2018: Weather Year in Review

Happy New Years Eve to everyone across the Western Carolinas! We are about six hours away from the end of 2018…and for the residents of the Foothills and Western Piedmont of North Carolina it has been a year that folks will be talking about for years to come.

All kinds of weather phenomena has taken its toll on the entire state of North Carolina and for us here in the Western part of the state we experienced and felt our fair share of historic weather events. Tonight we will look back at the three biggest weather stories that our eight county coverage area were impacted by in 2018…

3. The Great January Cold Wave

Mother Nature wasted no time in putting her imprint on the calendar year. Infact, the first big weather story of 2018 started hours prior to the stroke of midnight. An arctic outbreak gripped the region with several days of brutally cold weather, for Western North Carolina standards. This came on the heels of a cold snap that pushed into the Southeast days prior.

I-40 Old Fort Mountain (12-31-17)

On New Years Eve 2017, an arctic front with shallow moisture delivered a light but very dangerous icing along the Blue Ridge Escarpment. Temperatures at the time of the icing were in the low to mid 20’s which meant any moisture instantly froze. The end result were dozens of accidents in the NW Foothills. One area hit he hardest was on Interstate 40 (Old Fort Mountain) in Western McDowell County, where the virtual flash freeze closed the entire mountain down for hours stranding motorists driving through the area.

After the icing event a bitter cold airmass moved into the region for the New Year. Temperatures for the first 7 days of the month never reached above the freezing mark while each night saw temps drop down into the single digits and teens depending on location. The arctic outbreak was so severe that it displaced the moisture content during that timeframe. The extent of the cold was record-breaking for some…Downtown Marion recorded an official high of 24 degrees on New Years Day which was a record low maximum temperature for that date.

The outbreak once we reached several days into the event turned into a local hazard in regards to heating and plumbing disruptions for local residents and for those outdoors the dangers of iced over lakes, streams and waterfalls were realized.

Temperatures on January 9th finally reached above the freezing mark ending a multi-day streak of dangerously cold weather…and ironically, less than a week later most of the same locations blow-torched into the 50’s and 60’s…just another example of the highly variable weather pattern that is common in the Carolinas…

Local Strems, Waterfalls and Lakes during January Cold Wave

2. December 8th-9th Winter Storm….

Needless to say the 2018-19 Winter Season started off with a bang…our weather team monitored and covered an early season bout with Old Man Winter. The result was one of the biggest snows in decades for parts of the coverage area along with a significant icing event for others.

The genesis of this storm came early in the ball game, so to speak. A lot of the computer model guidance that we use daily hinted at a winter weather threat during the first week of December and once we got closer to the storm, we put out an early warning on the potential for a major winter weather event across all of Western North Carolina.

The storm was created due to a split-flow pattern where the northern stream provided the cold air while an amped up sub-tropical jet stream provided the abundant moisture. Strong upper level energy came ashore the West Coast of California around December 5th, traversed the Four Corners and then spawned a surface low along the Gulf Coast on the 7th. By Saturday the 8th, cold air was in place and by that late evening heavy snowfall and sleet ravaged the region and it lasted through the afternoon of Sunday December 9th before ending. The snowfall rates resulted in power outages and a serious disruption of traffic for a couple days.

Snowfall amounts ranged in the 12-17 inch range along and North of Interstate 40, the highest amount recorded inside our coverage area was in Little Switzerland (McDowell Co) where 22 inches was measured near the Blue Ridge Parkway. These totals are the highest since the 2009-10 Winter Season and the 22 inch amount at Little Switzerland is the most since March of 1993.

Slightly warmer air invaded the mid levels of the atmosphere across the Southern tier limiting snowfall amounts into the 4-8 inch range with sleet and freezing rain on top of it creating an equally big mess. Our snowfall forecast verified well compared to ground confirmation.

Thankfully a lack of brutal cold air behind the storm helped allow snow melt to occur within 3-4 days after the precip fell.

Thankfully a lack of brutal cold air behind the storm helped allow snow melt to occur within 3-4 days after the precip fell.

1. 2018: The Year of the Rain

Well, this is a no-brainer! The biggest weather story for 2018 has been the massive onslaught of precipitation in amounts that have never been seen before.

The state of North Carolina has broken many records in regards to rainfall and we are right in the middle of it. The first three months of the year featured rainfall that was close to average. But once we reached mid to late April, mother nature went into overdrive bringing deluge after deluge throughout the rest of the calendar year.

There were several factors that have led to the seemingly endless rainfall this year.

1. The Carolinas were recipients of three separate tropical systems. Alberto in May brought serious flooding and landslides to the region. Florence soaked the entire state back in September and then the remnants of Michael in October provided more in the way of serious flooding and mud slides…

2. Sub-topical Jetstream and developing Moduki El’Nino has provided an extra moisture tap during the months of October, November and December…

3. Long-wave trough during the summer months generally developed along and West of the Mississippi River meaning that moist southwest flow and little capping aloft yielded a typical summer thunderstorm season. There was a 3-4 week timeframe in June/July where Southeast ridging did squelch rainfall production but overall the pattern was favorable for daily storms.

The end result of this pattern has been some extreme rainfall amounts, especially in locations where topography plays a big factor.

The rainfall has been historic for sections of the FWN Coverage Area. Three NWS COOP reporting stations finished 2018 with highest yearly rainfall on record...those stations include Morganton at 76.35 inches, Lake Lure at 95.95 inches and Downtown Marion at an astounding 104.51 inches. The total for Marion is exactly twice the normal yearly rainfall (52.25 avg)

Here is map of totals that we compiled earlier today across the coverage area. The data include local COOP, CoCoRaHS observers and Trained Spotter reports...

Without a doubt 2018 is going down as one for the record books and it appears that January 2019 will begin on an active note. As always, you can find out the best weather info online here at our website and on social media.


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