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10 things you should know about Carolina weather

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/09/01/11/31/LGKgX.Em.138.jpeg|241
    Robert Lahser - rlahser@charlotteobserver.com
    You never know what winter will be like in the Charlotte area. No snow, some snow, or a big storm.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/09/01/11/31/UC30m.Em.138.jpeg|193
    John D. Simmons - jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com
    A cyclist pedals down Katelyn Drive beneath a canopy of Bradford pear trees.__ Bradford pear trees across Charlotte have sprung into full bloom like the trees that line the entrance to the Wellington neighborhood on Katelyn Drive in northeast Charlotte Tuesday, March 6, 2012. Spring doesn't officially arrive until March 20th at 1:14am, but the the signs of its coming are all around us. John D. Simmons - jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Some people move to the Charlotte region from the North, seeking less winter. Others come here from Florida and other points south, looking for less summer.

Natives know, however, that you’ll experience a bit of all four seasons in the Charlotte region. Most years, we’re a bit top-heavy with summer, but you’ll still need a winter coat and a windshield scraper to live in this area during the colder months.

Here are 10 things you need to know about weather in this part of the Carolinas:

1. It snows – sometimes a lot.

Average snowfall in Charlotte is about 5 inches. That figure drops off quickly as you move southeast , with accumulating snow a rarity just 50 miles east or south, but it increases quickly to the northwest, especially in the foothills and mountains.

Seasonal snowfall has been 1 inch or less in six of the last 20 years. But more than 13 inches fell Feb. 26-27, 2004, and the seasonal totals were 5 inches or more in the winters of 2010-11 and 2011-12.

2. 80s are possible in winter, but so are single-digit morning lows.

It has dropped below zero several times in Charlotte, but the most recent was Jan. 21, 1985, when the morning low was a record-tying minus-5 degrees. Lows below 10 degrees occur a few times each decade.

But winter also can produce 80-degree days. In 1989, for example, it was 80 or warmer on Feb. 2 and 3.

3. Spring arrives in waves.

Early blooming trees and flowers appear the third week of February, but there’s no sudden arrival of spring. We usually get a few mild days, then a rapid return to cold weather. Gradually, the mild stretches get longer and longer.

Late winter, including March, often produces the biggest snowstorms. And it can drop into the 20s in April. The average last frost in Charlotte is April 2. But 80-degree days are rather common in March. May, considered a spring month in the North, can feel more like summer in Charlotte.

4. There is a tornado season.

Tornado Alley is in the Midwest, but twisters are fairly common in the Southeast, unfortunately. The season around here is from late February to late April. Charlotte experienced an EF-2 tornado in March 2012, and killer tornadoes hit North Carolina on April 16, 2011.

But don’t be fooled. Tornadoes can develop any month, including November and January in recent years.

5. Summer tends to arrive quickly.

Usually, the change comes in late May. After vacillating for weeks between 70s and 80s, the temperature often soars into the upper 80s and low 90s for several days in late May. Morning lows, which had been in the upper 50s, suddenly climb into the 60s. That wasn’t the case in 2013, but it has been typical in recent years.

6. Summer means 90s and thunderstorms.

Charlotte averages about 40 days of 90 degrees or warmer each year. That number can vary, however. We had only eight 90-degree days in 1967, but there were 88 in 1954. Thunderstorms develop about 20 to 25 days annually in June, July and August – mostly in the late-afternoon and evening hours.

7. We watch the tropics closely.

Hurricane season begins June 1, but Carolinas residents typically watch the tropics most closely from mid-August to mid-October. Direct hits from hurricanes are mostly a problem at the coast. But since many of us visit the coast annually for vacations, we in Charlotte consider the Carolinas shore “our” place.

8. You’ll hear about Hugo.

People who lived here in 1989 are more than eager to tell you stories about Hurricane Hugo, a rare storm that moved inland fast enough to retain 80 mph winds in Charlotte. Power was out for weeks in some areas. But equally damaging are dying tropical storms, like Danny and Jerry in the 1990s. Those systems brought devastating floods to the region.

9. Fall arrives gradually and is dry.

Sometime in September, a cold front will move through the region, dropping daytime temperatures a bit but mainly bringing lower humidity and cooler morning lows. Instead of lows around 70, we’ll have temperatures in the upper 50s. But autumn is a long season, and the temperature typically drops gradually.

It’s often a dry time of year, and some of Charlotte’s records for lowest rainfall are established in September and October.

10. Christmas shopping in shorts?

It can happen. In fact, there usually are several days between Thanksgiving and Christmas when area residents can do their holiday shopping in shorts.

Steve covers breaking news, including weather, for the Observer.
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