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.