02/02/09 — Forecaster: Some snow this week but winter will end with just cold

View Archive

Forecaster: Some snow this week but winter will end with just cold

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on February 2, 2009 1:46 PM

Long-term forecasters with the National Weather Service say Wayne County might see snow in the next few days, but that the region will likely have a dry spring.

The world's most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, had a similar forecast. He saw his shadow this morning at Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa., indicating that winter will last six more weeks.

German tradition holds that if a hibernating animal casts a shadow on Feb. 2 -- the Christian holiday of Candlemas -- winter will last another six weeks. If no shadow is seen, legend has it that spring will come early.

Since 1887, Phil has seen his shadow 97 times, hasn't seen it 15 times, and there are no records for nine years, according to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.

His North Carolina counterpart, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences' guest groundhog, Sir Walter Wally, came up with the same forecast this morning. He predicted this morning that North Carolinians will see winter-like conditions for the next month and a half.

As for the immediate future, area residents will likely see a warm day today with temperatures in the lower 60s.

But that won't last long.

Brandon Locklear, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Raleigh, said a cold front will move into the area this evening and tonight and bring a mix of precipitation with it.

"It will be fairly dry, with just enough moisture for a chance of pops (rain or snow showers)," he said. "You may see a brief changeover from rain to some very wet snow. The pre-dawn morning hours and sunrise have the best chance of precipitation."

But Locklear said that if there is snow, there will be "no accumulation, no impacts."

Tuesday will be a fairly cold day, with temperatures in the upper 30s and lower 40s.

"A strong upper level disturbance is coming in Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, bringing very cold and very dry air," he added.

With very cold and dry air, precipitation can vary, but the conditions Tuesday night and Wednesday morning are perfect for a light dusting of snow, maybe up to 2 inches, he said.

After winter conditions subside -- which the groundhogs predict to be six weeks from now -- Locklear said specialists from the climate prediction center with the National Weather Service are predicting a dry spring.

"They are showing La Nina conditions to develop in the Pacific (Ocean)," he said.

La Nina conditions are the exact opposite of El Nino conditions, meaning very little precipitation and inactivity.

Even though those conditions are predicted to occur on the West Coast, Locklear said they will affect the entire jet stream.

"The jet stream is what brings us our weather, all across North America," he said.

Locklear said it is likely that eastern North Carolina will hold off drought conditions this year.

"Right now, the hydrologist here at the office says that the reservoirs are completely full, and the (U.S. Army) Corps (of Engineers) is releasing water on a normal basis," he said.

But the Corps is also holding a little back.

"They are keeping some in reserve just in case," Locklear added.

Last year, there was some recovery on drought conditions with precipitation in the winter, but the Corps didn't reserve any water.

Locklear said officials won't make the same mistake this year.

But if the region starts seeing rainfall on a regular basis, the Corps will release on a regular basis, he added.

But the meteorologist is confident that the region will be OK.

"For central and eastern North Carolina, we are going to stand pretty well, even with a dry spring," he said.

Another plus is that groundwater levels have started to recover, Locklear said.

Last year at this time, groundwater levels were still below normal.

Last February, Wayne County was in the exceptional drought category, the worst level on the U.S. Drought Monitor scale.

It joined 66 other counties in that category, all that were dangerously low on water.

Twenty five counties in the state were in extreme drought, and eight were in severe drought -- the next two worst levels on the scale.

Today, the situation is reversed.

Wayne County is not without water worries, but it is not considered to be in a drought and might not see one this year, depending on the precipitation the area gets in the spring.

There are currently no counties in the exceptional or extreme drought categories, and only eight in the severe category.

Most of the counties formerly on the list have dropped off completely, like Wayne.

Eighteen counties in the state remain in moderate drought and 17 in abnormally dry -- the lowest categories on the scale.

One change came from precipitation -- the area received more rain this year than it did last year.

In 2007, the annual rainfall was measured at the Goldsboro Water Reclamation Facility at 36.07 inches, but in 2008, that number jumped to 49.18 inches.

The average for the past nine years was about 45.5 inches.

"The rainfall for 2007 was so low -- 9.43 inches lower than the average -- that drought's effects still lingered into 2008 until the rain totals began to increase toward the last part of the year," Goldsboro Public Utilities Director Karen Brashear said.

So far this year, more than 2.66 inches of rain have fallen.

Another reason that Wayne County isn't in the drought categories is that its citizens took on the duty of conserving where possible.

"Our citizens responded to these dry climactic conditions by conserving water," Mrs. Brashear said. "Even though it appears that rainfall has returned to more typical patterns, many of the good water conservation habits are still being used by our water customer."

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.