The Charlotte region’s first snowstorm of the season was expected to dump up to 8 inches of snow in some areas and create hazardous travel for days as arctic air freezes roads.
Center city Charlotte braced for 4 to 6 inches of snow from a storm moving in overnight from Alabama and north central Georgia, while 6 to 8 inches were forecast for north Mecklenburg, Statesville, Hickory and Salisbury.
The snow is expected to end by noon Saturday, with the heaviest amounts falling from midnight to 6 a.m., said Harry Gerapetritis, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Greer, S.C.
But highs are forecast to remain in the low 30s through Monday, with the low plummeting to 12 degrees early Sunday and 8 degrees early Monday, according to the weather service.
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Black ice is a real threat starting Sunday, when snow melts then refreezes on roads and sidewalks, Charlotte officials said. Avoid driving unless necessary, officials advised.
The first band of precipitation from the storm system crossed the Charlotte region around 5 p.m., dropping rain with some sleet in Mecklenburg County – but some light snow to the north.
States of emergency
N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper on Friday authorized a state of emergency for all 100 counties, to make sure they are prepared for the worst and have access to needed resources. “Our No. 1 priority is to keep people safe...and you can do that by staying off the roads,” he urged at a mid-morning press conference.
At 5 p.m. Friday, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley declared a state of emergency to mobilize the National Guard and other resources as needed.
National Weather Service meteorologist Trisha Palmer said the heavy wet snow could bring down tree limbs and power lines, and she says power outages in the extreme cold would be dangerous.
As is typical with winter storms in the Carolinas, the forecast was tricky. Some computer guidance showed that more rain and sleet might mix with the snow, cutting on the predicted accumulations.
Either way, the rain-snow cutoff line won’t be far to the south and southeast of Charlotte, and WBTV meteorologist Al Conklin said. “There will be a sharp cutoff (in accumulations) to the southeast of Charlotte.”
Meteorologist Chris Larson at WBTV predicted up to 6 inches of snow in Charlotte and said it “isn’t going to melt very quickly. And remember road crews will concentrate on main interstates, highways and arterial roadways first.
So secondary roads and neighborhood streets may be snow covered and slick for several days after the snow comes to an end.”
The best chance the community has for a big thaw is Tuesday, when temperatures will hit 44 degrees.
Meteorologists cautioned Carolinas residents that the extreme cold after the storm could cause additional problems, including water pipes to burst in homes. Officials with Charlotte Water said residents should prepare by insulating pipes in unheated areas of homes and disconnecting garden hoses from outdoor spigots.
Once the cold arrives, residents should open doors under cabinets, so warmer air circulates around pipes during the night.
Airport intends to stay open
Charlotte Douglas International Airport officials “intend to stay operational” during Friday night’s snow storm, though airlines were expected to cancel some flights. The airport encouraged people to check with their airline on Saturday before coming to the airport.
Jack Christine, the city’s deputy aviation director, said during a news conference Friday morning that the airport had re-treated runways, taxiways and the ramp to prevent freezing. It has also treated the roads leading to the terminal.
Starting at 7 a.m. Friday, crews began working 12-hour shifts.
“Our snow equipment machines have 30-foot blades or 30-foot brooms,” Christine said. “We have loaders that will work on the ramp. There is a large number of equipment that we put to use.”
He said the airport has equipment that can measure the friction on runways and other concrete.
Charlotte is one of the nation’s busiest hubs. It’s likely some passengers will be stranded in the airport overnight. Christine said the airport is ready with cots and mats.
“We will keep concessions available,” he said. “We want to make it as comfortable as we can.”
Best sledding spots
Once Mother Nature drops enough snow to cover the tops of the grass blades, it’s time to drag the sleds to these tried-and-true hills around Charlotte.
Cordelia Park: Located on North Davidson in the Optimist Park neighborhood near NoDa, it’s the gold standard in urban sledding – long, steep hills and a lovely view of the Charlotte skyline. Be warned: This isn’t one for the little tykes, as steep slopes mean they could easily lose control.
Veteran’s Memorial Park: There are several good, broad hills here, Plaza-Midwood neighbors say. If you’re (carefully) driving there, park on Iris Drive, off Central Avenue, for easy access.
Latta Park: Throngs of sledders head to the big hill in this Dilworth neighborhood park. Smaller slopes border the area near Dilworth School; steeper ones sit near Dilworth Road East and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s super popular among locals so it won’t be a solitary experience. But aren’t the crowds part of the fun?
Freedom Park: Hills near the amphitheater at the center of the park offer some nice rides. And the city’s most popular urban park is a good place to take a walk and enjoy the view of Charlotte covered in white.
Morrison YMCA: A favorite of Ballantyne residents, there’s a big hill bordering the facility’s soccer fields that becomes big, wide sledding haven. And the fields offer plenty of room for making snowmen or snow angels.
Elon Park Recreation Center: Off Ardrey Kell Road in the Ballantyne area sits a prime sledding slope between athletic fields and a disc golf course. (If you’re a newcomer to this park, make a mental note to return for a game of disc golf when the snow melts and the temperatures rise.)
Brutal cold to follow
Regardless of what or how much falls, it will be brutally cold behind the storm system. Temperatures will fall into the low teens Sunday morning and below 10 degrees Monday morning. Afternoon highs Sunday and Monday might not reach freezing. It will be Tuesday before Charlotte gets into the mid 40s, and real melting begins.
Bad roads, dangerous sidewalks ...
With sleet and rain falling early, followed by snow and freezing rain, there likely will be a layer of ice under the snow. That will make roads dangerous – and difficult for road crews to clear. That's why crews are putting down brine (but the afternoon rain might wash away the brine). Sidewalks and driveways also will be dangerous for days.
The record books
Here are some of the biggest snowfalls in Charlotte weather history, along with snowfall totals from recent years (courtesy of the National Weather Service):
- 17.4 inches – Feb. 14-17, 1902
- 13.3 inches – March 1-2, 1927
- 13.2 inches – Feb. 26-27, 2004
- 13.2 inches – Feb. 15-17, 1969
- 12.1 inches – Jan. 7, 1988
Biggest 1-day snowfalls
- 14.0 inches – Feb. 15, 1902
- 12.1 inches – Jan. 7, 1988
- 11.6 inches – Feb. 26, 2004
- 11.0 inches – Dec. 29, 1880
- 10.4 inches – Dec. 17, 1930
- 10.4 inches – March 2, 1927
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Cristina Bolling, Karen Garloch, Mike Reader and Steve Harrison contributed