North Carolina winter weather evolves from complex meteorological patterns that are challenging to forecast, and which command to considerable variability in weather conditions across the state. Together a result, the frequency and intensity that winter weather events are very variable and also dependent upon huge (synoptic) and tiny (mesoscale) scale atmospheric patterns.

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A. Large Scale (Synoptic Scale)

1. Jet currently (Eastern U.S.)

The jet present is a narrow band of strong winds in the top atmosphere. In winter, that separates cold, Arctic waiting masses native warmer, continental air masses. Specific regions the the jet are additionally favorable because that storm development, when others are not.The orientation and location the the jet currently has big implications ~ above the weather year-round, however even an ext so in winter since the jet currently is stronger as result of a large temperature comparison from the phibìc to south.
Many factors (such as patterns and upper-level winds) can change the route of the jet stream. As soon as the jet is aligned in a an ext west to east orientation, NC typically experiences reasonably mild winter weather, v temperatures close to average. Once the jet stream dives southward over the eastern U.S., cold air is allowed to circulation all the method from Canada or points northward right into the basic of the trough, and if the base is south of N.C., then things acquire mighty chilly because that our state!

2. Cold air Outbreaks

North Carolina is vulnerable to big variations in temperature throughout the winter due to its location and also geographical features. Once the jet currently dives southern in the winter, that can lug bitterly cold, Arctic air all the way into north Carolina. Once this happens, temperatures may drop as lot as 20 come 30°F below normal! Typically, these really cold Arctic outbreaks will ease in a couple of days when the waiting mass starts to moderate.

Notice how low the maximum temperatures drop during the cold waiting outbreak that emerged from January 15-17th, 2009.The coldest day was on the 16th as soon as Boone only reaches 16°F, Raleigh just reaches 28°F, and even Wilmington only makes it to 30°F!

B. Small Scale (Mesoscale)

1. Cold air Damming

Cold waiting damming (CAD) occurs when a shallow great of cold air becomes trapped in ~ the surface, v warmer waiting residing just above it. The Appalachian Mountains carry out a barrier that avoids the cold air from scouring out, and permits it to dam up against them. Combine that with the fact that cold wait is denser than warm air, thus avoiding it from rising, and also the shallow cold air i do not care trapped.When cold waiting damming works in tandem with a storm mechanism which transports moisture right into the cold wait in place over NC, wintry precipitation occurs. Depending upon how deep the great of cold wait is, the precipitation can fall as snow, sleet, freezing rain, or simply a cold rain. Often, occasions may start as snow or sleet (or a snow/sleet mixture) before the warmer, moist air begins to erode some of the cold air and also changes the precipitation end to freezing rain or just a cold rain.

2. Storm Tracks

The path a winter storm takes substantially effects the type and circulation of precipitation throughout the state.
A much more inland route over NC typically results in:Greatest coverage the winter weather in the western piedmont and NC MountainsSoutherly winds indigenous the low push systemWarmer temperatures relocating well inlandRain or even severe weather over main and eastern NC
A slightly offshore path (50-100 miles) allows for:Northerly windsColder temperaturesGreater coverage that winter weather in the piedmont and western coastal plainThe precipitation shield not extending as much to the west, oftentimes excluding areas such as Greensboro and Winston-Salem altogether
If the storm device tracks farther offshore:Cold air will certainly be pulled every the way to the coastThe precipitation shield will mainly stay eastern of I-95Coastal areas will receive far-ranging amounts the snowThe Piedmont and also western coastal Plain will certainly receive little to no precipitation

3. Seaside Fronts

A coastal front is a mesoscale attribute that develop off the coast in an answer to strong temperature contrasts between air over the warm Gulf Stream and also cold air end the Carolinas, often linked with CAD events. These fronts have the right to be a catalyst because that generation and/or intensification of coastal storms simply offshore of the Carolina coast. In winter as soon as a seaside front move onshore, temperatures can increase by 30-50°F! Obviously, this deserve to have major implications on winter weather; seaside fronts can mark the dividing line in between rain and snow, yet can also serve to improve precipitation rates!
A coastal front can considerably increase or diminish the quantity of wintry precipitation. This is dependent upon a given areas location appropriate to the front; (if an area is close come the front, but on the wintry side then precipitation rates may be higher, therefore increasing accumulations the frozen precipitation, however if the area is top top the heat side that the front climate precipitation is likely to readjust over to rain, hence reducing wintry precipitation.)

4. Snow Banding

Oftentimes in NC snowstorms, the upper-level features end up being favorable for mesoscale banding of precipitation. Once this occurs, bands of slow moving, hefty snow collection up which can result in extremely variable snowfall amounts throughout a little area. Back forecasters can usually identify when problems are favorable for eye banding, it is very daunting to pinpoint whereby they will happen until the event is underway.

Types the Winter Storms

The kind of winter storm the affects NC additionally plays a far-ranging role in the heat profile and precipitation distribution throughout the state. Identifying what form of storm will influence the region is critical to correctly forecasting the outcome of the event.


1. “Simple” Storm

Consists the one well arisen surface low pressure system offshore of the Carolinas.Precipitation is typically either rain or snow.Little blended precipitation (sleet/freezing rain) as result of the well-defined low pressure mechanism which creates a an ext uniform heat profile v sharp boundaries in between freezing and over freezing air.The rain-snow change zone is relatively narrow due to the storm’s structure.Also described as a Miller type A storm.

 2. “Complex” Storm

“Complex” storm formation functions two distinctive low push systems; one well inland and also a developing seaside low.The heat profile consists of multiple over freezing great which outcomes in various precipitation types not only throughout the an ar but likewise in a details location (depends on physics processes as well as precipitation rate.)Sleet, snow, freezing rain or a wintry mix of all precipitation varieties are common.Also referred to as a Miller kind B storm.

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C. No one ‘easter

Named because that the continuously strong northeasterly wind that blows in from the Atlantic s as the storm traverses near the shore of the eastern U.S.Can produce far-ranging weather for a large portion of phibìc Carolina such as: hefty snow, rain, and big waves that crash ~ above beaches i beg your pardon can an outcome in seaside erosion and property damageWind gusts have the right to reach hurricane force (74+ mph)!

D. Northwest circulation Snow

These snow events usually influence western NC and also occur when the wind blows up and over the Appalachians, which creates lift and enables precipitation to form.When the air descends native the height of the mountains it often tends to dried out, which outcomes in small to no accumulating snow for locations of NC eastern of the mountains.Occasionally, if one unusually solid disturbance comes from the northwest can survive the expedition over the mountains, climate accumulating eye coming indigenous a northwest flow can happen over larger portions of NC.Characteristics the a northwest flow snow include: small melting because of cold temperatures, and a high eye to fluid equivalency (20:1 or higher) which outcomes in a dried snow.