The National Weather Service has declared Nov. 29 – Dec. 5 winter weather awareness week, using it to educate the public on the different hazards the cold months can bring.
Graphics and images posted by the NWS throughout the week included a glossary of winter weather warnings, the different phases of cold-weather precipitation and things that citizens should have on hand at home, work or in their car to deal with weather emergencies.
According to Steve Pfaff, warning coordination meteorologist with the NWS in Wilmington, the Cape Fear region doesn’t often get the severe warnings and watches that other areas get during the winter but will see its fair share of activity.
“We’ll probably see more winter storm advisories issued, which is one step below a warning,” said Pfaff.
Though forecasters have already predicted a wet winter for the local area, Pfaff said that might not necessarily translate into lots of snow or ice, at least not right away.
“The way the pattern is now, at least for the next month, we think temperatures could be above normal,” Pfaff said. “Our longer term patterns, looking ahead to January and February, look more favorable for below average temperatures.”
The area’s last major winter storm came in February 2014 when the region was hit by a massive ice storm, which shut down roads and municipalities for days and left thousands without power. While Pfaff said it’s too soon to tell whether a winter storm of that magnitude will hit Wilmington this coming season, he stressed that it’s important for people to be prepared for the possibility.
“It’s infrequent, but it’s frequent enough that we have to be ready for it,” Pfaff said, adding that on average the area gets a big ice event every four to five years and a major snowfall every six years or so. “This is the South, but we’re far enough north that we’re right at the edge of where all this weather happens.”
Coastal Carolina is more closely associated with hurricanes than with winter weather, but the area saw a brush with just one storm this last Atlantic hurricane season, which ended Monday. According to Pfaff, forecasters were on target with their predictions of a below-average summer storm season, but residents shouldn’t be complacent with their preparations for any kind of weather event.
“We live in the part of the country where we get a little bit of everything,” said Pfaff. “Regardless of what the prediction is, be prepared for the worst.”
The NWS suggests that people keep supplies like blankets, flashlights, first aid kits, battery-powered electronics and extra batteries and chargers, matches, and extra food and water with them at home as well as in their cars. Extra clothes, emergency flares and ropes are also encouraged for vehicles in case motorists run into bad weather on the road.
“Dress for the weather that’s facing us. We’ve got to make sure we’ve got warm clothing if we’re going out,” said Pfaff. “Stay warm and have things that can get you out of a jam. In severe weather events, emergency services can be overwhelmed and you could be stuck for a while.
“We need to keep this in mind and have a plan,” Pfaff added. “We want everyone to be safe.”
Terms to remember, from the National Weather Service:
Winter Storm Warning: issued when two or more issues of snow or sleet are expected to accumulate during a 12-hour period or when three or more inches are expected over a 24-hour period
Ice Storm Warning: issued when a quarter inch or more of ice is expected to accumulate during a 24-hour period
Wind Chill Warning: issued when winds of at least five miles per hour with wind chills of 15 degrees below zero or lower are expected
Black Ice (sometimes called clear ice): thin coating of glazed ice on a surface that is invisible to motorists and therefore hazardous
Snow Flurries: light snow that falls with little to no accumulation over short periods of time
Snow Showers: brief periods of varying intensities of snowfall with the potential to accumulate
Sleet: raindrops that freeze into ice before hitting the ground and can accumulate like snow on roads and walkways, making for hazardous conditions
Freezing Rain: liquid precipitation that freezes when it hits a surface with a temperature that is below freezing, forming a coating of ice on trees, power lines and roadways