Could it snow in the Triangle next week? NWS meteorologist explains timeline, chances
A quick look at the long-range forecast on your phone’s weather app is likely bringing joy and excitement to local snow-lovers.
Though the predictions on those apps seem to be changing from minute to minute, you might be seeing snowflake icons or mentions of winter weather toward the end of next week.
But will we actually see snow in the Triangle?
At this point, it’s too early to be sure, National Weather Service Raleigh lead meteorologist Gail Hartfield told The News & Observer Friday morning.
Unlike phone apps, which offer long-range forecasts of typically between 10 to 14 days, Hartfield said, the NWS forecasts seven days out — meaning any predictions for next weekend are in “the very outer reaches of our forecasts, where we prefer to be more general.”
“A lot of those phone apps can use just like one or two computer models, and those can vary quite a bit from run to run,” Hartfield said. “So, you’ll have one model run and it will show one thing, the next model run will come in and will show something completely different — different timing, different temperatures.”
The NWS’ forecast will be updated Friday afternoon to stretch to next Friday, Hartfield said.
Still, Hartfield said next week will bring “a more active weather pattern,” and the key “ingredients,” or conditions, for snow or other winter weather could be present locally.
Here’s more from Hartfield on what we can expect in the Triangle next week.
Chance of snow could depend on weather front activity
For most of next week, Hartfield said, there will be a “more active weather pattern” — essentially, a cold front that will come into the area and “kind of stall out.”
“It’s kind of what we call a ‘wavy front,’ which means that it kind of wavers north to south, depending on areas of low pressure that move along the front,” Hartfield said.
The wavy nature of the front, Hartfield said, makes it difficult to tell just how far into the Triangle the cold air will get.
“It could be blocked by the mountains, it could pour all the way into the Carolinas,” Hartfield said. “It’s too early to really say exactly where the front is going to set up and exactly how much cold air is going to get in.”
There will be some cold air to the north, Hartfield said, as a cold high pressure area sets up over eastern Ontario, Canada, but it’s too early to say how far north or south that cold air will extend.
Hartfield said the NWS team is seeing some computer models that show non-liquid precipitation — snow or other frozen precipitation — but “a lot of it will depend on exactly where the cold air sets up.”
Key ‘ingredients’ for snow could be present
There are three key “ingredients” for snow or other wintry precipitation, Hartfield said:
▪ Cold air: “Within that, you need to know where the cold air is in the atmosphere, whether you’ve got cold air coming in way high up, several thousand feet up, or if you have cold air coming in at the surface, because that will help you determine if there’s any precipitation and what kind of type it’s going to be — whether it’s going to be freezing rain or snow or sleet or a mixture,” Hartfield said. “So, we have to have that cold air in place.”
▪ Moisture: “If there’s no moisture, then obviously nothing’s going to happen,” Hartfield said.
▪ “Lift,” or “something to lift up the moisture and make it rain out or precipitate out.”
With the weather pattern forecast for next week, Hartfield said, we’re likely to have the moisture and lift ingredients.
“We are looking at some fairly high precipitation chances, especially mid- to late-week,” Hartfield said. “And it’s not going to be raining the entire time, but we are going to see precipitation as areas of low pressure track along that front.”
But the big question is whether we’ll get the first ingredient, cold air.
“It’s looking like we have a source of cold air,” Hartfield said. “Whether it comes this far south to the ground or not, that’s our big question.”
Does thunder in the winter mean snow?
We experienced some heavy rain in the Triangle this week, and you might have even heard thunder a time or two.
That might have some people hoping for snow, if they’re believers of the old wives’ tale: If it thunders in the winter, it’ll snow within the next week.
The N&O previously reported that, scientifically, that myth isn’t necessarily true.
Thunder could mean a cold front is on its way, but that doesn’t mean precipitation — specifically, snow — is coming with it.
The NC State Climate Office studied the myth several years ago, Spectrum News reported in 2020. The experts reviewed weather records dating back to the 1940s for several locations in the state, including Raleigh, Greensboro and Charlotte.
They found 642 days between the first of December and the end of February when lightning or thunder occurred. Snow fell 85 times within ten days of those 642 times — that’s only 13% of the time.
Keep up with the NWS forecast
While it’s easy to just follow the forecast on your phone, Hartfield recommended seeking out more nuanced forecasts, like those from the National Weather Service.
“It’s very tempting to just look at your phone, but if you want more nuanced forecasts or more details, definitely check with the National Weather Service or your favorite TV meteorologists, somebody like that, who’s got a source of good information,” Hartfield said.
NWS Raleigh’s forecasts are available online at weather.gov/rah.
Reporter Kimberly Cataudella contributed to this story.
This story was originally published January 27, 2023 11:33 AM.