ROCKINGHAM — Forecast models appeared to be in disagreement early this week about the track and intensity of a winter storm taking aim at the mid-Atlantic and southern states — but by Thursday, those discrepancies melted away, and forecasters say Richmond County can expect at least 3 inches and as many as 8 inches of snow Friday night and Saturday.
Meteorologist Jonathan Weant told the Daily Journal a wintry mix could overspread the area just after dark Friday.
“There is probably going to be some short little period of sleet and maybe some rain to begin with at the coast and the coastal plains,” Weant said. “But this is going to be a predominantly snow event across North Carolina. It will start tomorrow night around 7 p.m. as some rain before changing to snow. It will work its way up from upstate South Carolina and will be all snow by around 8 p.m., changing to snow later in areas east of the I-95 corridor.”
When a Winter Storm Watch is issued by the National Weather Service, he explained, it’s to give people enough time to prepare for the possibility of winter weather.
“The watch, they issue it 36 hours in advance,” Weant said. “So within 36 hours, we will start to experience winter weather here in the Carolinas.”
By 3:42 p.m. Thursday, our Winter Storm Watch was upgraded to a Winter Storm Warning, meaning that significant snowfall is eminent and people should take action to prepare. By then, people looking at the weather radar maps online were able to see what appeared to be snow or and icy mix over parts of the state, but these were not reaching the ground.
“We have a piece of energy moving in the atmosphere right now, and that’s the first piece of this system,” Weant said. “That is going to bring the cold temperatures into place. What you probably see on the radar is evaporating on the surface, what we call evaporational cooling. It’s virga, so it’s falling from the sky, but it’s evaporating before it reaches the surface. You may see a snowflake or two out of it, but right now there’s not enough moisture for anything to be seen.”
That, however, will not be the case for long.
“We’re still monitoring the models, and right now they are pretty much in good agreement on the timing and that North Carolina will see winter weather,” Weant explained. “It’s just exactly how much right now, the amounts are still in question. The track of the low pressure is going to be key as to who sees how much. We’re going to be watching what we call a deformation zone, and that’s a heavy band of snow. Where that sets up, it could produce 6 to 10 inches of snow.”
He also said that currently, the models suggest around 4 to 6 inches of snow in the Piedmont, and 6 to 10 inches for the Sandhills — but that could change rapidly.
“Trying to figure out where that deformation zone is going to set up is kind of like trying to predict where a tornado is going to touch down,” Weant said. “It’s nearly impossible. Until it’s set up, we aren’t going to know where it’s going to set up.”
Weant said regardless of who gets the most snow, the winter storm is expected to dispense snow over all of the state.
“If you’re a snow lover, this is going to definitely be snow in North Carolina,” he assured. “Get out there and enjoy it. If you have to travel in this weather, heed all the warnings. If you don’t have to get out, don’t go out. The worse weather will occur after midnight Friday, and on through Sunday night.”
But this snow isn’t going away as quickly as it arrives, he added.
“Behind this, the other part of the forecast will have bitterly cold temperatures,” Weant said. “The snow is going to stick around. It’s not like it’s just going to come and just melt.”
Temperatures are expected to drop to near 10 degrees Saturday night, remain near freezing Sunday and near 0 that night and remain below freezing on Monday.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.