Much of North Carolina and Southeast Virginia awoke Friday to a fresh cover of snow, with up to five inches falling Thursday night. A number of schools were closed or delayed Friday as chilly air fostered tricky travel conditions on area roadways.
While early forecasts performed well in light of a difficult-to-predict storm, a few surprises still resulted regarding how much snow actually fell. The snow that did fall doesn’t look to stick around for long.
The jackpot came in Franklin, Va., about 45 miles west of Norfolk: 5.1 inches. In North Carolina, 4 to 5 inches was reported in several locations in the northeast part of state.
North Carolina snow
The heaviest snow fell in a swath northeast of Raleigh and extended north and northeast into the coastal plain.
Durham proper wound up with two inches, but other spots in the county saw up to 2.7 inches. Downtown Raleigh got between 2 and 2.5 inches, with amounts closer to three inches near the airport.
Youngsville, in Franklin County — which is northeast of Raleigh — picked up four inches. Even farther northeast, closer to the border with Virginia, Chowan, Northhampton and Gates counties logged several totals in the 4- to 5-inch range.
To the west of Raleigh, amounts decreased some over the North Carolina Piedmont. A widespread inch fell, with a few pockets of more to the east.
There was a noticeable increase in amounts along the east slopes and foothills of the Appalachians, as expected. Waynesville saw 4.2 inches, just down the road from Asheville, while Scaly Mountain saw three inches.
Up to three inches of snow fell in the mountains of northeast Georgia.
Virginia and Maryland snow
In Virginia, the heaviest snow fell south of Richmond, where 0.5 inches was reported, and west of Virginia Beach, which received around two inches. Up to five inches was reported around Suffolk and 2 to 3 inches in Chesapeake and Williamsburg.
On the Delmarva Peninsula, up to 2.5 inches was reported in Accomack County in Virginia. The storm’s northern periphery brought a dusting of 0.3 inches as far north as Somerset County, Md. Even Ocean City saw measurable snowfall — a tenth of an inch.
Accumulating snow remained well south of the Washington region, where there were only a few flurries Thursday evening.
Overall, forecasts performed well. Many in central and eastern North Carolina, however, fell about an inch or two short of what the National Weather Service and some forecasters were predicting. Why?
Weather models can struggle with the timing of the onset of precipitation. Sometimes, they depict snow reaching the ground hours before it actually does. This is usually due to issues surrounding the amount of moisture in the air. If the air is too dry, then the snow will evaporate before reaching the ground.
The dry air that ate into snowfall totals is apparent examining a weather balloon sounding, or profile of the atmosphere from Greensboro Airport in North Carolina on Thursday morning. It reveals an exceptionally dry layer of air beneath the “snow growth region.” As snow fell into it, the air devoured snowflakes. Only when enough snowflakes had been “eaten” and the air became sufficiently “full” (saturated) were snowflakes able to reach the surface unimpeded and begin to accumulate. That process took longer than some were expecting, cutting down acutely on snowfall totals.
Of note were the higher-end snow totals on the Delmarva Peninsula that weather models hadn’t been simulating. Models often struggle to estimate the western extent of precipitation in ocean-bound storm systems.
The snow that fell isn’t long for this world. Temperatures in North Carolina will peak in the 50s on Saturday and near 60 on Sunday.
Jason Samenow contributed to this report.