If you live in the south and you're sick of the constant ice storms we've seen over the past two weeks, you're in luck! It's only going to snow this time around. Heavy snow is in the forecast from Texas through Virginia on Wednesday and Thursday, threatening areas that don't typically see this much snow from one storm.
Fortunately, this storm looks like it'll produce the bulk of its snows during the evening and overnight hours on Wednesday, preventing the rush hour catastrophe that befell the southern United States in January 2014. That storm produced snow heavier and earlier than meteorologists had predicted, catching residents by surprise. Crews were unable to remove the thin coating of snow from roads from Alabama to North Carolina before everyone tried to make a mad dash home. The presence of hot cars compacted the snow and turned it into a sheet of ice, trapping thousands of people on the highways and in their schools and offices for the night.
Our friends out west have noticed that the pattern is getting decidedly colder and snowier compared to what they've seen for the majority of this winter. It also seems a little strange that we're suddenly seeing winter storm after winter storm galumph through the south after seeing virtually no snow or ice until now. The answer lies in the jet stream.
Since the beginning of the year, the ridge/trough pattern we've seen in the jet stream has looked something like this. We get a big, classic ridge that keeps the West warm and dry, while a sharp trough digs into the Gulf of Mexico, bringing bitter cold and snow to the eastern half of the United States and Canada.
The ridge over western North America got so amplified last weekend that it sort of folded over on itself, keeping the bulk of the jet stream squarely over the southern United States. Since strong low pressure systems that produce winter weather feed their energy off of lift produced by certain parts of the jet stream, active weather will follow the jet's strongest winds.
The resulting storm will start to develop later this afternoon over northern Texas, producing a wide swath of snowfall from the Lone Star State east through Dixie Alley and into North Carolina and Virginia, where forecasters and models predict the heaviest snow to fall.
Winter storm watches, advisories, and warnings are in effect across the south in anticipation of a significant snow event. Precipitation will begin on Wednesday morning in Texas as the area of low pressure gets its act together on the Gulf Coast, and precipitation (both snow and regular rain) will get heavier as the low gathers strength and moves towards the east-northeast.
A widespread area of two to four inches of snow is likely from northeastern Texas to the Atlantic Ocean. Again, the heaviest snow will fall in North Carolina and Virginia—right now, models are suggesting that the Charlotte-Raleigh corridor could see the highest non-mountain totals, with six or more inches possible. This can and probably will change as we get closer to the event and the models get a clearer picture of what will happen. Any small shift in the track of the storm could nudge heavier snow bands one or two dozen miles to the north or south.
Relatively Rare Event
As it stands right now, northern Alabama in particular could take quite the thumping, relatively speaking. I know northerners reading this post will laugh, scoff, and leave snide comments about my inclusion of the word "significant" when describing this storm, but this region of the country doesn't often see this much snow from one system.
If Birmingham-Shuttlesworth Int'l Airport receives the 4.2" currently forecast, it will be the largest single snowstorm on record since the "Storm of the Century" back on March 13, 1993. The latter storm dropped 10.3 inches of snow on Birmingham in one day. The city's average winter snowfall is about 1.5".
Schools Are Closed
There is absolutely no reason residents should not be prepared for this storm.
Most municipalities expecting snow have the equipment and capability to remove it from the roads and treat surfaces so they don't get too icy. The list of school closings grows longer by the hour as districts preemptively close in advance of the storm. If you're able to stay home on Wednesday and/or Thursday, it would be best to take the day(s) off and watch the doom accumulate from the safety of your living room.
If you absolutely have to go out when the roads are still snowy/icy, take your time and try to avoid the idiots around you. Give snow plows plenty of room—in a crash, you lose to the giant shovel on wheels.
Spring will be here soon enough.