The first accumulating snowfall in nearly two years is forecast for the Charlotte area Thursday night, as part of a potent storm system that also could bring flooding rains to much of the western Carolinas.
But meteorologists stress that the seasons first winter storm will not have much cold air to work with, and the snow could miss some areas of the Piedmont.
A winter storm watch is in effect Thursday afternoon and evening for Mecklenburg and most nearby counties. National Weather Service meteorologists predict 1 to 3 inches of snow, mostly on grassy surfaces, in Mecklenburg; and 2 to 4 inches in Piedmont counties to the north and west.
Brad Panovich, chief meteorologist at WCNC-TV, the Observers news partner, said he expects a slushy 1 to 2 inches in Charlotte, with roads staying mostly wet.
Heavier amounts are predicted for the foothills and mountains.
Not included in the watch and not expected to get accumulating snow are Union and Anson counties of North Carolina, along with all South Carolina counties in the Charlotte area.
Forecasters say 1 to 2 inches of rain are likely during the day Thursday, with enough cold air funneling into the system for a window one to three hours, perhaps of snow in the evening.
Thursdays rain, on top of heavy rain that already has fallen this week in the mountains, could aggravate flooding across Western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. In the rain-drenched Smoky Mountains, a landslide swept away a 350-foot section of U.S. 441 Wednesday morning, shutting down the main link between Cherokee and Gatlinburg, Tenn.
Colder air will arrive during the afternoon, and the rain will change to snow first, over the mountains in the afternoon, and then across the foothills and Piedmont during late afternoon and evening, Larry Gabric, chief meteorologist of the National Weather Services office in Greer, S.C., said in a briefing.
Heavy accumulations of wet snow are likely across the mountains, with a quick accumulation of up to several inches even outside the mountains.
Bryan McAvoy, also of the Weather Services office in Greer, said the Piedmont snowfall likely will come in narrow bands. The low pressure system is expected to be very intense, and areas with the heaviest precipitation are likely to be accompanied by the coldest air and be capable of dropping the heaviest snow.
Gabric and McAvoy said the heavy, wet snow likely will cause travel problems and could down trees and limbs, causing power outages.
In the mountains, snow is much more of a certainty, forecasters say. Accumulations of up to a foot are likely in higher elevations. Widespread snowfall also is expected across central and northeast portions of North Carolina, according to the National Weather Service office in Raleigh.
Friday is predicted to be much quieter, although cool. Highs under sunny skies are forecast to be near 50 degrees.