February 20, 2020

North Carolina Could See A Li'l Thump Of Snow On Thursday

A fast-moving storm will develop over the southeastern United States on Thursday, potentially dropping a couple of inches of snow across the eastern half of North Carolina and the Virginia Tidewater. There's still some uncertainty around the storm right now—oh, little things like "how much snow will fall?"—but it's likely that the season's first (and only?) snowfall is on the way.

This isn't going to be a mammoth storm, but it will drop a shovelable snow in areas that can go a few winters without seeing much snow at all.

Right now, most meteorologists in the state expect at least an inch of snow across most of North Carolina. The latest forecast from local National Weather Service offices shows the thinking. Forecasters don't expect the system to be a bangin' rock fest like the short-range models keep trying to spit out, though there's a 10 percent chance that the "high-end" totals grow problematic east of Raleigh. The position and movement of heavy bands of snow within the storm leave open the possibility that some towns in eastern North Carolina could see half a foot of snow or more.

Snow should begin in western North Carolina on Thursday morning, spreading east toward the coast through the afternoon hours. The evening rush hour, should there be one, looks messy for just about every part of N.C. and southeastern Virginia.

The storm will clear out to the Atlantic by Friday morning, leaving behind an icy mess that will make it tough to get around on untreated surfaces. Above-freezing temperatures and sunny skies should take care of most roads by Friday afternoon.

This is one of those uncomfortable situations where the final forecast will come down to the wire in a few spots. Some towns will see more snow than they were expecting, while others wind up with little to no snow at all. That's the nature of southern snowstorms.

Charlotte meteorologist Brad Panovich laid it out in plain terms on Wednesday. These flaky southern snowstorms rely entirely on minuscule changes in temperature and moisture throughout the atmosphere. If it's even just a little bit warmer than predicted, snow will change to sleet or freezing rain and the entire forecast is blown to smithereens. Dry air can chomp away at snow like a snack. If the storm moves five or ten miles farther north or south than expected, that also nudges the heaviest bands of snow right along with it.

Forecasters had a tough time getting a handle on this storm until Wednesday morning. Short-range regional models like the NAM, which is great for forecasting thunderstorms but not so much when it comes to snow, have been incredibly bullish on the threat for snow across N.C., consistently painting a swath of double-digit snowfall totals along and east of I-95. Global models like the GFS and European have been less impressed by the storm, lurching back and forth between a few inches and hardly a flurry.

Like many of its neighbors, North Carolina hasn't seen much of a winter so far this winter. It's as if the end of October started skipping and nobody bothered to jiggle the CD player. The coldest we've gotten in Greensboro this season is 20°F—potentially setting us up for the first winter on record without a low in the teens—and most of North Carolina has gotten this far without any measurable snow to speak of, another unusual feat for areas sees at least a dusting or two by the middle of February.

While winter storms aren't out of the question in the southeast in March, encroaching warmth from the south and the increasing angle of the sun makes it more difficult for wintry precipitation to fall with each passing day.

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I graduated from the University of South Alabama in 2014 with a degree in political science and a minor in meteorology. I contribute to The Weather Network as a digital writer, and I've written for Forbes, the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang, Popular Science, Mental Floss, and Gawker's The Vane. My latest book, The Skies Above, is now available. My first book, The Extreme Weather Survival Manual, arrived in October 2015.