An intense storm system barreled across the Carolinas on Saturday, producing a snowfall that buried parts of the mountains and was the earliest on record for Columbia and Asheville.
Most of the Carolinas outside of the mountains got a cold rain from the system. But a narrow corridor near the center of the storm received a rare – and in some cases, unprecedented – early November snow.
In Charlotte, where temperatures were in the low 80s early last week, temperatures hovered in the low 40s for much of the day, accompanied by rain and a gusty northwest wind. A freeze warning is posted for Sunday morning, and a freeze watch is in effect for Monday morning.
Meteorologists expected temperatures at daybreak Sunday to be near 30 degrees in Charlotte, and lows Monday morning are predicted to be in the upper 20s.
Forecasters had expected the storm system, which swept southeast from the Ohio Valley into the Carolinas late Friday and early Saturday, to bring heavy snow to the mountains. But the South Carolina snow was not predicted.
A trace of snow was reported at the airport in Columbia, breaking the record for earliest snow, set Nov. 9, 1913. But 2 to 3 inches accumulated near Columbia, in Saluda and Lexington counties. Sleet and snow flurries were reported at the airport in Charleston and at Myrtle Beach, according to the National Weather Service.
The heavy wet snow brought down trees and limbs, knocking out power to tens of thousands of South Carolina customers.
At one point Saturday, more than 12,000 South Carolina Electric and Gas customers were without power, and an additional 14,000 outages were reported by Mid-Carolina Electric Cooperative. Most of those outages were repaired by Saturday afternoon, after the snow had changed to rain and then ended.
Cherie Conley of Gilbert, S.C., was among those without power. She recalled an old saying about what an early snow might portend for the coming winter, telling The State newspaper of Columbia, “If it snows on the pumpkins, you’re going to have a bad winter.”
Shelley Nowicki, from the Columbia suburb of Irmo, told The State that she, her mother and her son drove a short distance to Lexington to see the snow. “We were like, ‘Let’s go see! Let’s go play!’ ”
Accumulations of up to 2 inches were reported in the Greenville-Spartanburg area.
Meteorologists said Greenville-Spartanburg and Columbia were in the path of the center of the storm system. As it swept by, very cold air in the upper atmosphere was funneled to the surface, changing the rain to snow. Charlotte, along with the rest of the North Carolina Piedmont and foothills, remained north and east of the storm’s center and received rain, as temperatures remained above freezing.
22 inches in mountains
In the North Carolina mountains, heavy snow was reported in a number of locations.
The biggest reported snowfall was 22 inches, near Spring Creek in Madison County, and at Mount Leconte, in the Tennessee portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Nearly 3 inches fell in Boone, where officials at Appalachian State University battled the elements Saturday morning to clear the football field for an afternoon game against Georgia State University.
Officials at Mars Hill University near Asheville didn’t even make the attempt. They postponed their game against Catawba College until 2 p.m. Sunday.
Officials at Sugar Mountain Ski Resort in Avery County said on their website that snow-making equipment on the ski slopes was operating at full capacity Saturday. Six inches of snow fell at another resort, Beech Mountain.
As of Saturday evening, though, there was no word as to whether any resorts would be able to arrange an extremely early opening of the ski season.
Because temperatures have been warm recently, most of the snow melted on roads and sidewalks. But the precipitation fell heavily enough for snow to accumulate at times and cause traffic problems.
A 15-mile section of Interstate 40 near the North Carolina-Tennessee border was closed for a few hours Saturday morning after the road became clogged with wrecked vehicles.
And the S.C. Highway Patrol closed part of Interstate 20 for a short time Saturday morning when the road became snow-covered and slippery.
The National Weather Service warned motorists in the North Carolina mountains that black ice was likely to form Saturday night and early Sunday on wet roads, with temperatures forecast to plummet into the middle 20s.