Raleigh, N.C. — Cold air that filtered into the Triangle on Thursday coupled with low pressure moving in will set the stage for winter weather, but meteorologists are still unsure if the area will see more snow or sleet.
Early models showed storm moving into the region late Friday night and possibly continuing through Saturday afternoon. Forecast models show the storm could bring up to 6 inches of snow around Raleigh.
Thursday night however, at least one forecast model- the North American Model- showed that a warm air intrusion could keep heavier snow totals to the north and west of Raleigh, meaning the Triangle could potentially see sleet instead of snow.
“We’re confident that we’re going to see something frozen, but it’s really hard to determine where those bands of rain and sleet and snow are going to set up,” Maze said.
WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said that the line that would bring temperatures below freezing could remain in such a place that the storm could consist largely of sleet for most of Wake County.
“We could actually not have snow in parts of Wake County all the way through 7 o’clock Saturday morning,” he said. “It’s going to be a real dogfight to keep this thing in the all snow category.”
Fishel said that he thinks it’s possible that the storm could start off Friday evening as rain before transitioning to light snow Friday night.
“If you have social plans for [Friday] evening, I wouldn’t cancel them at this point,” he said. “Even if you saw flakes falling, the roads are probably just going to be wet and you could probably get wherever you wanted to go without any problem.”
Fishel said that roads may not become an issue until after midnight, when surface temperatures begin to drop and allow for accumulation.
The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for much of central North Carolina, including Durham, Wake, Orange and Johnston counties, from 7 p.m. Friday until 7 p.m. Saturday.
Several inauguration events scheduled for Saturday and Sunday were postponed Thursday afternoon. The Oaths of Office for the Council of State Officers were moved to the Governor’s Mansion on Friday.
Wake County schools also announced that all activities and athletic events scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday would be canceled as a result of the impending storm.
Durham Public Schools announced Thursday that all after-school activities scheduled for Friday and all weekend events have been canceled as a result of the impending storm. District officials will meet Friday at 9 a.m. to determine if early dismissal is necessary.
“There is still some uncertainty as to whether this will be all snow, or a sleet and snow mix,” WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said. “It may be close to midnight before we start to see any wintry precipitation. (We could get) 3 to 6 inches (with) lower amounts down south and, actually, north and west.
“It’s likely to be the Triangle area, north and east, that will have the higher accumulations.”
According to the National Weather Service, roads are expected to be impassable and there could be sporadic power outages.
The North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro announced it will be closed on Saturday and Sunday because of the storm, and the World’s Toughest Rodeo also postponed its show planned for Saturday at PNC Arena.
Some of the computer models vary on exactly how much snow will fall, but Maze said they are trending in the same direction.
By late Saturday afternoon, the storm is expected to move out, but temperatures will drop into the teens.
“By late afternoon we could even get some clearing,” Fishel said. “But, any late afternoon sunshine won’t do us a whole lot in terms of warmth.”
Drivers should use ‘good common sense’ in snow
The battle lines were drawn Thursday night and state Department of Transportation crews were marshaling their resources.
“We are making sure we have sufficient personnel that are ready to assist,” said Sgt. Michael Baker with the North Carolina Highway Patrol.
Baker said as road conditions deteriorate, the number of vehicle crashes and stranded drivers will likely increase. Drivers, he said, should exercise extra caution.
“We just ask that they use good common sense; make sure they increase their following distances, decrease their speeds and make sure they plan accordingly,” he said.
State highway road signs are already warning about the approaching storm and admonishing drivers not to abandon their vehicles on the side of the road. Many drivers said they plan to lay low until the storm passes.
“I’ve driven in snow in New York and then I haven’t had snow for about 20 years in Florida, so I’m kind of holding out to see how it’s going to be,” said Kaluwa Ghalikar.
Baker again stressed that stranded drivers or drivers involved in wrecks should not leave their vehicles but be patient and wait for state troopers who are navigating treacherous road conditions to answer emergency calls.
Central NC prepares for winter weather
In areas across central North Carolina, residents hit the grocery and hardware stores on Thursday afternoon to stock up on snow essentials.
Stuart Davis, who works at Briggs Hardware in downtown Raleigh said he loves the snow.
“It’s good for business,” he said. “(People called up) asking if we have sleds, ice melt and snow shovels.”
Fred Dyke, a father of two preschoolers, said he was excited about the chance for winter weather.
“It is over the weekend, and we really don’t get snow that much in Raleigh,” he said. “So, I’m happy to have the children go out there and play in the snow.”
By mid-afternoon the flurry of the business turned into a pile-up as employers stacked bags of ice melt into the beds of pick-up trucks.
“(The impending storm) has cleaned us out more or less so far, but we’ve reordered and have more on the way as we speak,” said Jeff Hastings, an employee at Burke Brothers Hardware. “We’ve got another five to seven pallets of ice melt. We’ve got another couple hundreds sleds coming.”
Road crews across the state were also preparing by spraying brine on major highways.
“Right now, we are doing Interstate 95, N.C. Highway 87, N.C. Highway 24 and Interstate 295,” said Bill Hammond the Cumberland County Maintenance Director. “Then, once we get those we’re going to branch out and get the other primaries. We got a total 1,500 road miles in Cumberland County.”
Hammond said his team is ready, but the big problem occurs if rain comes before the snow gets settled on the brine.
“If it rains a lot…then more than likely it is washing away the brine,” he said.
A special thank you to our friends at WRAL for helping out with this post.