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Storm system bringing drenching rain, some ice northwest of Charlotte

A weather system that brought some ice and plenty of travel delays to the Southwest is taking aim at the Carolinas and the rest of the East Coast.

Forecasters said precipitation was expected to spread into the Charlotte region, and freezing rain could create significant problems in parts of the mountains. Damaging ice accumulations are possible Tuesday morning in parts of the North Carolina mountains, with some freezing rain possible in the Piedmont closer to Charlotte.

The storm system is also predicted to dump moderate to heavy rain later Tuesday in the Piedmont, create a huge temperature difference across the Carolinas and likely cause Thanksgiving travel troubles as it moves up the East Coast.

The National Weather Service issued an ice storm warning from late Monday night until late morning Tuesday for Polk, Henderson, western Rutherford, western Burke, northern McDowell, Mitchell, Yancey and Avery counties. Forecasters said between one-quarter and one-third of an inch of ice could accumulate before the precipitation turns to rain Tuesday morning.

Generally, one-quarter inch of ice is enough to bring down tree limbs and power lines.

And a freezing rain advisory, for ice accumulations of about one-tenth of an inch, has been posted for Cleveland, Lincoln, Catawba, Caldwell, Alexander, Iredell and Rowan counties, and for lower elevations of Rutherford and Burke counties.

In Mecklenburg, Gaston, Cabarrus, Union, Stanly and Anson counties, and in South Carolina, no problems are expected with frozen precipitation.

State transportation officials were not taking chances, however. Road crews spread brine Monday afternoon and evening on bridges and overpasses.

“Although little to no accumulation is expected, icy spots may still develop on bridges and overpasses,” said Jen Thompson of the N.C. Department of Transportation.

Thompson said six state vehicles were going on standby at 11 p.m. Monday in Mecklenburg County, and up to 10 salt trucks will be stationed along interstate highways in Mecklenburg and Cabarrus counties. Similar preparations were being taken in other counties where freezing rain was possible.

The storm system, which caused hundreds of flight delays and cancellations because of sleet and freezing rain Sunday in Texas, is predicted to move through the Carolinas and up the East Coast on Tuesday and Wednesday. It comes on the heels of a cold air outbreak that saw temperatures drop into the upper teens and lower 20s Monday morning in the Charlotte area. The unofficial morning low Monday in Charlotte was 19 degrees – the coldest temperature so far this season.

Rain is forecast to continue all day Tuesday and into Wednesday morning. Several inches could fall in places, and for Charlotte, it could be the heaviest rain since July.

“This is a very wet system,” said Larry Lee of the National Weather Service office in Greer, S.C.

Mecklenburg County officials cautioned residents Monday to clear leaves and other debris from storm drains in front of their homes. Sharon Foote of Mecklenburg Storm Water Services said debris left near the drains could cause street flooding.

Meanwhile, the N.C. Highway Patrol cautioned drivers in areas where freezing rain and sleet falls to use caution.

“Despite a rather mild winter so far, North Carolina’s weather can often change from one day to the next,” Highway Patrol Sgt. Jeff Gordon said. He said motorists should allow extra travel time Tuesday morning and be especially careful on bridges and overpasses, where ice tends to form first.

Tuesday is expected to be a cold and rainy day in Charlotte, with high temperatures not climbing above the upper 30s. Up to 2 inches of rain could fall from the storm system.

Meanwhile, areas to the east of the storm’s center – in the eastern third of North Carolina – could see much warmer temperatures. It is possible that areas along the coast could be experiencing 70-degree weather while it’s in the 30s in the Charlotte region.

But cold air is forecast to pour across the state again Wednesday afternoon and evening as the storm system pushes farther up the coast.

Behind the storm system, cold weather is expected to continue for Thanksgiving. After a morning low in the lower 20s, daytime highs are only expected to reach the low 40s, despite full sunshine.

Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle
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