Sunday snow forecast: big impact for travel but details still tricky as of Thursday night

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(WOWK) — Snow, sleet and freezing rain are all possible Sunday in the region thanks to a developing storm. This looks to be a big impact weather event even though the final amount of snow to forecast has not been determined. Weather models agree there will be a storm with some wide ranging impacts but the details are still quite different on different models. See the likely progression of rain and snow on the weather model slide show below. Blue is snow, green is rain and pink is a mix of rain, snow and possibly sleet.

One of the famous terms meteorologists talk about is the “warm wedge.” In this case the StormTracker 13 meteorologists expect a southwest feed of air to float in that could mean sleet, rain, freezing rain or melting snow in the middle of the viewing area through much of Sunday. This doesn’t mean we won’t see snow, it means we should see less snow in those areas. Meanwhile a cold easterly wind should trap enough cold air in the eastern mountains for healthy snow amounts. A northwest wind on the tail end of the system will allow the precipitation to be snow on the western side of the viewing area.

Warm wedge setup for Sunday

The surface features are just starting to show up out west late Thursday and the storm has a long way to travel before Sunday.

Surface features as of 6p.m. Thursday

The upper air features shown below are the areas of spin in the atmosphere that will aid in creating lift of the air mass, which leads to the precipitation. As of late Thursday the energy had moved inland from the Pacific Ocean so we should start to see more agreement in weather models now that more actual readings will be put into the calculations.

Upper air features as of Thursday night
Upper air energy helping create the storm shown on Sunday night

Factors that can change the amount of snow:

  • warmer or colder upper air temperatures
  • position and track of the low
  • the temperature of the air near the ground as the system arrives
  • the amount of daytime hours when the snow falls – snow will melt more during the day
  • more sleet or freezing rain cuts snow totals

While there are various snow totals out there on weather models that go from a mere inch to more than 14 inches of snow, it should be noted that these are just data points showing what one set of calculations produces for snow within that model.

A good way to handle those iffy situations where models are all over the place is to graph them out and look at averages. The model averages below for several models for Huntington (as of Thursday afternoon) shows an average snow somewhere between 6 and 7 inches. Is that the final answer? No. It’s an average of several models. It’s a good starting point and meteorologists will look for changes now with each new data drop which takes place about every 6 to 12 hours.

Huntington model meteogram from Iowa State University shows average 6-7 inches of snow Sunday
Charleston model meteogram from Iowa State University shows average 7-8 inches of snow Sunday

If you note, the series of models for Charleston actually shows more snow than the amounts for Huntington. But that’s not the total story. Many more models show a “weak spot” over Charleston (actually a line from Pikeville to Logan to Charleston to Sutton to Clarksburg) where the warm wedge would either produce less snow or add more sleet. Those elements are not being taken into account.

Using a different series of models and then making small changes (called perturbations) and running the models again and again for the same location, we end up with an interesting and totally different result when the mean is applied. Charleston then comes out to about 2.5 inches of snow. There are some individual “members” of the models shown below that have as much as 15 inches of snow but many more that have none at all.

SREF ensemble members of snow output for Charleston from NOAA SPC

Huntington shows the same kind of ensemble model output with a mean output of 3.6 inches of snow.

SREF ensemble members of snow output for Huntington from NOAA SPC

Another way the National Weather Service looks at models is what’s called the National Blend of Models which uses multiple models. It’s calling for several inches of snow as well over the area but again it shies away from the extreme amounts shown on some individual models. This blend of models also shows the weak spot in totals from SE KY up to north-central WV generally along I-79.

National Blend of Models output for snow as of 7pm Thursday – likely will change

It should be pointed out that while we face snow and a small amount of freezing rain in some areas, those with plans to drive or fly south should know that a significant amount of ice is possible across the Carolinas Sunday. There will also likely be a significant amount of snow in Virginia and areas of North Carolina down to about Statesville. Travel on I-77 south of West Virginia on Sunday will likely be treacherous. There could be delays with flights that move in and out of the Charlotte Airport as well on Sunday and Monday.

Sunday through Monday freezing rain areas.

Takeaways:

  • Significant snow is likely to happen Sunday
  • A “weak spot” or “warm wedge” is likely to cut amounts somewhere in the center of the region
  • Sleet could also knock down totals
  • Some freezing rain is possible for a few hours but we’re not looking at an ice storm
  • Models generally average out to 3″-6″ of snow along the Ohio River, near Huntington
  • Models generally average more like 2″-4″ of snow in a zone east of Huntington in a narrow band oriented SW-NE before picking up again with higher amounts to the east
  • Models generally average out to 6″-12″ of snow in the high mountains
  • Snow forecast amounts can and will likely change in the next 24 -48 hours
  • Even though it’s daytime snow, travel will be slow between slick conditions and low visibility Sunday
  • Night time temperatures Sunday night dip to the mid 20s meaning no snow melt at night
  • Snow squalls are likely on Monday as a secondary bubble of energy comes across the region with possible small areas of low visibility
  • Monday is a federal holiday meaning less traffic in general on the morning commute

Models will likely continue to grow more consistent in the coming hours and more snow forecast maps will be forthcoming from the StormTracker 13 meteorologists in the near future. Keep checking wowktv.com for updates.

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