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Arctic blasts in December

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By Niki Morock, Meteorologist

The question on everyone’s mind today seems to be “How cold will it really be this weekend?”  My answer is “pretty darn cold.”  Normal high temperatures for this time of year are in the upper 50s, and on Friday and Saturday, the high is forecast to be around 40 degrees.  Arctic blasts for this time of year are unusual, but not unheard of.

Do you remember where you were on December 4th and 5th, 2002?  If you were in western and central North Carolina, you might.  On those dates, we had a record breaking winter storm.  In fact, by the time it was all over, Raleigh received the most freezing rain from a single storm since 1948 according to a summary on the State Climate Office of North
Carolina’s website.

Ice accumulation in 2002 storm

Freezing rain accumulation map from the National Weather Service Raleigh Office for the December 4-5, 2002 storm

The initial setup for the event was similar to what we expect at the end of this week as far as temperatures go.  A cold front crossed the state the night of December 3rd, and an arctic air mass followed. Low temperatures fell into the 20s in the Triangle the morning of the 4th, and with that cold air in place at the surface, when moisture arrived, wintry precipitation began to fall.

You can see by the map created by Jonathan Blaes and Phillip Badgett at Raleigh’s National Weather Service office that northern Wake County recieved up to an inch of freezing rain.  Additionally, another one to two inches of snow fell.  It was definitely a storm for the history books, especially since the Triangle ususally doesn’t see winter storms like that until late winter and early spring.

Thankfully, this week’s arctic blast will have dry air behind it.  While we’ll need warm coats, gloves and scarves, snow boots are not going to be necessary.