Storm strength, speed could mean snow heaps or mere dusting

Posted January 16, 2013

— Municipal road crews, meteorologists and snow lovers will all have an eye on the sky Thursday night, when precipitation and falling temperatures will combine to yield the first flakes of winter. 

Snowfall could accumulate 1 to 3 inches on grassy and elevated surfaces in the Triangle before the winter weather system quickly tracks off the North Carolina coast by early Friday morning.

Some forecasting models show as many as 4 inches of snow falling in Raleigh to 5.5 inches in Roxboro, but WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said accumulation will all depend on how hard the storm hits.

“The ground is very, very warm, and if it doesn't snow hard enough to overcome that warm ground, then that’s going to cut the amounts down," he said. "If it snows really, really hard for two or three hours, which it could in many areas, especially from the Triangle north and west, then that could overcome the warm ground and pile up the snow.”

How much will it snow?

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm watch for Wake, Durham, Chatham, Franklin, Granville, Halifax, Orange, Person, Vance, Warren and several other North Carolina counties from 6 p.m. Thursday until 4 a.m. Friday. 

Precipitation was already falling Wednesday evening and is likely to continue through Thursday evening.

Fishel: Snow on its way to Triangle Fishel: Snow on its way to Triangle

"Right now, we already have patches of light rain and drizzle," Fishel said. "It's just miserable out there."

As temperatures fall Thursday night, the rain is expected to transition over to sleet or snow.

"By 10 o'clock, most of us will have turned over to snow here in the Triangle area. If you haven't, to the south and east, you will as we head toward midnight and the wee hours of the morning," Fishel said.

"By 3 a.m., it's gone. So, this is going to be a quick hit."

A 90 percent chance of some precipitation will linger overnight and the forecast for Friday morning sees the temperature dip just below freezing. That means Friday morning's commute will be slick, now matter how hard it snows, WRAL meteorologist Nate Johnson said.

Ice could build up on bridges and other elevated areas, so drivers should be cautious Thursday night and Friday morning.

The Department of Transportation doesn't pre-treat roads in a situation like this, because anything they spread to prevent freezing would simply wash away in the rain. If roads get icy Friday morning, crews will spread sand to help with traction. In Raleigh, city spokeswoman Jayne Kirkpatrick said some workers had been advised that they might be called in to help clear streets for Friday traffic. 

The weather warms back up to what's "normal" for the weekend, with highs in the mid to upper 50s and cold nights. By then, skies will be clear and the snow lovers will again be in wait-and-see mode.


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  • garyspear Jan 17, 2013

    Rain/snow, all good for the area. yea mother nature.

  • geosol Jan 16, 2013

    Don't worry! DOT Secretary Tata has plenty of experience with this and the Governor just gave him a big raise as a reward, so we know everything will be just fine.

  • Walkin Man Jan 16, 2013

    Everyone run for the hills! LOL

  • csmac99 Jan 16, 2013

    Don't underestimate Winter Storm Helen. Sounds really bad.

  • ncmickey Jan 16, 2013

    Time to get that brime on the streets!!

  • Roland K. Jan 16, 2013

    this is nonsense

  • jblake1932 Jan 16, 2013

    Yea, whatever. It will be nothing but rain, watch.

  • Uhavenoclu Jan 16, 2013

    Winter storm WATCH??,Cool,Pull up a chair,get some popcorn and chips and dips,along with your favorite drink and watch the storm in the winter or summer,or fall and spring,your choice.

  • beachgal Jan 16, 2013

    Of course, this means we'll get nothing, nada, zip, none! LOL

  • Nancy Jan 16, 2013

    I would love to see a little snow on the ground - reminds me of being a kid in northern NY. And it never lasts around here anyway, comes and goes pretty quick.