A moisture-starved winter storm system is expected to cross the Charlotte region Friday, and meteorologists and transportation officials are concerned that even a small amount of freezing rain could translate into big problems.
A winter weather advisory has been posted for the entire area from noon until late Friday night, with varying amounts of snow, sleet and freezing rain expected to fall.
The immediate Charlotte area is expected to receive a brief period of sleet, starting in the early afternoon, but the majority of whatever falls is predicted to be freezing rain.
National Weather Service meteorologist Bryan McAvoy said ice accumulations will not be enough to cause widespread power outages -- but enough to create icy patches on bridges, overpasses, and possibly even on portions of non-elevated roads.
The timing of the storm will be a problem.
It presents school officials with a decision on whether or not to dismiss early.
We know early dismissals arent popular with everyone, but we have to make our decisions based on the safety of students and staff, said Bonnie Reidy, spokeswoman for the Gaston County Schools.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools rarely use early dismissals, as their drivers have little time between the end of morning routes and the beginning of afternoon routes. But CMS spokeswoman Stacy Sneed said the systems officials met Thursday and have left all options on the table.
Some school systems didnt wait. The Caldwell County Schools, for example, announced late Thursday afternoon that they will dismiss students at 11:30 a.m. Friday. Other school systems followed suit.
Local and state transportation officials hope roadways will be ready for the storm, which is expected to begin dropping snow and sleet in the mountains shortly after daybreak. Hundreds of trucks criss-crossed the states major thoroughfares Thursday, spreading a brine solution that helps prevent ice from forming.
If we decide theres a need to go back out and spread more on Friday morning, well do it, said Jen Thompson, of the N.C. Department of Transportation.
In Mecklenburg and nearby counties, meteorologists say they expect about a half-inch of sleet and one-tenth of an inch of freezing rain. Typically, power outages dont become a problem until at least one-quarter inch of ice forms. Farther to the north of Charlotte, the precipitation is expected to be more in the form of snow and sleet.
But the low pressure system responsible for the preparations is not strong.
Some computer models, in fact, predicted only tiny amounts of precipitation will fall in the North Carolina Piedmont.
Forecasters say three factors will limit precipitation:
• The system will move quickly.
• The system has limited precipitation.
• Very dry air in place across the Carolinas will cause the precipitation to evaporate initially.
But anything that falls probably will stick, as temperatures are predicted to fall to near 20 degrees Friday morning and then recover only into the lower 30s by afternoon.
Andrew Kimball, another Weather Service meteorologist, said that while precipitation will taper off Friday evening, motorists late at night or early Saturday could encounter problems.
Black ice and freezing fog may be concerns into Saturday morning, Kimball said.
A winter storm warning is posted in the N.C. mountains, the northwest corner of South Carolina, and big chunks of northern Georgia and Tennessee. Forecasters say precipitation from the storm system is expected to be heavier west of the Appalachians.
Melting is likely Saturday, with a return of sunshine and highs in the mid-40s.
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