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Cold front arrives; ice threat looms for higher elevations

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Ice storm warnings and freezing rain advisories have been issued for areas north and northwest of Charlotte. This map shows warnings and advisories issues as of 3 p.m. Saturday. MAP: National Weather Service. Text by April Bethea

An arctic air mass finally bulled its way into the Charlotte region at daybreak Saturday, sending temperatures plunging from their summer-like levels overnight.

Now areas north and northwest of Charlotte are threatened by a possible ice storm Saturday night and Sunday, and the immediate Charlotte area is expected to deal with a very cold and rainy day Sunday.

Ice storm warnings are in effect for Avery and Mitchell counties, and for the mountain areas of Burke, Caldwell and McDowell counties. Up to 1/4 inch of ice accumulation is possible from freezing rain that is forecast to begin early Sunday morning. Temperatures are predicted to climb above freezing Sunday afternoon in those areas, but the ice could cause damage to trees and power lines.

The ice storm warning also is posted for the Greensboro and Winston-Salem areas. And a winter storm warning, for a combination of damaging ice accumulations and sleet, is in effect for Watauga and Alleghany counties.

Closer to Charlotte, the National Weather Service has issued a freezing rain advisory for Iredell, Catawba and Alexander counties, and the lower elevations of Burke, Caldwell and McDowell counties. In those areas, up to 1/10 of an inch of ice accumulation is possible Sunday.

Generally, accumulations of 1/4 inch or more can cause widespread power outages.

Carolinas residents had experienced spring-like conditions for the past two days, watching as arctic air invaded the Midwest and North. Temperatures soared into the middle 70s Friday and were still in the mid 60s early Saturday morning when the cold front and arctic air arrived. In Charlotte, the temperature tumbled from 65 degrees at 6 a.m. to 55 degrees at 8 a.m.

Raleigh’s temperature fell from 69 degrees at 3 a.m. to 43 degrees just three hours later.

Forecasters say we can expect a continued tumble in temperatures Saturday as more cold air spills into the region. Readings are expected to be in the 40s this afternoon and evening, with occasional drizzle and a cold northeast wind. That means a raw, damp night for the ACC championship football game at Bank of America Stadium.

Later tonight, forecasters say a low pressure system will move along the cold front, which will be stalled along the coast, and bring precipitation to the region. That will fall as a cold rain in Charlotte, where temperatures are expected to hover near 35 degrees for much of Sunday. But to the north of Charlotte, readings are forecast to range from the upper 20s to low 30s while the rain falls.

Utility crews have been put on alert across the state.

The greatest chance of ice-related power outages is expected in the area near Boone, but Greensboro and Winston-Salem also are at risk.

Milder air is forecast to return Monday, with more rain and highs in the upper 50s. The rain is finally predicted to end Tuesday morning, with highs in the upper 40s and lower 50s most of next week.

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