By Niki Morock, meteorologist
Those people who say they need cold weather to get into the Christmas spirit ought to be happy about this weekend’s forecast… unless of course, they are planning on attending the Wake Forest Christmas Parade or the Wake Forest High School football playoff in Winston-Salem. In that case, they may be a little stressed over the fact that it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.
A few days ago, the forecast looked like we would see mostly rain with some flakes mixed in at times. This morning, the forecast is leaning more toward rain mixing with and possibly changing to snow, and in some places, sleet could fall. On Saturday, as the temperature warms with what little daytime heating we’ll get, the precipitation could change back to rain before exiting the region. The models are agreeing on the fact that there will be precipitation, but what kind, how much, and when it will end is still a little up in the air (forgive the pun).
Typically, this is the type of storm I write about in February or March. You know – the ones that have meteorologists obsessed with the freezing line at the surface, just above the surface, and up in the clouds. Where those freezing lines are mean everything in a situation like this weekend’s. If the air is at freezing or below in all the levels of the atmosphere, we see snow. If the air is warmer at the surface, we get cold rain with maybe a few flakes or ice pellets mixed in. If the air is colder at the surface, but above freezing up higher, we’ll see more ice pellets or freezing rain.
Each model run over the last 24 hours has moved the freezing line at the surface in one direction or the other. Wake County is a big county! With 857 square miles, it often happens with these kinds of storms that one part of the county gets snow dumped on it, and the opposite side sees nothing but rain. At this point, we aren’t expecting any area to get more than an inch of snow on grassy areas around here because the snow will be wet, and the ground is still warm.
Other than a few cold early mornings in recent weeks, the temperature has not spent much time below freezing. For that reason, the roads around here should be in relatively good condition Saturday morning even if we have a change from rain to snow early Friday night. If you happen to be driving to Winston-Salem for the football game at noon, the drive between here and there on the way to the game could take you through rain, sleet, and snow. Just take it easy on bridges and overpasses because they are more exposed to cold air above and below them, which means they could be a little slippery.
The western Triad has a slightly better chance of seeing snow versus rain Friday night and Saturday morning. Because the system will be moving from west to east, whatever precipitation does fall will end in Winston-Salem before it ends in the Triangle. As of this writing on Thursday morning, one model has the snow ending there early in the morning on Saturday, but another shows snow or rain showers could linger into the afternoon.
In any case and whether you are staying in town or traveling for the game, leave yourself time and stopping space while driving, wear warm layers, and make the most of the first winter storm of the season.