Your StormTracker59 Team has been busy behind the scenes watching a winter storm that looks to move into our region this week. A lot of internet buzz around this storm will certainly keep you wondering what you can expect so take a moment to see what our thoughts are for our region.

LONG-RANGE FORECASTS: We feel it would be a disservice to many if we didn’t provide the limitations of long-range forecast models – models that go out 5-10 days. While they are great at providing your meteorologists with a trend pattern or overall idea of temperatures and precipitation, they are terrible at pinpointing snow or rain totals for a specific neighborhood or even town. In addition, long-range forecasts can vary widely if current data points are off from what the model thinks it will be. One degree off today could mean 5-10 degree off next week in the model run. When dealing with rain to snow, 5-10 degrees is a huge difference. Luckily, meteorologists know these limitations and will look at ensembles, or groups of model runs. This allows us the chance to see what trends are developing, what could change, what to watch for, etc. Something social media users don’t typically care about when sharing raw model data from one source like the GFS, EURO, NAM, or others. They’re only goal is to generate likes and clicks. So before sharing that post talking about 10-15 inches of snow for Christmas, let’s see what is more realistic for our region.


A system out towards our west is currently developing into what will be a winter storm for our region Thursday into Saturday. With high pressure out ahead of the storm, we can expect to start our week with more sunshine and warmer conditions. As we warm up, so will our ground temperatures, something that is important further down the line. By Thursday, we’ll see cold air damming playing a part for the morning hours, bringing some sleet and freezing rain to the mountains before changing over to rain by the afternoon as warmer air pushes in from the south. Thursday night, we stay on the warm side, allowing for a cold rain to fall through Friday morning. Friday is when things get interesting as cold air rushes in behind a cold front – timing will be key but we are expecting a quick changeover to snow Friday afternoon with the threat of flash freezing.

* As far as temps: We know we will warm up ahead of the storm Thursday into our Friday. Temps will push into the mid 40s both days. Warmer grounds to start will be important for snow total forecasts later. It won’t be until the arctic front pushes in that we’ll see temps drops fast enough or far enough to see snow.

*As for precipitation: We know we will see rain Wednesday overnight through Friday afternoon as this system pushes through our region. Upper level winds will bring the system up from the southwest towards the northeast. This path keeps us on the warm side of things first, ensuring rain to start. Once the cold front part of this system pushes in, we know arctic air is waiting. Once the cold front moves in, we know we’ll see an increase in winds and heavier rain before changing over to snow along the cold front. Snow will then continue until the system pushes out completely.

*As for impacts: Regardless of rain or snow totals, timing of the flash freeze potential, or other parts of this storm that are unknown, we know the impacts will be high as our Christmas holiday travel week gets underway. Heavy rain will lead to standing water and hydroplaning issues, reduced visibility, and traffic slow downs Thursday into Friday. Once the cold front pushes in, impacts will switch to high profile vehicle issues with high winds, flash freezing leading to black ice and snow covered roadways once ground temps cool enough to support snow accumulations. Snow amounts won’t matter when dealing with a layer of ice under it all. For those looking to travel, you may want to make arrangements now or plan to leave earlier when we’re dealing with just rain.

The aspects of this storm we’re watching for is exact totals of rain and snow. We have a rough idea as of today (Monday 12/19) of the overall conditions, but specifics for this town or the next will need a day or so to work out. A lot can change between now and Thursday. Position of the storm, location of the center low, front placements, timing, storm speed, etc., all of which will have an impact on exact totals. Once we have a better handle on what models are saying and what we’re seeing on satellite, we can make a specific call on totals and timing. Jumping the gun with only what we have today in order to have “the first call” would be irresponsible. Nothing worse than a weather team only interested in ratings or likes. Our job is preparedness, not popularity. We’re more interested in being right.

With all of that said, our forecast at this stage is fluid in overall totals so expect minor changes as we get closer. We may end up seeing more rain than snow or more snow than rain but the impacts will be the same either way. And that is the key takeaway. Your holiday travel week will be messy and, at times, dangerous Friday into Christmas Eve, Saturday. Our job now is to pinpoint timing of this storm and the freeze we will see come Friday night.

Based on latest models and what we know of storms in our region, expect upwards of a half an inch of rain Thursday with more likely under heavy downpours as the front pushes in closer Thursday overnight. We’ll pick up another quarter of an inch in some locations towards the southeast Friday morning where the changeover to snow will happen last (Monroe/Giles/Summers County). Standing water and backed up drains will cause hydroplaning issues for holiday travelers Thursday and Friday.

Snow totals will vary based on the exact timing of the cold front’s arrival and passage through our region. Rain will quickly changeover to snow, that we’re sure of. If that change happens in the morning we’ll see snow totals increase slightly. If the front gets caught up, which some models suggest, we’ll see less in the way of snow totals.

The warmer temps we mentioned being a big part of this forecast will help melt the first few hours of snow to fall, something the above map doesn’t take into account. It’ll take a few hours after the front passes for the ground to get cold enough to support snow accumulations. For the mountains, this will happen faster since they tend to run cooler than the lowlands. This is why some locations in the mountains (Pocahontas County) could see several inches along the ridgelines whereas folks in McDowell or Wyoming county will only see about an inch or two. Again, don’t get hung up on totals since they will change!

Regardless, any rain that falls will quickly freeze as the front pushes in, so roads will get icy, fast. Ice on roads is far worse than snow for driving conditions. As far as temps are concerned for Friday, expect a rapid cooling and flash freeze as the front pushes through, sometime mid-afternoon to early evening. This is by far the biggest impact to holiday travel!

Of course, we’ll keep you up-to-date with all the changes expected along with our own expert analysis as the week continues. For now, remember the impact to travel will be very high and our recommendation at this point is to plan and prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. It may not be a bad idea to plan on earlier travel or extra time for airports and those road trips to see friends and family.

Stay with the StormTracker59 Team all week as we fine tune your forecast and be sure to follow along with us on our website, on air, Facebook, Twitter, and our StormTracker59 app.