Meteorologists said Monday their confidence is growing that one of the biggest winter storms in years could be taking aim at the Carolinas around midweek.
The snow actually could begin Tuesday in the Charlotte area, with 1 or 2 inches possibly accumulating during the day. But the main part of the storm system, due Wednesday, could bring up to 8 inches of snow and a coating of ice to Charlotte. Damaging accumulations of ice are possible not far to the southeast of the city, and forecasters say a major ice storm is looming for parts of South Carolina and central North Carolina.
“Charlotte could be hit with a heavy amount of both snow and ice,” said Kristina Pydynowski, a senior meteorologist with Accu-Weather, one of the nation’s leading private meteorological firms.
A winter weather advisory is in effect until 7 p.m. Tuesday for the snowfall that could come during the day. Then a winter storm watch goes into effect until 7 a.m. Thursday for the main event.
Heavy rate of snow
The low pressure system that is predicted to form in the Gulf of Mexico and track across Georgia and the Carolinas could produce snowfall at a rate of 1 or 2 inches an hour, according to some of the computer models. Some of those models are predicting 12-inch snowfalls in parts of North Carolina. The National Weather Service’s forecast calls for almost 8 inches in Charlotte and more than 9 inches in Hickory and Gastonia.
Lesser amounts of snow are forecast to the south and southeast of Charlotte, but those areas will be trading snow for sleet and freezing rain. The Weather Service predicts almost 1/3 of an inch of ice in Union, Anson, Lancaster and Chester counties. Meteorologists say 1/4 of an inch of ice is usually the amount needed to cause widespread power outages.
But the Weather Service office in Columbia said between 1/2 and 3/4 of an inch of ice could accumulate in a corridor from Athens, Ga., to east of Columbia.
“There is the potential for a major ice storm from northern Georgia to central and Upstate South Carolina, to Central North Carolina,” said Mark Mancuso of Accu-Weather.
The main storm system is expected to begin spreading snow into the Charlotte region early Wednesday morning. Forecasters expect a break in precipitation between Tuesday’s lighter snow and the main system. Sleet and freezing rain will mix with the snow during the day Wednesday, before the precipitation turns back to snow late at night. The snow could change to rain before ending Thursday morning.
Road crews prepare
Local and state road crews spread brine on major and secondary roads Sunday and Monday. Charlotte streets officials said late Monday that they will expand their effort Tuesday morning and go to Plan B, which hasn’t been used in at least three years. That calls for expanding road treatment to hospital entrances and major collector roads in residential areas.
Across both states, Department of Transportation crews spread brine during the day and prepared plows and salt spreaders for use when the snow arrives.
In the foothills, DOT crews continued to pre-treat roads Monday, a task they began Sunday, Division 12 spokeswoman Jordan-Ashley Baker said. Crews spread brine on interstates, four-lane divided primary routes and other primary and secondary routes. Known trouble spots throughout the division also were pre-treated. When the storm strikes, Division 12 crews are prepared to shift from anti-icing operations to snow and ice removal, Baker said.
While crews were laying a coat of the salt-water mixture on the roads, Charlotte-area residents continued flocking into grocery stores and hardware stores. A number of hardware stores in the Charlotte area reported a run on sleds and shovels Sunday and Monday, and several shoppers told the Observer they were unable to find salt at hardware stores and big-box home goods stores.
Charlotte has not been hit by a major winter storm since early January 2011.