WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Fishel: Sleet saved central NC from crippling ice storm

Posted February 17, 2015

Portions of central North Carolina could receive up to a half-inch of ice during a Feb. 16-17, 2015, winter storm.

— The big question entering Monday night was how much sleet would fall as opposed to freezing rain. One freezes before it hits the ground while the other freezes as it hits the ground, or any object for that matter.

Determining which one wins out is next to impossible, as it depends on many factors. First, how much above freezing is the air when it’s several thousand feet above the ground. If that warm nose is well above freezing, the falling rain drops assume the temperature of the air, and it becomes very difficult for them to freeze upon entering the cold air near the ground.

Second, how cold is the cold layer near the ground, and how deep is it? In this case, it was exceptionally cold. Temperatures in the teens with anything but snow falling in North Carolina is very rare. There are no exact thresholds that can be measured to determine whether sleet or freezing rain will be dominant.

Despite what some of you may think, this was indeed a potentially crippling ice storm. A degree or two difference anywhere in the lower 6,000 feet of the atmosphere would have resulted in a much different landscape this morning. We lucked out big time. And if the same situation presents itself in the future, we will handle it exactly the same way.


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  • Phil Larson Feb 17, 2015
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    I hear you sister, some folks only view the world as it pertains to them.

    Go Heels!

  • Chris Holder Feb 17, 2015
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    Hardly. Middle of last week, this was still to be a rain event. The forecast started getting interesting toward the end of the week. It was never foretasted to be more than a few inches of snow (perhaps up to 5-6), but always the question mark about the separation between that and sleet and frz rain. In the end, it stayed just cold enough for folks north of 64 to get mostly all sleet or snow, and folks south to get substantial (but not crippling) frz rain.

  • Kimberly Harvey Feb 17, 2015
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    To David Hartman, to was a BFD, especially to those of us in rural areas, like extreme southern Franklin County. In more densely populated areas, even in "easy" ice storms roads are quickly passible and life goes back to normal as soon as the event is over. Out here, that isn't the case. It can take days before the DOT makes the first pass with the trucks. I lived in downtown Raleigh all four years of college and have spent much of the the rest of my life out here, so I've seen these storms come and go over the last 30 years. What you see on TV is not always what you see everywhere else.

  • David Hartman Feb 17, 2015
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    WRAL has been trumping this 'storm' up for almost a week now.

    And we got perhaps a trace of snow here in Raleigh.


  • Nancy Martin Feb 17, 2015
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    I agree Chris, we have much more in Fuquay than half an inch of this stuff and it's sleet for the most part. But what is falling right now sounds more like and looks more like freezing rain to me. Would hate to see that switch over.

  • Chris Emerson Feb 17, 2015
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    Thanks for this post - very interesting (and potentially lucky for us!). Hope the sleet keeps us all from losing power!