Snow, cold temps will be hard to find this winter in central NC


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The headlines this year in the weather world have mainly revolved around a record-breaking tropical season, but there likely won’t be any snow or cold records broken this winter in central North Carolina.

A continuation of the moderate to strong La Nina will help aid North Carolina in a drier and warmer than average December, January, and February. This will equate to less than average snow accumulation, which for central North Carolina over the past 30 years averages out to 5.1”.

La Nina helped contribute to our busy Atlantic hurricane season that saw a record number of 30 named storms. The cooling of the Pacific Ocean waters helped take us into the Greek alphabet for naming storms for only the second time ever.

The Pacific covers 30 percent of the planet and plays a big factor in our weather, especially in the winter. Last winter we were experiencing neutral El Nino conditions, meaning no La Nina or the opposite condition, El Nino. During the 2019-2020 winter in central North Carolina, we only saw 2.5” of snow all season even though we saw above-average rainfall.

More than 13″ (13.2) of rain fell last winter, which is above our average of 9.5” for the December, January, and February time frame. It just wasn’t cold enough to turn that rain into snow and that is a trend we’ve seen over the past several decades.

It was warm temperatures last winter that helped contribute to our low snow totals and the warm temperatures have continued in 2020. Three months so far in 2020 are the top ten warmest on record, March, July, and October. Globally, we are also on track to have one of the warmest years on record.

How many times over the years has a winter storm come to North Carolina and we find ourselves right on the rain/snow line. When you factor in the warmer temperatures a La Nina winter usually brings to North Carolina and the warming trend we have seen in North Carolina over the past several decades, it’s going to be harder and harder to get snow to fall in our area, instead of rain.

Warm temperatures and La Nina are not the only things that could influence our temperatures and snow this winter in North Carolina. As usual, we look at autumnal snow and ice amounts in other parts of the world. Arctic sea ice and snow in Siberia, Russia could impact the amount of cold air and snow we get on the east coast and in North Carolina.

This past October we saw a slightly above average snowpack in Siberia, but less than what we saw last year. The more snow we see there, the better chance we have of cold air moving from the north pole into the U.S. this winter.

Likewise, smaller amounts of Arctic sea ice around the North Pole also impact our weather, and right now there is a record low amount of sea ice. This reduced sea ice could also lead to more cold air in North Carolina. The problem is both these snow and ice markers only have small impacts on our winter pattern.

If you’re hoping the record October snow in the northern U.S. this year will eventually make it to North Carolina, think again. Early season snow north of here has little to no relation to North Carolina snow this winter.

Even the computer forecast models are pointing to a warm winter. A recent European forecast model for this winter shows well-above normal temperatures across much of the U.S including North Carolina.

This all leads us to forecast a warm winter, but not totally free from a few shots of cold air, but overall warmer than average temperatures. Precipitation amounts will likely be below average. Cold air blasts from the poles may not be as cold as needed to turn reduced amounts of rain into snow thanks to long-term warming and #snOMG amounts of snow look unlikely. The end result for the second year in a row will be a winter with below-average snowfall amounts.

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