Sleet turns to snow before first winter storm of 2017 moves out
Roads, both primary and secondary, remain covered to the point where it is hard to see the lane dividers. Low temperatures are causing the snow to accumulate on the roads faster than seen in previous snow storms. Although the snow is expected to stop within hours, rapidly dropping temperatures Saturday evening will ensure the wintry mix sticks.Posted — Updated
Roads, both primary and secondary, remain covered to the point where it is hard to see the lane dividers. Low temperatures are causing the snow to accumulate on the roads faster than seen in previous snow storms.
Although the snow is expected to stop within hours, rapidly dropping temperatures Saturday evening will ensure the wintry mix sticks.
Roads are the most trecherous north and west of Raleigh, in Orange and Durham counties, where the most precipitation fell Saturday morning and afternoon.
It is a quiet day around the viewing area as most businesses, including the area's large malls, are closed due to the storm and as most people heed officials' suggestions to stay off the roads.
Fishel again emphasized that, though temperatures may rise a few degrees this afternoon, temperatures will plummet Saturday evening, causing for very dangerous conditions on roads across the area.
"Temperatures are going to be so cold that it will be hard to get rid of this snow," said Gardner. "Temperatures will dive down to 9 degrees at 8 a.m. on Sunday morning, and the area could beat a record from 1970 on Monday when daytime temperatures hover around zero degrees."
"If the snow pack starts to melt, we may not get that cold, but it's certainly likely," said Gardner.
"The snow, as light as it is, still extends west towards Greensboro and Charlotte, so we probably have a few hours left of light snow in the Triangle," said WRAL chief meteorologist Greg Fishel. "Whatever does fall will be a part of the landscape, because not a lot of melting is happening at this point. Everybody should be done with the snow by late afternoon.
Once the precipitation begins to wind down mid-day, some melting may occur, but temperatures will plummet when the sun goes down.
Wet spots on even the seemingly-clear roads will freeze overnight, though, so drivers continue to be advised to stay at home if possible.
Plows start with the largest, most-traveled roads first, like the four-lane interstates, then move to the smaller yet significant roads that take drivers to those main roads. Secondary roads and neighborhood streets follow.
Although temperatures will drop drastically overnight, Fishel said the area may get a brief break. "We may get just a little recovery here over the course of the next few hours with perhaps temperatures climbing back into the upper 20s once the precipitation winds down."
Later in the evening, single digit temperatures promise to make the snow and ice-covered roads even more of a threat. "Temperature is the real issue here," said Fishel.
On Western Boulevard in Raleigh, the roads remain treacherous, covered in a combination of sleet, slush and powdery snow. Officials warn that, with this mix, anyone who chooses to drive needs to remain overly cautious, because the covering on the streets can change abruptly.
The snow has caused problems for some, as more than 18,000 customers in the state have lost power, most in Mecklenburg and Harnett counties. "Nearly 2,400 employees with the Department of Transportation are out there working hard to clear the roads," he said.
As of 6 a.m., more than 260 weather-related vehicle accidents occurred in the state. With the cold weather we will see refreezing the precipitation that is on the highway tonight, if I tell you anything, it would be to stay home," said Gov. Cooper. "Do not go out to drive on the roads. If you must drive, drive slowly and leave significant space between you and other vehicles."
"This weather event is not over. Sometimes the worst accidents occur when you think the incident is over and it's not. We’ve lost too many lives in the state recently when people drive during dangerous conditions."
While the conditions in Raleigh may not be optimal for snow cream, sledding or snow-person building, Gardner said that the lack of snowfall may help road conditions clear up faster. "The problem is going to be the bitter cold that comes in tonight -- it may keep some of that frozen stuff around longer," she said.
The precipitation will likely continue through lunchtime, but it will be very light.
According to WRAL meteorologist Mike Moss, precipitation will begin to pull away from the area Saturday afternoon, clearing overnight. Skies on Sunday will be mostly sunny, but very cold temperatures will set in overnight and into Monday morning.
Road conditions will continue to be extremely varied for the entire viewing area.
Gardner said the chance for a few inches of snow to return to the Raleigh area is starting to fade. "In the last minutes, it's looking less likely that snow will return to the area," she said. "We may see the precipitation tapering off today just as sleet around the Triangle area."
Snow is still falling in areas north of the Triangle.
It is the areas closer to the Virginia line that are seeing the winter wonderland-type weather many were hoping for in the Triangle.
"Areas more to the north are most likely to see heavier snow, and those down to the south will see lesser amounts. For Raleigh in particular, I'd guess 1 to 2 inches."
In Durham, sleet has started to fall, but the streets were already covered with a nice layer of snow. Officials are asking people to avoid driving as roads continue to worsen, especially northwest of Raleigh, where the accumulation is deeper.
Areas south of Raleigh saw mostly sleet and freezing rain overnight and into Saturday morning.
The roads in Fayetteville are a completely different story than those in Durham, with little to no snow accumulation. Officials are concerned that the heavy rain seen in that area overnight has melted the brine meant to protect road conditions from becoming icy.
At 8:30 a.m., Gov. Roy Cooper will provide a winter weather briefing that will be available to watch live on WRAL.com.
According to Gardner, Raleigh is not seeing snow right now. Models show the snow mainly to the north of Raleigh, and a wintry mix is falling in Durham. There's still a possibility that the sleet could turn back into snow later Saturday morning, but it is unlikely that there will be much of it.
"If we get the precipitation to fall more heavily, it is likely to cool things down through the atmosphere, and that could force that change over to snow right here in the Triangle," said Gardner.
Gardner said the change is likely to happen around 7 or 8 a.m., but, once it does, it won't last long enough to drop major amounts of snow.
"Now, whatever is left with the moisture, which may not be a whole lot, will likely accumulate," Gardner said. "That could be anywhere from maybe 1 to 3 more inches depending on where we are." Skies will begin to clear in the early afternoon.
Some parts of Durham reported 4 inches, but Raleigh only reported 2 inches of overall accumulation. The NWS said parts of the Triangle are beginning to switch over to more sleet and snow than rain.
Sleet covered Interstate 40 eastbound from Durham and the Durham Freeway, but accumulation in Raleigh has been scant.
"There could be places that could receive six to 10 inches – Chapel Hill, Roxboro, Oxford, and perhaps Durham," Moss said.
Maze said steady snow should begin falling in the Raleigh-area within the next hour.
“We’re going to see this transition area waver from the Sand Hills to the Triangle and up toward the northeast," Maze said. "It may waver back-and-forth for the next few hours."
WRAL meteorologists Greg Fishel and Nate Johnson check out the conditions in Wake County.
“It’s mainly rain south and east of that band and mainly snow north and west," Fishel said. "It’s going to be a complicated night in terms of where that boundary is located."
"If an area is not accumulating snow by 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. in the morning, they're not going to get anything significant."
By mid-afternoon Saturday, precipitation would be over and attention turned to the cold and how long ice will be frozen.
"We could easily be below freezing for 72 consecutive hours Saturday until Tuesday afternoon,” Fishel said. "Areas south and east of Raleigh, where there won’t be any snow, could still see temperatures down around 10."
"In the immediate Triangle area, there's rain, there's snow, there's sleet, but for most of Wake County (precipitation) is the form of light rain," said WRAL meteorologist Mike Maze. "Farther south, all of it is rain, and I think for the majority of the night, this may end up being rain. It may not be until day break that some of the colder air transitions that into something frozen."
WRAL Reporter Ken Smith reported clear, wet roads in the southern part of Wake County from Drive 5. Highway patrol reminded drivers to not leave vehicles if stranded this weekend during winter weather, as state troopers will be monitoring those same challenging roads.
In Roxboro and South Hill, temperatures were below freezing and snowfall returned and likely to continue the rest of the night. With lower temperatures, roads and bridges would begin to ice up.
"Any change in our path of low pressure offshore could bring warmer air inland and limit the snowfall total in the Triangle," Maze said. "But I still think all who see snow north and west of (Raleigh) could see more than 6 inches. And that could be up to a foot."
Raleigh had yet to see snow, and rain had been steady for several hours. Fayetteville should continue to see rain for quite some time, Fishel said.
Precipitation slowed in and around the Triangle, and temperatures remained above freezing, keeping roads just wet.
Fishel predicted the "sweet spot" with the most snow to be from RDU airport to the Virginia border with 6 inches to a foot possible.
Durham County library announced it will be closed Saturday and Sunday.
Fishel said southern Wake County and the Sandhills region are the most unknown as to how much winter precipitation they should see tonight and early tomorrow. The snow that does fall should stick with below-freezing temperatures predicted early next week. Monday's possible low of 0 degrees is especially notable.
"In 130 years of weather records, it has only been at or below 0 eight times ," Fishel said. "Let's hope we don't rival the all-time low of of -9 degrees in January of 1985."
WRAL meteorologists said highs below freezing, the snow could stay around a while and cause school closings early next week.
"If it's a light, fluffy snow, there is a lot of air which is a great insulator and keeps the heat from the ground from melting it," Fishel said.
Areas north and west of Raleigh should see the most snow — up to a foot in some locations. Counties in the south and east may only see sleet and rain. Maze said many southern U.S. states will see snow tonight, including Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana.
"Just a slight shift of maybe 25 miles could mean the difference between whether you get a foot of snow or just a few inches mixes with sleet and rain," Fishel said.
The line between all snow and a wintry mix traced a diagonal across the Triangle from southwest to northeast.
With a lot of moisture in the air and very chilly temperatures, some wintry precipitation is almost a surety, but communities to the south and east of the Triangle could see primarily rain with a bit of snow at the end while Roxboro and Rocky Mount have a greater chance for accumulations of snow.
"I would not be surprised, if it's all snow for somebody, they could see up to a foot," Maze said.
Roanoke Rapids was seeing big, fluffy flakes fall in the 4 o'clock hour. Rocky Mount and Wilson saw a chilly rain mixed with some sleet.
"You can see on the radar precipitation is starting to fill in across the area," WRAL meteorologist Mike Maze said.
About 40 trucks and 150 employees worked early Friday to spread the salt-and-water mix that resists frozen precipitation, but any rain that falls before it freezes into snow could wash away that protective layer.
WRAL meteorologist Nate Johnson suggested that people get where they want to be and settle in for the weekend.
The timing and amount of snow accumulation will vary widely across central and eastern North Carolina over the next 24 hours.
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