Get Your Shovel: A Big Storm Will Stun the Southeast Tonight

Abandoned vehicles line an exit ramp along I-75 South during the winter storm January 29, 2014 in Atlanta. Drivers and kids on school buses were stuck in their vehicles overnight. Image Credit: Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

 
A significant winter storm will stun parts of the southeastern United States overnight on Friday, January 6, greeting the first full weekend of the new year with a crust of snow from the fields of Alabama to the beaches of Virginia. The storm could produce amounts of snow this region only sees once or twice a decade, potentially snarling traffic and leading to widespread business closings. And as if the snow isn’t bad enough, a bitter cold snap will follow soon after and make post-storm cleanup even more challenging.

The snow and ice will start on Friday afternoon as a low-pressure system comes together at the surface due to a strong jet stream streaking overhead from west to east. Winds swirling around the low will help drag Arctic air as far south as the Gulf of Mexico, ensuring that most of the precipitation that falls across the south on Friday and Saturday falls in the form of snow, sleet, or freezing rain.

Folks in Alabama and Georgia can expect the wintry precipitation to begin before sundown on Friday and last through the nighttime hours. The heaviest snow and ice will reach the Carolinas and Virginia after sunset on Friday and last through Saturday morning, ending from west to east as the storm trudges out to sea.

The Weather Prediction Center’s snowfall forecast from the morning of January 6, 2017, through the morning of January 9. Image Credit: Dennis Mersereau

 
Meteorologists expect this storm to be a nuisance in Alabama and Georgia and a genuine thumping as you head farther north along the coast. Central Alabama can expect a general dusting of snow with localized higher amounts, while a couple of inches of snow are likely across adjacent parts of Georgia. Atlanta is understandably jittery about even a small blanket of the white stuff given how frozen precipitation has paralyzed the city in recent years. Small amounts of snow can readily freeze into a sheet of ice on heavily trafficked roads, bringing vehicles to a standstill and stranding commuters for many hours before help arrives.

The heaviest snow is expected to fall along a stretch of land that extends from about Charlotte, North Carolina, through Norfolk, Virginia. This is where forecasters expect the greatest mixture of cold air, deep moisture, and upward lift to generate hours of steady—and at times heavy—snowfall. Close to 6 inches of snow are possible in many of these locations, with some totals closer to 1 foot possible between Raleigh, North Carolina, and the Virginia beaches.

A sloppy mixture of snow, ice, and plain old rain is possible closer to the coast where temperatures will be warmer. A thin glaze of ice is possible from central Alabama through eastern parts of the Carolinas by the end of the storm. Even though ice accretions are expected to measure just a few hundredths of an inch, any coating of ice will make roads and sidewalks slick and potentially impassable.

The National Weather Service’s forecast low temperatures, in degrees Fahrenheit, for the morning of Monday, January 9, 2016. Image Credit: NWS EDD

 
The hazards don’t end with the snow. Temperatures for several days after the skies clear out will be brutally cold compared to normal, approaching record territory in some spots. Low temperatures on Sunday night will likely reach the single digits as far south as Charlotte, North Carolina, with some communities pushing zero degrees before sunrise. Temperatures will likely remain below freezing from Friday night until Tuesday afternoon across areas where the thickest blanket of snow falls, complicating cleanup efforts and making rush hour on Monday and Tuesday a dicey bet. Snow that isn’t removed from roads and sidewalks soon after it falls risks freezing into thick layers of solid ice as the sun melts it and subfreezing temperatures refreeze the meltwater.

The South’s inability to cope with even the tiniest snowfall is a running joke in the rest of the country, but this typically mild region just isn’t equipped to deal with significant amounts of winter weather. Many factors play into this unique problem, including inadequate infrastructure and the simple fact that people just aren’t used to winter driving. The saving grace with this storm should be that the bulk of the hazardous weather will occur overnight on a weekend, minimizing traffic congestion and disruption to everyday life.

This storm has been well-advertised since the beginning of this week, and stores started running out of bread and milk as soon as Wednesday afternoon. People certainly know it’s coming. Still, this storm could cause unexpected disruptions where the forecast doesn’t hit the mark. Exact snow and ice accumulations depend on the track that this storm takes. A tiny shift to the north or south in the storm’s track could result in the bands of heaviest snow setting up farther north or south of where forecasters and models think it’ll set up right now. A track error of just 25 miles could mean that towns expecting a light snowfall could get slammed while cities expecting to spend an afternoon shoveling might get lucky and not see much at all. As with everything in life, prepare for the worst but hope for the best.

12 Powerful Facts About Hurricanes

iStock/shaunl
iStock/shaunl

Hurricanes are a stunning, and dangerous, display of nature’s power. They’re some of the largest and most intense storms nature can produce. Today, we know more about these systems and have an easier time measuring and predicting them than ever before. There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to hurricanes. As the 2019 hurricane season kicks off (it runs from June 1st through November 30th), here are some things you might not know about these dangerous storms.

1. Hurricanes are only "hurricanes" around North America.

A tropical cyclone is a compact, low-pressure system fueled by thunderstorms that draw energy from the heat generated by warm ocean waters. These tropical cyclones acquire different names depending on how strong they are and where in the world they form. A mature tropical cyclone is called a hurricane in the Atlantic and eastern Pacific Oceans. What’s known as a hurricane in the Atlantic is called a typhoon near Asia and simply a cyclone everywhere else in the world.

2. Hurricanes come in all shapes and sizes.

Not all hurricanes are picture-perfect. Some storms can look so disorganized that it takes an expert eye and advanced technology to spot them. A full-fledged hurricane can be as small as a few dozen miles across or as large as one-half of the United States, as was the case with Typhoon Tip in the western Pacific Ocean in 1979. The smallest tropical cyclone on record was 2008’s Tropical Storm Marco, a tiny storm in the Gulf of Mexico that almost made it to hurricane strength. Marco’s strong winds only extended 12 miles from the eye of the storm—a distance smaller than the length of Manhattan.

3. The greatest danger in a hurricane is in the eyewall.

The spiraling bands of wind and rain that radiate from the center of a hurricane are what give these storms their distinctive buzzsaw shape. These bands can cause damage, flooding, and even tornadoes, but the worst part of a hurricane is the eyewall, or the tight group of thunderstorms that rage around the center of the storm. The most severe winds in a hurricane usually occupy a small part of the eyewall just to the right of the storm’s forward motion, an area known as the right-front quadrant. The worst damage is usually found where this part of the storm comes ashore.

4. The eye of a hurricane is very warm.

The core of a hurricane is very warm—they are tropical, after all. The eye of a hurricane is formed by air rushing down from the upper levels of the atmosphere to fill the void left by the low air pressure at the surface. Air dries out and warms up as it rapidly descends through the eye toward the surface. This allows temperatures in the eye of a strong hurricane to exceed 80°F thousands of feet above the Earth's surface, where it’s typically much colder.

5. You can tell a lot about a hurricane by its eye.

Like humans, you can tell a lot about a hurricane by looking it in the eye. A ragged, asymmetrical eye means that the storm is struggling to strengthen. A smooth, round eye means that the storm is both stable and quite strong. A tiny eye—sometimes called a pinhole or pinpoint eye—is usually indicative of a very intense storm.

6. Some hurricanes have two eyes.

An eye doesn’t last forever. Storms frequently encounter a process known as an “eyewall replacement cycle,” which is where a storm develops a new eyewall to replace the old one. A storm weakens during one of these cycles, but it can quickly grow even more intense than it originally was once the replacement cycle is completed. When Hurricane Matthew scraped the Florida coast in October 2016, the storm’s impacts were slightly less severe because the storm underwent an eyewall replacement cycle just as it made its closest approach to land.

7. The strong winds that a hurricane creates are only part of the danger.

While strong winds get the most coverage on the news, wind isn’t always the most dangerous part of the storm. More than half of all deaths that result from a landfalling hurricane are due to the storm surge, or the sea water that gets pushed inland by a storm’s strong winds. Most storm surges are relatively small and only impact the immediate coast, but in a larger storm like Katrina or Sandy, the wind can push deep water so far inland that it completely submerges homes many miles from the coast.

8 California rarely sees tropical cyclones.

It can seem odd that California occupies hundreds of miles of coastline but always seems to evade the hurricane threat faced by the East Coast. California almost never sees tropical cyclones because the ocean is simply too cold to sustain a storm. Only a handful of tropical cyclones have ever reached California in recorded history—the worst hit San Diego in 1858. The San Diego Hurricane was an oddity that’s estimated to have reached category 1 intensity as it brushed the southern half of the Golden State.

9. Hurricane hunters fly planes into storms.

Aside from satellite and radar imagery, it’s pretty hard to know exactly what a hurricane is doing unless it passes directly over a buoy or a ship. This is where the Hurricane Hunters come in, a brave group of scientists with the United States Air Force and NOAA who fly specially outfitted airplanes directly into the worst of a storm to measure its winds and report back their findings. This practice began during World War II and has become a mainstay of hurricane forecasting in the decades since.

10. Hurricane hunters drop sensors to measure waves.

The Hurricane Hunters assess the storm with all sorts of tools that measure temperature, pressure, wind, and moisture, and have weather radar onboard to give them a detailed view of the entire storm. They regularly release dropsondes to "read" the inside of the storm. Dropsondes are like weather balloons in reverse: instead of launching weather sensors from the ground into the sky, they drop them down through the sky to the ground. The Hurricane Hunters also have innovative sensors that measure waves and sea foam and use the data to accurately estimate how strong the winds are at the surface.

11. We started naming storms to keep track of them.

Meteorologists in the United States officially started naming tropical storms and hurricanes in the 1950s to make it easier to keep track in forecasts and news reports. Since then, naming tropical cyclones has become a worldwide effort coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization, the United Nations agency responsible for maintaining meteorological standards. Today, the Atlantic Ocean and eastern Pacific Ocean each receive a list of alternating masculine and feminine names that are reused every six years.

12. Names are retired if the storm was especially destructive.

If a storm is particularly destructive or deadly, the WMO will “retire” the name from official lists so it’s never used again out of respect for the families of the storm’s victims and survivors. When a name is retired, another name starting with the same letter takes its place. More than 80 names have been retired from the Atlantic Ocean’s list of names since 1954. Earlier this year, it was announced that the names Florence and Michael were being retired as a result of the damage they caused during the 2018 hurricane season; they will be replaced with Francine and Milton when the list is reused in 2024.

This piece originally ran in 2017; it has been updated for 2019.

Denver is About to Experience Summer and Winter Temperatures Within 24 Hours

iStock.com/mphotoi
iStock.com/mphotoi

In a story tailor-made for exhaustive Weather Channel coverage, Denver, Colorado is about to experience one of the more bizarre weather shifts in recent memory. After an expected Tuesday high of 80°F, residents can anticipate a dramatic shift down to 32°F by midday Wednesday, with an initial half-inch of snow accumulation increasing to up to 7 inches by Wednesday night.

Put another way: Citizens who need to make sure they hydrate in the warm temperatures Tuesday will have to bring out the parkas the following day.

The Denver Post reports that the warm air coming ahead of the cold can result in a clash of air masses, prompting areas of low pressure that can create forceful and damaging weather conditions. The storm could bring winds of up to 60 miles per hour and possibly even cause power outages. Snow accumulation should dissipate by the weekend, when temperatures are expected to climb back into the 60s.

The high temperature record for April 9 in Denver is 81°F, set in 1977.

[h/t The Denver Post]

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