The winter storm headed toward North Carolina could drop 9 inches of snow and ice in the Charlotte area this weekend, according to the latest National Weather Service estimate at 5 p.m. Friday.
Charlotte could see 0.13 of an inch of ice, according to a map of expected ice accumulations issued by the NWS office in Greer, S.C. Charlotte faces lows of 31 degrees Saturday and Sunday and 27 degrees on Monday, NWS forecasters said Friday.
At 4:30 p.m. Friday, Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency for all 100 N.C. counties. Parts of the state “are forecast to get up to 18 inches of snow and ice Saturday through Monday, along with gusty winds,” Cooper said in a statement. “Nearly all of the state is expected to feel some sort of impact from the storm.”
Duke Energy said Friday the company expects at least a half-million homes and businesses in the Carolinas to lose power.
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Cooper said at a Friday morning news conference that he already activated emergency services, including the National Guard. The storm is likely to impact most of the state with a mix of snow, ice, heavy rain, freezing rain and potential flooding, he said.
Cooper called a storm of this magnitude unusual for the state in December.
“The storm comes at a time of year when North Carolinians are usually hearing Christmas carols about snow and not actually seeing it,” Cooper said. “But this time the real thing is headed our way. The winter storm is not a Christmas carol snow. It’s serious, and you need to take steps now to get your family ready.”
Charlotte road crews have been “pretreating” or “brining” streets, bridges and culverts for two days, Liz Babson, director of the Charlotte Department of Transportation, said at a 4 p.m. Friday city of Charlotte news conference.
The city will have 37 trucks clearing roads 24-7 beginning Saturday night, she said.
Cooper is warning North Carolinians that cold temperatures could settle in after the initial rain and snow pass Monday, creating “treacherous” roads for an extended period. “Be prepared to stay put for a few days when the storm rolls in,” Cooper said. “It looks like there will be a wide range of snowfall out there.”
“If you don’t have to be out on the roads, please don’t do it,” Johnny Jennings, deputy chief of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, said at the city’s Friday afternoon news conference.
A 100 percent chance of “heavy mixed precipitation” is expected Sunday in the Charlotte area, starting just after midnight, the National Weather Service forecast.
Snowfall predictions for the weekend continue to be highest north and west of Mecklenburg County, topping out at 16 inches forecast for Morganton, Lenoir and Burnsville, according to the NWS 5 p.m. Friday update.
Hickory and Asheville could see 15 inches, Statesville 13, Lincolnton a foot, Salisbury 11, Gastonia 9, Monroe 4 and Rock Hill 2 inches, the NWS projects.
Monday morning commuters will likely face snow and sleet before 8 a.m., then a chance of sleet from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., say NWS forecasters. The high for the day will near 38 and the chance of precipitation is 60 percent, says the Friday morning NWS forecast.
The Weather Channel offers a bit of hope, however, with forecasters predicting it’s possible the rain will quickly wash away the snow, aided by temperatures rising above freezing.
Ice continues to be a major concern for counties south and east of Charlotte, including Union County, N.C., and York County, just south of the state line, according to the NWS.
At 5 p.m. Friday, the NWS projected the highest accumulation in the region at 0.26 inches in Spartanburg, S.C. Gastonia and Rock Hill can expect 0.13 inches and Monroe 0.14 inches, according to the NWS Greer office.
Forecasters say the storm will come in phases to the Charlotte area, starting with rain Saturday evening, changing to snow after midnight, then mixing with freezing rain during the mid to late morning hours Sunday. Freezing rain will likely fall Sunday afternoon, and turn to sleet and maybe snow in the evening as colder temperatures arrive.
The bad weather is expected to begin as early as Saturday morning in the N.C. mountains and Piedmont and Saturday night in the S.C./Georgia mountains, the NWS office in Greer tweeted at 4 p.m. Friday.
“Roads will become dangerous quickly!’ the NWS tweeted. “Please make sure you are taking this storm seriously.”
National Weather Service predictions have varied wildly in recent days (as much as 18 inches in Charlotte at one point) as forecasters tried to predict the line where cold high pressure from the east would collide with a moist system out of the Gulf of Mexico.
That line is currently expected to straddle the North Carolina-South Carolina state border , predicts the National Weather Service.
At 3:45 p.m. Friday, the National Weather Service added Charlotte and counties surrounding Mecklenburg to its winter storm warning that’s scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Saturday and continue until noon Monday. The warning had already been posted for the N.C. mountains.
Widespread power outages are possible for extended periods during and immediately following the storm, the NWS warns.
“Travel could be very difficult to impossible,” says the National Weather Service briefing. “Road conditions could deteriorate as early as Saturday evening, with highway travel continuing to be impacted through early next week. Visibility may drop to less than a half mile during periods of heavy snow.”