While some spotty frozen precipitation is possible Thursday afternoon and night, we don’t expect significant additional amounts. That said, a period or two of steadier frozen precipitation that leaves behind a coating or so is not out of the question through Friday morning.
With temperatures holding at or below freezing, untreated roads and sidewalks will remain slick. Use caution.
This will be our last update in this article. We will have a new article evaluating the problems with the morning forecast Thursday afternoon.
From early this morning: Why did mostly sleet fall and not snow?
As mostly sleet (mixed with freezing rain and a bit of snow) falls across the area instead of snow, you may be wondering: What happened, and why is it not snowing with temperatures in the 20s?
Essentially, temperatures about 5,000 feet high are a little above freezing, partially melting snowflakes and turning them into sleet. Models had projected these temperatures would be about a degree colder, which was the rationale for predicting at least a brief period of snow. But the fact the real atmosphere is warmer than the modeled version has meant sleet.
We had predicted snow would change to sleet and indicated Wednesday night more sleet would fall than snow, but that small warm layer several thousand feet high has mostly melted away snow prospects.
Scroll down to the bottom of this article for storm updates from throughout the morning …
Today’s daily digit
A somewhat subjective rating of the day’s weather, on a scale of 0 to 10.
1/10: Not enough snow and ice is not nice, if you are out, walk slow or pay the price.
- Today: Snow/sleet/freezing rain, heaviest in the morning. Highs: Near 30.
- Tonight: Patchy, intermittent light wintry mix. Lows: 25 to 29.
- Tomorrow: Morning mix possible; partial clearing in afternoon. Highs: 35 to 39.
Forecast in detail
Not much doubt that Thursday will be a mess, from the combination of snow and ice. The heaviest falls in the morning, but even the lighter, icy precipitation that follows into the night makes untreated surfaces potentially hazardous. A dry weekend offers relief, but cold temperatures do not relent.
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Today (Thursday): Snow and/or sleet greet early risers and eventually turn into mostly sleet as the morning progresses. The precipitation may be heavy at times, reducing visibility and quickly covering roads and sidewalks. A gradual shift to mainly light freezing rain in the afternoon could add a treacherous glaze as temperatures remain below freezing.
Most of us pick up at least an inch or two of snow and sleet, and amounts increase as you head northwest where more snow falls. Highs are in the upper 20s to low 30s with northeast breezes. Confidence: Medium-High
Tonight: Freezing rain showers should be light and intermittent but still capable of a dangerous film of ice. Sleet and/or snow could mix in at times but may not amount to much. North winds are generally on the light side. Lows slip to the mid-to-upper 20s. Confidence: Medium-High
Tomorrow (Friday): Very light freezing rain is still possible in the morning and could mix with sleet and snow. Most precipitation should be over by midday and partial clearing is possible in the afternoon. Winds are moderate from the northwest. Highs reach the mid-to-upper 30s, allowing a bit of melting. Confidence: Medium
Tomorrow night: Skies continue to clear through the night with light northwest winds. Lows tumble into the upper teens to low 20s, so be on guard for icy patches. Confidence: Medium
A look ahead
Saturday has plenty of sun, but brisk north winds and highs no better than the low 30s make for shivery walks. The crystal clear night should see winds calm and affords an opportunity to see the waxing moon pass over the constellation Orion’s head (Friday night, too). Lows range through the teens to near 20 downtown, which could be the lowest of the winter so far. Confidence: Medium
Sunny skies Sunday are still deceptive as the cold hangs tight. Highs struggle to just make the mid-30s, which is about 10 degrees below normal. Another clear night but not as cold, with lows mainly in the mid-to-upper 20s. Confidence: Medium
Clouds increase Monday and, by midmorning, a few snow/rain showers are possible but should be mostly rain by afternoon and remain on the light side. Highs reach the upper 30s to low 40s. Confidence: Low-Medium
Snow potential index
A daily assessment of the potential for at least one inch of snow in the next week, on a 0-10 scale.
9/10 (↑): By midmorning our snow accumulation should peak and then shrink as the sleet/freezing rain take over.
11 a.m. — Sleet continues but dry slot approaching
Radar shows steady sleet over the region, falling with moderate to heavy intensity in some areas north and east of the District. However, to the southwest precipitation is beginning to ease with a dry slot approaching.
Through midday and early afternoon, we’ll continue to have sleet, mixed at times with snow or freezing rain, but its intensity should gradually wane from southwest to northeast.
Some areas have picked up about an inch of sleet, which is the equivalent to about three or four inches of snow.
Our next update will be around noon and will focus on the forecast for the rest of Thursday.
10 a.m. — Moderate to heavy sleet falling, mixed with snow, with roads deteriorating
Sleet, moderate to heavy at times, is falling across much of the region. At times some snowflakes enter the mix, especially north and west of downtown Washington.
The wave of sleet will continue for the next couple of hours and will accumulate, causing slick roads and walkways and challenging travel conditions. If you can stay off the roads, do so.
We have seen several reports of crashes from the Maryland State Highway Administration just in the last 15 minutes, and the Virginia Department of Transportation says its crews are having difficulty keeping Interstate 95 clear of sleet near Fredericksburg.
Sleet totals could eclipse an inch through midday in some areas, which is the equivalent of about three inches of snow.
9 a.m. — Sleet, mix increasing in coverage and intensity
Radar is filling in southwest of Washington, and sleet mixed with freezing rain at times is becoming heavier. Over the next couple hours we may have a thump of sleet that accumulates, reduces visibility and makes travel difficult. Some snow could mix with the sleet, especially north of the District.
8 a.m. — Wintry mix continues, heaviest northwest of Washington
In the immediate area, the mix of precipitation has briefly eased but is falling steadily to the northwest. In parts of Loudoun (including Leesburg) and Frederick County, where snow had changed to sleet, it has changed back to snow. Reports to the National Weather Service indicate one to four inches of snow and sleet have fallen in Frederick County.
Elsewhere, a coating of mixed precipitation has fallen, and radar indicates that where the icy mix has eased it should pick back up over the next hour.
With temperatures in the 20s, untreated roads are covered in this icy mix and slick. Take it slow if you have to be out or stay in.
6:20 a.m. — Sleet is dominant precipitation type so far
Reports from around the region indicate a lot of sleet (even though radar precipitation algorithms show snow; they are wrong). Some areas are seeing sleet mixed with snow and/or freezing rain. Irrespective of precipitation type, untreated surfaces are becoming slick.
As we wrote Wednesday night, temperatures a few thousand feet above us are right at the snow-sleet transition point, and it seems so far we’re landing on the sleet side. It’s possible we’ll see precipitation mix with or turn to snow during heavier bursts, but we may also have freezing rain in the mix when it’s lighter.
Assuming we end up with mostly sleet, snow-sleet totals will be at the low end of our projections because sleet accumulates more slowly and is denser. Regardless, with temperatures in the 20s and frozen precipitation steadily falling, the impacts on roads/travel will be similar whether more sleet or more snow falls.
5:40 a.m. — Sleet and snow rapidly breaking out over region
Over the last 90 minutes or so, a mix of sleet and snow has developed over the area from southwest to northeast. In some areas, it is already falling heavily.
In some areas even if you started as sleet, you may change back to snow as the air cools with precipitation falling through it. Or, you may alternate between sleet and snow or have a combination. Some freezing will also be part of the mix. The region is right along the snow-sleet-freezing rain transition point.
Temperatures in the mid- to upper-20s mean precipitation will rapidly stick to all surfaces and make roads and walkways slick.