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Submitted by Tim Buckley on Thu, 01/06/2011 - 11:15am.
A repeat of the Christmas storm? A new storm will cross the country over the coming days, and it looks eerily similar to the system that brought snow two weeks ago. As of right now, it looks like Southeastern North Carolina may be in the clear for winter weather. But, some subtle differences could mean the difference between all rain and significant snow.
So why might there be a winter storm along the East Coast? Let's take a look at the setup heading into this weekend:
Right now, an arctic air mass is on the move southward from Canada. A cold front brings this air overhead late Friday into early Saturday. This bitter cold is a key ingredient to any winter storm. It sets the stage for the possibility of winter precipitation. In other words, this cold air doesn't mean that there will be winter precipitation, it just introduces that potential into the equation by being there before a storm moves into the region.
Now as for the storm itself, the main energy is still focused well offshore of Southern California. This alone tells you how much uncertainty exists in this current forecast. Until the storm comes onto the coast of the US, we don't have an accurate sampling of data from the system - which is key to producing good forecasts on track, intensity, and the all important precipitation type. By Saturday - we expect the storm to come ashore and really be on the move.
Once it comes ashore, it will be steered initially by the southern branch of the Jet Stream which you can see above in blue. This conveyor belt of fast winds in the upper atmosphere decides where the storm will go and how fast it will get there. Right now, the setup is very similar to what we saw at Christmas with the storm passing over the Southwest eventually reaching the Gulf Coast.
Just like the Christmas storm, the low pressure area will be positioned over Louisiana as it starts to gather strength and head up the coast. Again, the track is key with these winter storm systems. The eastern side of the system feature southerly winds are the "warm side" while the western side feature northerly winds and is the "cold side".
The yellow cone-shape indicates the spread in potential paths that this storm could take at this point. As you can see, there's a wide range right now. Let's hammer out the possibilities:
-Inland Track: A path to the left side of the cone would mean a plain old rain event here in the Wilmington area.
-Coastal Track: A track to the right side of the cone along the coast would mean a colder storm for us with the potential for some significant snowfall in the Cape Fear region.
-Central Track: A path in the middle of the cone would likely mean a brief period of frozen precip to start across the area (especially inland), before a transition to all rain for everybody.
Right an Inland/Central track appears to be the most likely solution. Given that idea, we're forecasting an all rain event here along the coast, although it's certainly possible there could be some mixing precip at the beginning of the storm for areas well inland.
That's what we know right now! This forecast will be re-evaluated and tweaked over the next several days.
Stay with us, and buckle up!
By: Tim Buckley