in parts of Minnesota and the Dakotas, and Great Lakes locations like Cleveland and Detroit will see the mid and upper 40s.

Here in the Carolinas, the heart of the cold air won't arrive. The cold front will stall along the coast, and while cooler air will be sweeping into the eastern United States, the truly chilly conditions will never get into the Southeast.

Meanwhile, it's still tropical weather season in the Atlantic and Caribbean. And there are two areas of interest.

A tropical depression developed Thursday about 700 miles west of the Azores. This system could turn into a tropical storm by early Friday and a hurricane soon after.

However, computer models indicate that the system, which would be be named Edouard if it reaches tropical storm status will curve into the open Atlantic and never threaten the mainland United State.

The other system is crossing the southern part of Florida and will emerge into the Gulf of Mexico sometime this weekend. It will not have enough time to strengthen much, but it will bring heavy rain to parts of Louisiana and south Texas.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Cool, wet weekend; then maybe taste of fall next week

Those of you who have been griping about hot weather can celebrate.  It looks as if a real change to cool conditions is on the way, although it might make the weekend rather unpleasant.

The first real shot of chilly air is expected to push out of Canada and into the northern edge of the United States over the next few days. There will even be a bit of snow in the northern Rockies, and scattered frost over parts of Montana and the Dakotas.

That autumn-like air mass will push eastward, bringing much cooler air to the Great Lakes over the weekend and then the Northeast early next week.

The edge of that cool air will move through the Carolinas on Friday, but there are some real questions over whether the cold front will have enough of a push to reach the Deep South.  That means the front could stall over Georgia and South Carolina, setting the stage for a cool, cloudy, wet weekend.

In September and October, it's not uncommon for these late-summer and early-autumn cool air masses to get hung up near or just south of the Charlotte area. When that happens, small low pressure systems develop on the stalled front and move eastward, bringing a mix of drizzle, light rain and even moderate rain showers.

It's a version of the cold air wedge, and it could be in our future this weekend.

By early next week, computer models indicate that the front finally will push south, allowing skies to clear in the Charlotte region. If that happens, we could be in for a real taste of autumn, with daytime highs in the mid 70s and morning lows in the low and mid 50s.

A sure bet: Speaking of cold air wedges ... Tuesday was another example of how you could make a lot of money betting against the computer models when it comes to wedge patterns in the Carolinas.

The models almost always are too optimistic in predicting when the wedge will weaken and allow the clouds to break and sunshine to return. On Tuesday, the models showed sunshine returning by midday Tuesday to Charlotte, with temperatures climbing into the mid 80s.  Naturally, the clouds hung tough all day.

That happens nearly every time in these wedge patterns.

Assuming the wedge breaks down Wednesday, we'll see a brief return to summer-like weather, with highs reaching the mid 80s.  Temperatures could hit the upper 80s Thursday, but then the cold front will arrive Friday and bring it all to an end.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Has this been a cool summer?

Several times this week, someone mentioned to me that this has been an unusual summer. When I asked what was unusual, the other person mentioned "cool weather."

Without checking the statistics, I agreed.  I remember a large number of mornings since mid-July when temperatures were in the lower 60s -- and, in a few cases, even the upper 50s. The low temperature Wednesday morning at Charlotte Douglas International Airport was 57, just 2 degrees off the record for the date.

Temperatures are a few degrees below average in August and were a bit below average in July.

But the numbers tell a different story. I defined "cool mornings" as days when the low was less than 65 degrees. In mid-summer, Charlotte's average daily low is almost 70 degrees.

By that measure, August 2014 has been pretty much the same as the last three years. July 2014 was definitely cooler, though.

Here's a look at the numbers in Charlotte, through Wednesday:


Cooler than 65 degrees in 2014: 5 days (4 more had a low of 65).

2013: 6 days (2 more were 65)

2012: 9 days (3 more were 65)

2011: 7 days (3 more were 65)

2010: 2 days


2014: 6 days (2 more were 65)

2013: 0

2012: 0

2011: 2 days (1 more was 65)

2010: 4 days, including 2 in the 50s (1 more was 65)

Weather records show that Charlotte usually gets a stretch of several days in August, usually near the end of the month, when cooler temperatures seep southward and lows are in the low 60s. That doesn't usually happen in July, however.

All things considered, this has been an ordinary summer in the Carolinas, with a stretch of wet and rather unpleasant weekends in late July and early August.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Will Cristobal be a fish storm, or another Arthur?

A tropical depression developed Saturday evening in the southeast Bahamas, and the National Hurricane Center expects the system to become a tropical storm on Sunday and a Category 1 hurricane by late Tuesday or Wednesday.

It will be the third named storm of the Atlantic season, Cristobal.

Now comes the fun part ... figuring out what impact, if any, Cristobal will have on the Southeast coast, and the Carolinas in particular.

The official National Hurricane Center forecast map calls for Cristobal to remain a few hundred miles off the coast, sort of splitting the difference between Arthur, which made landfall on the North Carolina coast July 3, and Bertha, which passed about halfway between the United States and Bermuda.

Cristobal's sustained winds are forecast to be 80 mph by Thursday.

If you look at the computer models, they mostly forecast Cristobal to move northerly from the Bahamas and remain off the Florida coast, then curve a bit northeast and miss the Carolinas comfortably.

But if you remember correctly, the official forecast for Arthur also called for a miss. That didn't happen.

It appears as if a trough over the Northeast would grab Cristobal and steer it away from the mainland, but there is enough uncertainty over what will happen later this week to make National Hurricane Center meteorologists a bit nervous.

As forecaster Michael Brennan said Saturday evening, it's a low-confidence forecast right now.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Heat wave won't last long for us

Strong high pressure is building over the lower Mississippi Valley, and it's pumping the hottest air of the summer into the Carolinas on Thursday and Friday, but the Charlotte region won't have to endure the heat as long as our neighbors to the west.

Slightly cooler weather is likely Saturday, and a pronounced cooldown will arrive Sunday and last through the middle of next week.

That's because another high pressure system is forecast to build this weekend in the New England area. If that sounds familiar, it's because New England highs have been the dominant pattern in the eastern United States since mid-July.

The New England high will push its influence down the East Coast, driving a "back-door" cold front southward across the Carolinas on Saturday night. Behind that front, we'll be in a cooler air mass that also will be stable enough to prevent thunderstorm activity.

That cold front won't push much farther west than the eastern part of Georgia, so much of the South -- except the Carolinas and Virginia -- will continue to deal with temperatures in the mid and upper 90s into early next week.

For us, it'll be low to mid 80s for highs from Sunday through next Wednesday.

Before that, it will be hot. Temperatures climbed into the mid 90s Thursday afternoon across the area, and National Weather Service meteorologist Harry Gerapetritis said we could add a degree or two Friday. "Southern Piedmont heat index values could surpass 100 degrees Friday afternoon," Gerapetritis said, referring to the combined impact of temperature and humidity.

By Saturday, that New England high will be pushing its influence into Virginia. That, in turn, will push the track of thunderstorms from Kentucky-West Virginia-Virginia-Maryland farther south, into the Carolinas. We could see another 90-degree day Saturday, but there'll be more clouds and higher thunderstorm chances than Thursday and Friday.

The cooler weather will be apparent Sunday, with more clouds than sun and highs around 82 degrees in Charlotte.

Those cooler conditions will arrive just in time for the first day of school for most of North Carolina's public school students.

And in the tropics ... The National Hurricane Center is following an area of disturbed weather east of the Lesser Antilles. That area could become a tropical depression by Friday, and it's forecast to curve northwest.  That track will take the system near Hispaniola and Puerto Rico, and that means the mountains of those two islands could suppress the storm's development.

Once it clears those islands, it's expected to strengthen again over the Bahamas by late in the weekend or early next week.

I've seen talk about a possible impact on the U.S. Gulf or Southeast coasts, but that's extremely premature. The system could disintegrate over the Dominican Republic and Haiti, or it could recurve away from the U.S. coast.  It's far too early to worry about anything threatening the U.S. mainland.

Otherwise, it's quiet in the tropics as we move into what is typically the busiest time of the year for hurricanes. But that's what forecasters expected this year -- a quieter season.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Plenty of question marks in this week's forecast

At first, it seemed so easy.

A strong high pressure system would build over the Carolinas, and we'd experience a week of hot weather -- perhaps our hottest week of the summer.

The heat would extend through the week and possibly into the early part of next week, with only a few chances of thunderstorms. The greatest chance of storms would come Monday afternoon and evening.

Scratch that idea.

As it turns out, Monday's thunderstorms affected the mountains during the morning, then split apart and developed in the afternoon over the South Carolina Midlands and up in Virginia. The Charlotte region could escape without a drop of rain.

And as for the rest of the week?

Well, it figures to be warm, but not at the kind of levels -- mid and upper 90s -- that we first expected. Instead, it appears as if the Carolinas might wind up being right along the path of several clusters of showers and thunderstorms being shunted from the Great Lakes southeastward.

High pressure that has dominated the western United States has shifted a bit to the east, and the computer models indicate that the Carolinas will be on the eastern edge of the high. Often, clusters of storms -- known to meteorologists as mesoscale convective system (MCS) -- form on the edge of the high pressure systems and are steered around that edge.  It appears as if the Carolinas could be on that edge.

That means these clusters of storms could move into the Carolinas at times during the week. For meteorologists, that's a headache.  It makes forecasts of more than 36 or 48 hours a bit risky, and that could be the case this week.

And later in the week, there are growing signs that another cold air wedge could push into the Carolinas. Those wedges, formed when cool and moist air is pumped from the Atlantic Ocean into the Piedmont by high pressure systems over the Northeast, have made frequent appearances this summer in our region.

If that happens, forget about the 90s this weekend.  We could be looking at thick overcast and temperatures in the mid and upper 70s.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Summer is about to deliver some heat

I hope you haven't caught yourself thinking that maybe we're done with the heat this summer.

The computer models are pointing toward a warmup over the next few days, and that could be followed by some even warmer temperatures by the end of next week and into the start of the kids' school year Aug. 25.

We're not talking about 100-degree weather, but temperatures in the mid 90s will feel hot, after the kind of weather we've experienced since mid-July.

Carolinas' temperatures -- and, in fact, readings across the eastern two-thirds of the country -- have been well below average for the last four or five weeks. In Charlotte, we're nearly 3 degrees below the monthly average temperature so far.

It's been wet, too. While the rainfall numbers at Charlotte Douglas International Airport haven't been noteworthy, there have been several heavy rain events across the region recently. Beachgoers know what I mean. Rain has fallen three straight weekends on the Carolinas coast.

I spent last week at Sunset Beach, and rain fell all seven days I was there.

It only makes sense that things will change, and now that seems to be taking place. Our pattern for the past month has been wet and cool, but the computers are hinting at a change -- warm, with only scattered daily thunderstorm activity.

The Global model was producing forecasts this week that point to 100-degree weather in the Carolinas around the Aug. 23-26 period, but with all the rainfall we've had since mid-July, it doesn't seem likely that we'll get that hot. Some of the heat will be expended drying out the ground, so we'd probably see mid 90s instead.

We'll also be watching the Atlantic, because the tropics have been quiet so far this season.

That was the prediction, with an intensifying El Nino in the Pacific basin expected to limit the development of tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic and Caribbean. But we've had only two named storms so far this season, and that's the smallest number at mid-August since 2009.

Once again, it makes sense to expect some development in the Atlantic next week.

And what about autumn? The government's Climate Prediction Center seems to be pointing toward a warm autumn for the Carolinas.

The forecast for August through October calls for average temperatures, but the September-November and October-December forecasts show a strong chance of above-average temperatures -- and above-average precipitation.

In other words, expect warm and wet weather for September, October and November.

And that ties in with a couple of autumn forecasts I've seen in recent days.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Dreary weather pattern preparing to change

I feel sorry for anyone who's tried to take vacation days since last weekend -- assuming those vacation plans involved anything outdoors.

Charlotte-area weather has been rather unpleasant. It's been wet in many places, the humidity has been high, and sunshine has been scarce. Temperatures have been cool, but I realize some people are pleased with that development.

That cool high pressure system that we talked about 10 days ago set up shop over the Northeast, and that provided the area with the below-average temperatures last weekend. Then an upper-level low pressure system moved into the Florida Panhandle area and became stationary for a few days.

The Charlotte region was on the boundary between the influence of high pressure to the north and low pressure over the Gulf coast. Along that boundary, showers and thunderstorms developed. The Florida low pumped enough tropical moisture into the area that heavy rain fell. At my home in Matthews, we've recorded as much rain in the past week that we normally get for all of June and July.

Now all that is ready to change, for a few days, at least.

By Tuesday night, the Florida low will backtrack to the west, and the prevailing east-southeast flow in the Carolinas will switch around to the southwest and west.  That will help dry things out.

The results should be obvious Wednesday, with more of a typical summer pattern -- highs in the upper 80s, humid conditions, and afternoon thunderstorms. But "typical" won't last long.

Another cold front is forecast to barrel into the area Thursday, and drier conditions will follow Friday and Saturday.

One key player in the weather pattern has been a large area of stifling hot high pressure over the Southwest. That strong high has been nearly stationary, and it has helped set up a blocking pattern over the United States.

Much of the Great Lakes has been rather cool this month. Energy use in parts of Indiana, Michigan and Illinois is 25 to 30 percent below seasonal averages.

While Charlotte has seen some cool weather in recent days, we're only about 1 degree below average for the month. The number of cooling days -- a measurement of how the weather affects air conditioning use -- is down about 5 percent for the month in Charlotte.

It looks as if the cold front that moves through Charlotte later Thursday will dissipate after reaching the coast. Then warm and humid conditions with afternoon thunderstorms will return for next week.

Paul Pastelok, a long-range forecaster for Accu-Weather, thinks August could mark a return to more typical summer weather. He said a Bermuda high pressure system likely will establish itself off the Atlantic coast and dominate Eastern U.S. weather.  That Bermuda high, a fixture of summer weather in the Southeast, has been missing in recent days.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Polar vortex this week ... in July?

Monday morning update: Well, common sense has taken over. The latest computer models show high temperatures for the middle and end of the week, after the cold front passage, in the mid 80s. This is certainly cooler than average, but it's also not anything in the "remarkable" category.

It'll be a break from the recent 90s, but it will still feel like summer. After all, this is July and we're in the Carolinas.

Earlier post: There has been a lot of conversation in weather circles about a rather unusual meteorological event that is likely to take place this week in the eastern United States.

Some are calling it the return of last winter's "polar vortex" -- a deep low pressure system over eastern Canada that drags cool air into the eastern part of the United States. Back during the winter, especially in January, when Charlotte averaged nearly 5 degrees below seasonal norms, the polar vortex was blamed for the extremely cold weather that settled into the East.

It was responsible for temperatures that plummeted far below zero in the Great Lakes and Northeast. The Carolinas weren't immune either.  My birthday, Jan. 7, featured a morning low of 6 degrees that ruptured a lot of water pipes.

If you look at the weather map, this week's forecast conditions bear some resemblance to last winter. Once again, a deep low pressure system will move across Canada and take up residence in the eastern part of the country. The Washington Post's weather crew, the Capital Weather Gang, examines the situation in this article.

The National Weather Service office in Greer, S.C., began discussing the situation late last week, when it appeared as if the Eastern Canadian low would drive a strong cold front through the Carolinas and off the coast.  In that situation, Charlotte could experience high temperatures at mid and late week in the upper 70s and lower 80s.

But now the computer models suggest the cold front won't make much progress south of the Charlotte region and eventually will stall just to the south. That seems more logical, given the time of year and our location in the South.

Still, it appears as if we're looking for unusually cool weather this week for the middle of July. And to the north, farther away from the stalled cold front, this week's temperatures will be unusually chilly. Some of the Great Lakes cities like Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago might struggle to get into the low 70s at midweek.

It's not really a "polar vortex," because the source of the system will be Alaska, not the polar regions. But this week apparently will give Charlotte-area residents a definite break from the type of mid-July heat we're accustomed to.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Check out the 'super moon' tonight

With skies mostly clear tonight across the Charlotte region, you'll get another chance to see the so-called "super moon."

That's the term given the moon when it is full at the time of its closest monthly approach to the earth. Scientists at NASA say the "super moon" can be 30 percent brighter than a regular full moon.

Interestingly, we'll have three consecutive months of a "super moon," with upcoming events on Aug. 10 and Sept. 9.

The full moon actually was Friday night and Saturday morning, but we'll still have a moon that's 95 percent full tonight.  The moon is scheduled to rise at 8:44 p.m. and set at 7:43 a.m., which will put it high in the sky for the overnight hours.

The moon's orbit is not a perfect circle around the earth.  Rather, it's an elliptical orbit, and when the moon is at its closest approach (called the "perigee"), it's about 32,000 miles closer than at the farthest point ("apogee").

As I said ... the weather apparently will cooperate Saturday night and Sunday morning, and it should be easy to check out the "super moon."  Some fog could develop in the hour or two before sunrise Sunday, but otherwise, it should be good viewing weather.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Storms will precede a much nicer 4th of July

It's another oppressive day in the Charlotte area, with temperatures above the 90-degree mark and humidity levels that are difficult to tolerate.

But better days are ahead ... as in Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Conditions are shaping up for a beautiful Independence Day weekend across the Charlotte region. While the coastal sections of the Carolinas worry about approaching Tropical Storm Arthur, the central and western parts of the two states will feature some great weather.

The Fourth of July in Charlotte is usually synonymous with heat, humidity and evening thunderstorms.

But a cold front is forecast to push across the area Thursday, and it will take the heat and humidity with it.

The 2 p.m. temperature Wednesday in Charlotte was 91 degrees, and the 70-degree dew point temperature produced a heat index of 97 degrees. That's not pleasant, and it's the second straight day we've dealt with those conditions. It's even worse in Raleigh, where a 95-degree air temperature and high humidity is producing a heat index of 103 degrees.

Thunderstorms are forecast to break out Wednesday afternoon and evening in the mountains and spread eastward into the Piedmont. A few severe storms are possible.

Additional thunderstorms are likely Thursday as the cold front approaches. Once again, some severe weather is probable, and people attending the Charlotte Symphony Pops Concert and fireworks display at SouthPark will need to keep tuned to weather forecasts.

Friday, behind the front, we can expect lower humidity levels, mostly clear skies, and temperatures in the upper 80s. There won't be any heat index issues, and if all that isn't enough, the warm weather will be tempered by a fairly stiff northerly breeze around the back side of Tropical Storm (or Hurricane) Arthur as it moves up the East Coast.

Morning lows will be in the mid 60s both Saturday and Sunday, and daytime highs will only reach the middle 80s.

For this time of year, that kind of weather is a treat.

Monday, June 30, 2014

A dry and pleasant July 4 ... is that possible?

The Carolinas coast is getting most of the attention from meteorologists this week, as they watch the possible development of a tropical low pressure system east of Florida.

But back here in the Piedmont and foothills, conditions are shaping up for what might be an unusually nice Independence Day holiday. If everything develops the way the computer models indicate, our July 4th could be dry and pleasant.

High temperatures in Charlotte might climb only into the upper 80s, humidity levels might be tolerable, and skies might be clear.

Scott Krentz, of the National Weather Service's office in Greer, S.C., said Monday morning that the computer-generated forecasts seem to be pointing toward one prediction -- that a fairly vigorous cold front will push across the Charlotte region late Thursday and be followed on the Fourth of July by a high pressure system.

Under that solution, Thursday would be a stormy day, especially in the afternoon and nighttime hours.

For several days, the Carolinas have been under the influence of an unsettled pattern, as an easterly flow off the Atlantic brought a lot of moisture into the area. Some locations in the North Carolina mountains got 6 to 8 inches of rain over the weekend. A vigorous thunderstorm Friday night dumped about 3 inches in parts of southeastern Mecklenburg County.

Additional showers and storms developed Saturday and Sunday, and more of the same is forecast for the first few days this week -- although storm activity will be scattered, forecasters say.

The chances of thunderstorms probably will increase into the "likely" category Thursday, as the cold front approaches. Anyone planning outdoor activities Thursday night -- and there are plenty of concerts, festivals and fireworks displays scheduled -- would have to keep an eye on the forecast. The storms could continued into the overnight hours.

Then the cold front is predicted to push all the way to the coast Friday. Under that scenario, the cold front would serve as a pipeline for the tropical weather system expected to move up the East Coast. If you're planning to spend the Fourth of July at the coast, that's a problem.

But for those remaining in the Piedmont, foothills or mountains, the holiday could be really nice.

Independence Day typically in the Charlotte area is hot and humid, with a scattering of late-afternoon and evening thunderstorms. Highs in the low 90s are common.

But we could be looking at a holiday with highs from 85 to 88 degrees and no worries about whether a thunderstorm will interrupt the holiday fireworks displays and other evening events.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Season's first Atlantic tropical system forming

That broad area of low pressure that had been off the South Carolina coast earlier this weekend and was partially responsible for all the clouds, heavy showers and high humidity this weekend in the Charlotte area might be destined to become 2014's first Atlantic tropical system.

By mid afternoon Sunday, the low pressure system had drifted southward and was about 230 miles east of St. Augustine, Fla.

The National Hurricane Center said an area of relatively dry air in mid levels of the atmosphere over North Carolina is expected to be dragged into the low pressure area later Sunday, but by Tuesday or Wednesday, that dry air will be gone, and the low is given an 80 percent chance of becoming an organized tropical depression.

Steering currents off the Southeast Coast are extremely weak, and that makes any long-range forecasts very difficult.

But there doesn't seem to be any indication that the tropical system will have any impact on the Carolinas, at least for the next few days.

Some of the computer models show the low pressure system drifting south and then southwest, making landfall in three or four days along the eastern Florida coast.  But a few other models show the system remaining over open water and then being dragged northeast later in the week when steering currents increase.

In that case, there could be some rainy and windy periods around the Fourth of July holiday on the Carolinas coastline. But that's a highly uncertain forecast, and if you have plans for an Independence Day trip to the beach, there's no need to worry.  Nothing will happen for several days, at the earliest.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Too much rain? Not where I live

Summer thunderstorms can be capricious, dumping big amounts of rainfall in some places and leaving nearby areas dry. That's especially true in the Southeast, where summer is loaded with what meteorologists call "pulse" storms that strengthen and weaken quickly.

Those hit-and-miss storms have been a staple product of the Charlotte area's weather this week.

It seems as if there have been daily thunderstorms in parts of the foothills, and areas to the east of Charlotte have received more than 3 inches of rain this week. But in much of Mecklenburg County, little or no rain has fallen.

Thunderstorms repeatedly have formed in the foothills and moved very slowly into the Piedmont, drying out as they reach Mecklenburg County.  At my house, no rain has fallen this week (through Friday afternoon).

Now the pattern is getting ready to change. A weak cold front is expected to slip southward across the Carolinas on Saturday, and that will serve two purposes.  It will drop temperatures a few degrees late this weekend and early next week. And it will decrease thunderstorm chances, especially Sunday and Monday.

Computer models indicate thunderstorm activity will be a bit lower on Friday afternoon and evening than the past two days, but storms are predicted to be more numerous Saturday as the front pushes southward.

But if you need rain and don't get hit by a storm Saturday, it'll be time to get the sprinkler out.

Temperatures, which have climbed into the low and mid 90s on a daily basis this week, will fall back a bit. Charlotte has been in the 90s for five straight days, and it could climb into the low 90s again Saturday, before the cold front arrives. But highs are predicted to hold in the upper 80s from Sunday into Tuesday of next week.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Slight change in weather pattern is coming

The late-afternoon thunderstorms that have developed on a daily basis this week are a good-news/bad-news kind of thing.

Just about everyone appreciates that the storms drop temperatures to more tolerable levels and produce rainfall, to compensate for the very high levels of drying that take place at this time of year.

But nobody is a big fans of the damage these storms sometimes produce. That has been the case each day so far this week, and the power of summer thunderstorms was on display Wednesday afternoon in Lincoln County. Strong winds blew trees onto houses, and there also was damage in York, Iredell, Alexander and Catawba counties.

We can expect more of the same over the next few days, forecasters say. The only difference is a slight decrease in temperatures.

Charlotte had a high of 93 degrees Wednesday, and the temperature was climbing toward the mid 90s again Thursday at the time of this writing (mid-afternoon). Forecasters say that by Thursday or Friday, high pressure responsible for this mid-June heat wave will slide off the Gulf Coast, and its grip over the Carolinas will lessen.

If you've been watching to the north over the past few days, you've seen several clusters of thunderstorms sweep from west to east across the Midwest and Great Lakes. As high pressure weakens over the Carolinas, those clusters of storms will take a more southerly track and will affect the Charlotte region by Friday or Saturday.

What does all that mean?

It means highs probably will be closer to 90 than 95 this weekend and early next week, and it means the scattering of afternoon and evening thunderstorms will increase. Some of those thunderstorm clusters moving out of the Midwest could arrive in the overnight hours, so we could get an overnight storm or two.

If you've lived in the Carolinas for any length of time, you know that this is typical summer weather. It's how we get our rainfall at this time of year.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Summer's off to a hot start

Summer doesn't officially begin until this weekend, but meteorological summer started June 1, and it's off to a hot start in the Carolinas.

Wednesday marks the third straight day of 90-degree-plus weather, and it appears as if we're in for at least three to five more days of 90 degrees or hotter before there's a change in the pattern.

By mid-afternoon Wednesday, temperatures were in the low to mid 90s across the Piedmont and Sandhills of the Carolinas. An automated thermometer in Camden, S.C., about 80 miles south of Charlotte was showing 99 degrees at 2:30 p.m.

Technically, a heat wave is a string of three or more days with 90 degrees and above, so this is officially a heat wave.

The National Weather Service forecast a high of 94 Wednesday in Charlotte. That would be the hottest temperature in the city in two years, since a reading of 94 degrees at the end of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte -- on Sept. 1, 2012.

The hottest temperature in Charlotte last year was 93 degrees. That's a testimony to the frequent and heavy rain we got in the summer of 2013.  The rain and clouds kept the heat under wraps.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Thursday storm threat is wait-and-see for forecasters

Meteorologists in the Carolinas have a very tricky call to make, regarding the possibility of a severe weather outbreak Thursday.

There actually could be a pair of threats, with the first developing in the early-morning hours and the second on Thursday afternoon.

A clusters of strong thunderstorms was moving across the Midwest on Wednesday morning. That mesoscale convective system (MCS), a fancy word for a batch of storms, is forecast to continue moving eastward during the day, crossing Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. Then the MCS is expect to curve southeast, and that's where it starts getting tricky.

Some of the computer models predict the storms will move across Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia overnight. Other models predict the storms will curve far enough southeast to affect the Carolinas in the early-morning hours Thursday. That MCS could bring damaging wind gusts, so the track of the storms is important.

The path of the storms also could have a big impact on what happens Thursday afternoon, when a weak cold front is predicted to move into the Carolinas.

The atmosphere in areas affected by early-morning storms will become relatively stable afterwards. That would discourage the development of afternoon thunderstorms.

So if the overnight batch of storms curve far enough southeast to affect the Charlotte area, there are questions about whether the atmosphere really will become unstable enough for another round of stormy weather in the afternoon.  If the MCS stays farther north and crosses Virginia tonight, then the Charlotte area's atmosphere will be plenty unstable in the afternoon.

Justin Lane, from the Weather Service's office in Greer, S.C., said it probably won't be until 3 or 4 a.m. Thursday before forecasters have a good idea on what will happen in the afternoon across the Charlotte region.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

This time, the cold air wedge does Charlotte a favor

The cold air wedge has done it again -- but this time, we should be thankful.

The wedge -- a pocket of cool, damp but relatively stable air that is pushed into the Carolinas Piedmont by high pressure systems over New England -- usually causes us plenty of problems. In winter, areas inside the wedge are prone to ice storms and snow.

In spring, the wedge often contributes to those chilly, rainy days. Does anyone remember the day before Easter?

A wedge of cool air was locked in place Monday across the northern half of North Carolina. While Charlotte was in the lower 80s on Monday afternoon, temperatures were 20 degrees cooler in Raleigh and Greensboro. Computer models, as they usually do, vastly underestimated the strength of the wedge. The models predicted the cool air would remain north of Charlotte.

It didn't. About 11 p.m. Monday, the wedge front pushed south of Charlotte. Dew point temperatures, which measure the level of humidity and instability in the atmosphere, dropped sharply. The wind shifted from south to northeast.

And at that moment, Charlotte was protected from the severe weather to the west.

As is often the case, the wedge of cool air was pushed up against the mountains. Cooler air sinks, and so it often is lodged against the mountains. That is why strong storms dumped several inches of rain overnight in Burke, Caldwell, McDowell and Catawba counties -- areas that were along, or just outside of, the cool air pocket.

So the big question is how long the cool air will remain in place?

Once again, the compute models predict the cooler and more stable air will retreat northward Tuesday. I enjoyed the comment from Justin Lane, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's office in Greer, S.C. Talking about the predicted northward movement of the cooler air, he said, :"I don't have a lot of faith in that."

More likely, it will be late Tuesday night or early Wednesday before that happens.

Eventually, the severe thunderstorms probably will reach the Charlotte region. But the presence of the cool air wedge in Charlotte has prevented a couple inches of rain from falling overnight. That will decrease the overall storm total for the area and lessen the threat of flash flooding from whatever rain falls Tuesday night and Wednesday.