Sunday, March 10, 2013

Snow Today, Gone Tomorrow

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager


As I write this column, the “S” word is in the weather forecast, maybe. When I taught school, I always instructed my students to wear their pajamas wrong side out on the nights that snow was predicted to fall. Most teachers are as foolish as children are when it comes to the magical precipitation. A snow day off is like playing hooky with God’s permission.

Common adages about encouraging snow include placing a spoon under your pillow, leaving ice cubes on the porch, putting a white crayon in your freezer, shaking a snow globe while dancing, and flushing an ice cube down your toilet.

People in the South see snow differently than anywhere else in the country. Northerners think we are crazy when we hesitate to drive in it, stop all normal activities, and generally lose our minds over one inch of the white stuff.

On March 2, 1980, Elizabeth City and eastern North Carolina experienced blizzard conditions of winds over fifty miles an hour, extremely cold temperatures, and lots of snow. We received Willard Scott’s Golden Shovel Award for the most snow in the country that day. The official measurement was twenty-five inches with drifts up to 30 inches. Then two weeks later, it happened again.

That snowfall was an amazing experience. I stood on my front porch that night and heard the huge pine trees crack and drop their branches. The muffled, insulated sound of the wind was unforgettable. I happily hold onto that memory because it is unlikely to ever happen again. I think.

With the many popular old sayings about snow, there is usually some scientific truth. Some folks say, “It is too cold to snow.” Actually, snow starts falling at around 2 degrees Celsius and up to minus 40 degrees Celsius. Moisture content in the air is the main factor enabling snow. As the temperature falls dramatically, the moisture drops too, so there is little chance of snow.

Photo by Jessica Faulkingham
Northeastern NC has several mitigating factors when it comes to its snowfall. With so much water surrounding us and keeping us warmer, a barrier is formed that keeps us more likely to get rain than snow.

However, we also can experience what is called lake, bay, or ocean snows. These events happen when very cold winds move across long expanses of warm water. The water vapor is picked-up, freezes, and is deposited as snow.

Local news stations try their best to predict our weather, but it is difficult. They use the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecast (ECMWF) or “European model” located in Reading, England. They also use the Global Forecast System (GFS) model located in College Park, MD from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The European model is statistically more accurate primarily because it has a larger database.

By the way, the Farmer’s Almanac for 2013 has red flagged March 20-23 for a major storm along the Atlantic seaboard with wind and heavy precipitation. Get ready.
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