Parts of the Southeast and mid-Atlantic are bracing for a storm that will bring snow and ice from Friday into Saturday morning.
The storm will effect a narrow zone, one that centers around the Atlantic coast this time, with the likelihood of major travel disruptions along portions of the Interstates 85 and 95 corridors of Virginia and the Carolinas, AccuWeather meteorologists warn.
Winter weather advisories, winter storm and ice warnings were in effect for dozens of counties from South Carolina to Virginia due to an approaching storm. The ice storm warning issued by the National Weather Service at Morehead City, N.C., was the first since records began in 2005, according to the Iowa Environmental Mesonet, a branch of Iowa State University that archives weather data.
However, despite the small size of the storm and the fact that it will be weak, it will focus on the central part of the Atlantic Seaboard, unleashing more than half a foot of snow, with the risk of 0.50 of an inch of ice in some locations.
"A deep, round dip in the jet stream associated with a lobe of the polar vortex, centered over Hudson Bay, Canada, will be in the driver's seat," Rayno said.
Even though the southern United States storm is likely to strengthen over the relatively warm waters of the Gulf Stream, it will not be strong enough to allow the storm to hug the mid-Atlantic and New England coasts.
Dry Arctic air will keep the storm and its wintry contents confined to central and eastern areas of the Carolinas and Georgia, central and southeastern Virginia, part of the eastern shore of Maryland and perhaps southern Delaware and the New Jersey cape.
The heart of the storm's snow will focus on a region spanning from northeastern North Carolina to southeastern Virginia and the Atlantic beaches of Maryland. In this area, which includes Norfolk and Virginia Beach, Va., and Elizabeth City, N.C., a general 3 inches to 6 inches of snow is likely to fall with locally higher amounts, as much as a foot in localized areas.
Norfolk has been the target of big snowstorms in the past. Most recently, Norfolk measured 10.3 inches of snow from Jan. 4-5, 2018. Prior to that, a storm from Dec. 26-27, 2010, buried the city under 14.2 inches of snow. Norfolk typically picks up about 6 inches of snow on average during the entire winter, and the city may receive all or most of that from this one storm. Prior to Thursday, a storm on Jan. 3 brought the only measurable snowfall this season, a mere 0.4 of an inch.
Farther west, the storm's compact nature is likely to limit snowfall to a couple of inches or less in Charlotte, N.C., from Friday to Friday night, with the greatest amounts to the east of that metro area and significantly less snowfall likely to the west.
Even a small amount of snow that initially makes roads wet will be subject to a freeze-up Friday night, and AccuWeather forecasters advise that slippery, dangerous travel is likely to linger into Saturday. The storm last weekend brought 1 inch to 2 inches of snow, sleet and freezing rain to Charlotte.
It is possible that little or no snow will fall across Greenville, S.C., and Atlanta is likely to miss out on wintry precipitation entirely. The last time that Atlanta picked up measurable snowfall was on Jan. 18, 2018, more than four years ago. The longest-ever streak with no snow in Atlanta's history stands as 1,477 days, beginning on Feb. 2, 1948, and ending on Feb. 25, 1952, according to the National Weather Service. The storm from this past weekend brought only non-accumulating snowflakes to downtown Atlanta, while Greenville was buried under 6 inches to 7 inches of snow.
On the storm's northern side, areas in eastern Virginia will likely have snowfall trail off drastically from south to north with Richmond perhaps picking up a couple of inches of snow, while some suburbs south of Washington, D.C., may get nary a flake, AccuWeather meteorologist Randy Adkins said, adding that the same is true for areas west of Raleigh, N.C., where snowfall may trail off exponentially.
However, at least part of this zone in southeastern Virginia and north-central North Carolina may have to deal with a period of snow followed by icy roads hours ahead of the main storm as Arctic air arrives Thursday evening.
"While people may be focused on the storm later Friday to Saturday morning, roads could be an icy mess for the Friday morning rush hour because of the freeze-up Thursday night," Adkins said.
Snow in parts of the Carolinas and southeastern Virginia will pose a problem for travel along portions of I-85 and I-95 in areas of the country ill-equipped to handle winter's worst, but a build-up of ice is a major concern farther south from southeastern North Carolina to parts of the South Carolina Midlands and Low Country from Thursday night into Friday night. Along portions of I-20, I-26, I-40 and I-95, anywhere from 0.25 to 0.50 of an inch of ice can accrue on elevated surfaces such as vehicles, decks, trees and power lines.
"Warm waters surrounding the [coastal] region may mitigate the ice storm somewhat, but motorists should be prepared for slippery conditions, especially on elevated surfaces such as bridges, overpasses and causeways," AccuWeather senior meteorologist Brett Anderson said.
Cities at risk for a significant build-up of ice that can lead to sporadic to widespread power outages include Fayetteville, Wilmington and Jacksonville, N.C., as well as Florence, Myrtle Beach, Columbia and Charleston, S.C.
Ice storms along the Carolina coasts are not common but not all that rare either. Since the late 1940s, there have been nearly 50 significant ice storms in Wilmington, according to the National Weather Service. The last major ice storm to hit the coastal city occurred in late February 2015 when a storm on Feb. 24 produced 0.40 of an inch. Slightly more than a year before that, on Feb. 11-12, 2014, a storm brought a glaze of 0.56 of an inch with parts of eastern North Carolina encased with 1 inch to 1.5 inches of ice.
A potential saving grace from the worst impacts of the storm could occur if conditions allow precipitation to fall in the form of sleet for a time, shortening the duration of freezing rain, which is the more formidable hazard.
While sleet can remove heat from roads and sidewalks faster than cold rain or snow, it tends to bounce off trees, rather than adhere to them. It is the weight of freezing rain and clinging snow that tends to break tree limbs and potentially lead to power outages.
A bit of ice is also expected in east-central Georgia for a time on Friday as well, but the main concern in cities such as Macon, Augusta and Savannah in the Peachtree State will be from falling temperatures that can cause wet areas to freeze Friday night to Saturday morning.
Meanwhile, a thousand miles to the southwest over a portion of South Texas, winter storm warnings were in effect on Thursday as a separate and even weaker storm was poised to deliver a period of freezing rain and sleet from later Thursday night to Friday morning.
The quick blast of winter weather will be a sharp turnaround in places that have been experiencing balmy weather in recent days.
Warm road surfaces from temperatures reaching into the highs in the 80s at midweek will likely prevent a widespread glaze. However, on elevated surfaces, such as bridges, overpasses and windshields, a small accumulation can occur.
AccuWeather forecasters urge motorists and pedestrians throughout parts of southern Texas from Laredo north to San Antonio to exercise extra caution Friday morning as some surfaces that appear wet could be covered with a thin glaze of ice.