Snow, sleet and freezing rain is predicted to spread across the Charlotte metro region overnight, prompting forecasters to issue a winter storm warning for much of the area.
Larry Gabric, chief meteorologist at the National Weather Service office serving the western Carolinas, said he thinks sleet and freezing rain will be the major problems Thursday – with possibly enough freezing rain to cause power outages.
“We’re looking at up to one-third of an inch of ice from this system,” Gabric said Wednesday afternoon.
In past ice storm situations, Duke Energy officials have said accumulations of one-quarter inch of ice can cause scattered outages, and a half-inch can cause widespread problems. Thursday’s storm figures to be in the middle of those situations.
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However, WCNC-TV meteorologist Brad Panovich said it is possible that the biggest problem from Thursday’s storm might be sleet, rather than freezing rain.
The difference will be the amount and location of warm air in upper layers of the atmosphere.
The winter storm warning is in effect along the Interstate 85 corridor and includes York and Cherokee counties.
Regardless of whether it’s freezing rain or sleet, Gabric said, Thursday morning’s commute could be a problem.
“We expect some problems for morning commuters, especially in the Charlotte metro area,” he said.
Road crews in Charlotte and elsewhere across the area already are preparing. Trucks began spreading a brine compound on roads in Mecklenburg County at 1 p.m. Wednesday. The brine, a mixture of salt and water, has been shown to prevent the buildup of ice on roads. Roads which have been treated in advance will have a white residue this afternoon and evening.
Gabric said recent warm weather could be a big help for motorists. He said the ground is warm, from recent 70-degree days, and he expects much of the sleet and freezing rain to melt when it hits the ground Thursday morning.
“The biggest problem probably will be on bridges and overpasses,” he said.
The wintry precipitation will be caused by a storm system expected to develop late tonight off the South Carolina coast. Gabric said precipitation will begin spreading into central and western South Carolina shortly after midnight, then reach the Charlotte area about 4 a.m.
It probably will begin as snow in Charlotte, but Gabric said he expects nothing more “than just a dusting.” The changeover to sleet is expected by daybreak.
Precipitation will continue into the early afternoon hours, possibly changing to rain before coming to an end.
Temperatures are not expected to climb much above freezing Thursday.
Forecasters originally though the storm system would be weak, producing no more than a quarter-inch of rain. But they now say the storm will produce a half-inch of melted precipitation.
Partly sunny skies and more seasonable temperatures are expected to return Friday, but yet another winter storm could threaten the region Sunday night and Monday.