Friday, February 17, 2012

Something Wicked this Way Comes?

We're nearly two months into winter and the common theme playing out has been warmer than average temperatures with a lack of any significant storm systems.  We're in for a change this weekend!

Heavy rain will pick up in earnest late Saturday into Sunday.  It's likely central and eastern North Carolina will receive a generous 1" to 1.5" of rain.  This'll help make a dent in the ongoing drought for the state as we're closing in on three inches below average in Raleigh for the year and more than three inches below average for 2012 at Wilmington.  Currently, moderate drought conditions have set up in central North Carolina with sliver of the Cape Fear region in severe drought.

Our weekend storm is a complex system that'll have origins along the Gulf Coast heading up and off the coast of North Carolina by Sunday bringing our bout with heavy rain.  It's when cold air begins spilling in behind a departing low where a transition from rain to snow is expected.  The rain to snow transition would happen Sunday evening lasting into Sunday night.  Snowfall totals appear to be greatest from the Piedmont and areas north of the Triangle where an inch of snow (or more if you buy into models) may fall.  (Outside of the viewing area, just wait until you see the final totals from Eastern KY and West Virginia!)

What you need to be aware of is the idea we'll have a change from rain to snow on Sunday evening.  While snow totals do not appear to be great, one thing is working in our favor to limit the snow from sticking around.  Ground temperatures have been mild- thanks to warmer than average temperatures this winter and the lack of any significant cold air within the last couple of days. 

With all that said, drivers Sunday night into Monday morning should exercise caution when driving on bridges and elevated roads.  Temperatures drop rapidly Sunday night and we may not have a lot of time to dry out, leading to tricky travel by Monday morning.

There are a lot of moving parts to the forecast...  Rain with a change to snow is looking likely, accumulations for central and eastern NC appear to be limited, but may close in on an inch.  So, we've been waiting for our first round of wintry weather.... Are you getting excited?

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Floating the Friendly Sky...

"It was the one thing in all the world that Prince Littleboy most wanted,- his own red balloon, floating up there in the sky, dangling its long golden cord.  The grey cloud had been hiding it all the time." - The Little Red Balloon, by Caroline Hofman.

Michelle Parks, a loyal viewer from Midland, NC posted this picture to our Weather on the Ones Facebook page on the afternoon of Thursday, February 2, 2012.

Michelle has found remnants from celebrations on her property in the past.  Energetic balloons from parties and weddings turned loose by the hands of those who will remember the night for company kept and stories made rather than the moment they set adrift a character whose eventual demise was a lifeless wobble over a random backyard east of Charlotte.

Being a Thursday, we're usually locked in a nomadic zone where we're close enough to the weekend to be joyous, but those precious days of rest are just beyond our reach to get too excited.  With our weekly routines well established, a little red balloon can release us from our pattern as its red shimmer beckons our attention  It conjures up images and feelings of summer days gone by.  Admit it, we all share a common story. We were the proud owners of a balloon only to bravely let it go with the confidence we'd catch it in time before it floats away.  It's a daring game of cat and mouse as our prize possession waived its string in our face like a hypnotists watch and  before we could close our fingers the balloon was free, floating away, leaving our spirits dashed just like Prince Littleboy in the classic 1918 children's book.

Michelle tracked and captured this balloon in one fell swoop.  Reading the attached card, pictured above, she was taken by surprise and wanted to tell us about it.  We're so thankful she did!

The card enlightened Michelle to the owners and the significance of the balloon.  This wasn't just an ordinary red balloon, this was a well traveled balloon belonging to an elementary school down the road; down the road 317 miles as the crow flies in Boaz, Alabama. "I was thrilled to find the balloon", Michelle said on our Facebook page, "When I found out it had been released less than 24 hours earlier it seemed absolutely incredible."

A day earlier and two states away, Principal Beth Scott, of Boaz Elementary School, wanted to celebrate the kickoff to 'read bowl' month with an event geared towards engaging students while keeping them excited.  An event where each child launches a balloon is drenched in symbolism for parents and teachers who are preparing kids for their future.  It was too good to pass up and a brilliant idea. Principal Scott recalls, "The weather was horrible.  It rained all day until about 2:05pm.  The release was scheduled for 2:15, so it worked out just in time for us to do this."

The cloudy and wet Wednesday of the release reached a crescendo when each balloon was sent on its own unique journey into the elements; where they would go, no one would know- at least for now.  Students, parents, and teachers had high hopes every balloon would reach a destination safely and someone would be kind enough to respond.  With help from the Boaz High School Art Department, once a balloon is reported students will map its location on canvas.  The completed art project will become a permanent display at the elementary school.

On a warm, winter afternoon in North Carolina, an excited Michelle Parks contacted the principal to let her know our little red balloon had reached its final destination in Midland, NC.  From the hands of children, through the clouds, rain and many miles flown one Tar Heel state resident has completed a circle.  Bringing joy to a group of students in Alabama.  Encouraging kids to read was the main reason for the balloon launch, but the lessons the students will learn from this project include kindness, a little luck and science (mainly Meteorology).

The weather on Wednesday set up perfectly for a balloon to track towards North Carolina.  At the surface high pressure was off the Atlantic Coast giving Alabama southwest winds.  These winds shifted to west-southwest over northern Georgia and eventually the ridge flattened out over North Carolina where winds were mainly out of the west.

The chart above shows readings taken at 18-thousand to 22-thousand feet above the ground! We're mainly focusing in on the wind barbs, or the red lines with red triangles over Georgia and North Carolina.  Winds at this height were measured at 50 knots (58mph) from the southwest.  It's reasonable to believe this balloon may have reached this altitude for several hours before losing enough helium to descend lower in the atmosphere- where winds are not as strong.

Typically, a small balloon filled with helium can rise as high as 3-5 miles above the ground!  The fate of the balloon is usually a structural failure (pop to you and me).  At such high altitude air pressure decreases, distorting the balloon.  Also, the air is much colder up there (-20 to -40 degrees, or colder, on a winter day) causing cracks in the balloon and an eventual pop.  It was unusually warm on Wednesday and Thursday, the skew-t chart above indicates profiles at 18-thousand to 25-thousand feet were between 0 to -10 degrees C.  The relative warmth at altitude and wind direction helped keep this balloon aloft for more than 300 miles.  Now, if you look at the balloon, pictured above, there is some color fade which would lead me to believe it was bouncing around in some pretty cold air aloft, but it wasn't enough to cause it to crack or pop and fall from the sky.  The result was probably some helium loss and an eventual downward drift to a level where winds were not as strong.  Simply put, a gradual decline to Midland where Michelle eventually found it.

In closing, there are a couple things to ponder.  First, I used 317 miles as a way to show the distance between Midland and Boaz, but the balloon logged many more miles.  The balloon not only had horizontal distance (a straight line is not how it truly travels), but also vertical distance (the ascent and decent isn't taken into account).  Finally, at least two more balloons have been reported.  Principal Scott has received a call from Bessemer City, NC and a call from South Carolina.

It's a pretty neat story and it's cool to think this all started as an idea in Boaz, AL!  The lessons we can take are those of interconnectedness, kindness and our dependence on each other.  Learning never stops and we can contribute in ways we'll never truly know unless we try.

Boaz Elementary School: Read Across BES Month

Monday, January 30, 2012

What's ahead for February?

It has been a mild winter, so far, and that mild winter will continue into the first day of February. Highs are likely to reach near 70 in much of central and eastern North Carolina Wednesday. However, there are now signs we could be in for a pattern change to colder weather beginning around this weekend or next week.

With the coming pattern change, computer models have had a difficult time with the forecast for the weekend. At this time, it appears we could be in for a dreary weekend with a cool rain. That forecast is subject to change though as we hope computer models will come into better agreement for the weekend forecast over the coming days.

Beyond this upcoming weekend, the Climate Prediction Center's 8 to 14 day outlook calls for below normal temperatures for much of the eastern United States including the Carolinas --

While we expect colder weather as we get closer to the middle of February (around 2/5 - 2/12), it is uncertain how long that cold weather will stay. The Climate Prediction Center still shows the month of February warmer than normal on average. With no measurable snowfall yet this winter in our part of North Carolina, I still get asked, "Will it snow this winter?" As I post this Monday morning (1/30), there is no snow in our 7-day forecast. Beyond that, it is still too early to speculate on any snow chances for February. Keep in mind, snow can still fall in our part of North Carolina into March. We'll just have to wait to see what the next several weeks bring.

Stay tuned to News 14 Carolina and Weather on the Ones for the latest on your local forecast!

Lee Ringer
News 14 Carolina Meteorologist

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

12 Years Ago: Record Snow in the Triangle

If you were in North Carolina January 25, 2000, you probably remember the day well. A snow storm blanketed much of central North Carolina with over a foot of snow. Nearly 2 feet of snow fell in parts of the Triangle. The official snowfall from the night of January 24 through January 25 at the Raleigh-Durham Airport was 20.3". That is the all time record snowfall from one storm for Raleigh-Durham.

The heavy snow in January 2000 was a surprise to many. Computer models did not do a good job forecasting the storm even 24 hours before the snow began. Many local forecasts were only calling for a few inches of snow the morning of January 24. Forecast totals increased through the day but did not come close to the 20" actual snowfall.

Over the last twelve years, a lot of research has been done on my that storm was not well forecast. Much of that research has been done locally at North Carolina State University. That research has improved the computer models we use to forecast today.

Click here to read more about the January 2000 storm.

Lee Ringer
News 14 Carolina Meteorologist

Friday, January 20, 2012

Up and Down Weekend

Hang on... we're in for a roller coaster ride when it comes to temperatures this weekend. We'll start mild and end up chilly. Milder air will build into the state late tonight as a warm front lifts to the north. That will bring temperatures well into the 60s Saturday. Some areas in southeastern North Carolina could easily hit 70.

A few showers will spread into the state with the warm front tonight. We'll look for a break from any rain through most of Saturday morning with the exception of a few sprinkles or an isolated shower. Nore widespread rain will arrive by Saturday afternoon and night. That more widespread rain will come ahead of a cold front that will move through the state late Saturday.

Much cooler air will wedge its way into central North Carolina behind the cold front Sunday. That will keep temperatures in the 40s all day in the Triangle along with clouds and drizzle. Highs will struggle to make it to the low 50s in the Sandhills and should reach the upper 50s near the coast.

Milder weather will return Monday when highs again will soar well into the 60s with some spots hitting 70 in southeastern North Carolina.

Be sure to stay tuned to News 14 Carolina for updates on the forecast through the weekend.

Lee Ringer
News 14 Carolina Meteorologist

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What's Ahead for the Rest of January?

Our up and down temperature roller coaster continues this week in North Carolina, but it appears we may be going up more than coming down through the rest of this month. Just check out the 6 to 10 day and 8 to 14 day temperature outlook from the Climate Prediction Center --

Both show temperatures above normal for much of the U.S. including here in the Carolinas.

In the short term, it will be a bit chilly the middle of this week. I am not expecting bitter cold but lows should drop to the 20s Thursday morning.

Temperatures will then be on the rise by the weekend with highs in the 60s. Most all indications are the warm up will continue into next week. We may be asking, "has spring arrived?" through the first half of next week. An early look at the forecast for next week shows some spots making it to at least 70 by around Tuesday or Wednesday.

We likely won't stay that warm though for the rest of winter. There are some indications we will turn colder around the last day or two of January or the first few days of February.

For those asking about snow, I don't see any chances for our part of North Carolina over the next week or two. It is still much to early to speculate on any snow chances for February or March. Stay tuned!

Lee Ringer
News 14 Carolina Meteorologist

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Chilly This Weekend, But Will It Last?

We are about to move into what is typically the coldest time of the year for North Carolina (mid to late January). Right on cue, colder air will spread into the Carolinas for Friday and the weekend. Temperatures will return to near and below normal levels for a few days. However, there are signs that this cold snap will not last long.

Most of central and eastern North Carolina can expect highs in the mid 40s to near 50 this weekend with lows in the mid 20s to near 30, but highs will return to the 50s with some spots approaching 60 by Tuesday. The above normal temperatures may continue beyond the middle of the week. The latest 6 to 10 day and 8 to 14 day forecasts from the Climate Prediction Center both show above normal temperatures across the southeast --

Overall, I don't see any significant changes to the weather pattern so far this winter - mostly mild with short cold snaps on occasion.

After above normal snowfall last winter, many people are still asking about snow for this winter. While a snow forecast more than a day or two ahead is never a guarantee in our part of North Carolina, I don't see any snow chances over the next one to two weeks. There's still plenty of time for snow to pop up in the forecast. We still must get through February and early March, but our current weather pattern will have to change for much of a snow chance around here this winter.

Lee Ringer
News 14 Carolina Meteorologist