All eyes gazed toward the Atlantic as brilliant white clouds billowed skyward, signaling the arrival of the long-awaited newcomer. The crowds rejoiced, and a voice shouted down: “Habemus precip!” And so it was. Rain in the southeast is a religious experience these days, and there’s going to be a lot of it hanging around through the weekend.
A weak low sitting off the coast of South Carolina at this hour is the culprit behind the six thousand “I HATE DAYS LIKE THIS :(“ posts you’ll have to wade through on Facebook in the coming days. The radar is already filling in this afternoon, and scattered-to-steady rainfall will continue sliding northward into the weekend.
The system in question may very well have become a tropical depression or tropical storm if not for wind shear, but that’s to be expected in an El Niño year—it’s why just about every storm in the Atlantic this season flopped into a blob of nothingness. Even without a name or any apparent organization, it will still have some significant impacts across areas stuck under the gloom.
The latest forecast from the Weather Prediction Center shows a decent amount of rain falling over areas that desperately need it. Just about everyone in North and South Carolina can expect at least an inch of rain by this weekend, with most of the area seeing much more than that.
As it stands right now, it looks like the heaviest rain will remain limited largely to the Carolinas and southern Virginia, with three or more inches of rain possible from the Outer Banks west through the Piedmont.
There is the potential for flooding (or even flash flooding) in areas that see the heaviest rain. The greatest flooding threat will coincide with the heaviest forecast rain totals, but it’s not a clear-cut threat at the moment.
The NWS office in Greenville, South Carolina, says that low soil moisture and normal river/stream flows—in addition to the fact that the rain will be steady and shouldn’t come down all at once like one would see in a tropical thunderstorm—means that much of the land in the western Carolinas should be able to handle a few inches of rain without too much of an issue. Flash flood guidance in the Carolinas reflects much of the same—as it stands right now, it’ll take three to four inches of rain in three hours to trigger flash flooding in most spots.
Flooding could still be a threat, though, so keep an eye out for watches and warnings, especially if you live in or travel through flood-prone areas.
Even though many people will complain about the rain ruining their weekend, those same folks are probably complaining about their lawns and gardens dying off. Much of the region expecting precipitation in the coming days are slipping deeper and deeper into drought; nearly 25% of the southeast is in a moderate or severe drought, according to the latest numbers from the U.S. Drought Monitor.
The worst conditions are located over South Carolina, with 65% of the state in a drought and 25% of the land experiencing a “severe drought,” a two on a scale from zero to four. Any rain will help at this point, and a steady, soaking rain is the best form of drought relief.
Not only will it rain for a couple of days, but it’s also going to be windy. The stiffer breeze will stay close to the coast, but there’s going to be enough wind in the eastern Mid-Atlantic to knock you around a bit for a few days beginning on Friday.
The tight pressure gradient between the coastal storm and a center of high pressure in the Northeast is the reason behind the easterly breeze, and the direction of the wind will create a situation known as cold air damming. The Vane’s awesome headquarters (my bedroom) in central North Carolina experienced cool, gray, rainy weather earlier this week due to the year’s first cold air damming event, so ‘tis the season.
Cold air damming occurs when winds press cool, dense air up against the eastern Appalachian Mountains, where it gets stuck against the terrain and capped by warmer air above it. This is a more significant phenomenon when winter weather is involved—it often results in ice storms in the western Carolinas—but it will make this event feel more miserable than usual.
High Waves and Rip Currents
The strong, persistent easterly winds will make beaches and coastal waters hazardous through early next week. The National Weather Service says that there’s a high risk for rip currents along the Mid-Atlantic and Carolina coasts over the next couple of days due to the rough surf.
A rip current is a strong jet of water that quickly flows away from shore, dragging with it anything and anyone caught in its grip. Rip currents drag you out horizontally; they don’t rip you under the water like they show in movies.
Rip current deaths are 100% avoidable. Stay out of the water if there are rip current alerts in effect, and know what rip currents look like. If you’re ever caught in one, swim parallel to the shore until you’re out of its influence, or let it drag you out and tread water, calmly signaling for help.
There are also coastal flood advisories up for the North Carolina coast, alerting residents to what is basically a two- to three-foot storm surge during high tide.
I figure since I subjected you to that awesome papal lede, and since Pope Francis is an avid reader (so I’ve heard), I should mention the weather he can expect during the rest of his visit.
The weather in New York City should be gorgeous tomorrow, with comfortable temperatures in the 70s and a nice breeze from the east. Conditions during his trip to Philadelphia on Saturday and Sunday could get a little dicey as this storm nudges northward, but it should start weakening by then. There will probably be some occasional bouts of rain in Philly this weekend, but this pope seems to take things in stride. I’m sure a little rain won’t bother him or the thousands of people eager to see him.