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Active Winter Season For Eastern North Carolina

It's been an unusually active winter season with four snow storms so far.  We speak with local meteorologists about the reason why we're experiencing an increase in winter weather and find out what impacts the snow could have on our homes and vehicles.

This week, eastern North Carolina was blanketed with several inches of snow, again, making it the fourth snow event this winter.  Some counties received nearly a foot of winter precipitation while the immediate coast had mostly freezing rain and sleet.  Meteorologist Bob Fredrick is with the National Weather Service Office in Newport.

“The highest totals was a strip that ran from southern Duplin County sort of northeast through New Bern, to Pamlico County.  We had several reports of 10 or more inches centered around New Bern.  North and south of that, it dropped off quite a bit, up by Greenville, places like that, they got three to five.”

Ten inches of snow seems like a lot for eastern North Carolina, especially when the average annual snowfall total is only a couple of inches.  But Fredrick says a snow storm back in 1980 dumped almost three feet of snow in some areas.

“the biggest storm of the century was widespread 12 to 18 inches, up to 24 to 30 inches in some coastal sites.  Drifts were up to 8 feet.  There’s a big, famous one called the “Christmas Storm” of 1989 on December 23rd and 24th, that produced 5-8 inches of snow inland and 15-20 inches along the coast. And I think that produced one of the only white Christmases ever for coastal eastern North Carolina.”

While the snow from this latest storm isn’t setting any records, meteorologists are finding this winter season to be unique.  Ellen Bacca, a Meteorologist with WCTI says the frequency of winter storms is unusual for eastern North Carolina.

“usually, we only see one storm maybe two storms a year.  And this year, we’ve had four where the freezing line is set up right over eastern Carolina.”

 Back in November we had our first snow fall of the season. Several inches of snow and ice fell on January 28th and 29th.   Also, there was another smaller snow event on February 6th and 7th.  And this week, we had significant snow accumulation for some areas. 

There are several reasons we are experiencing an uptick in winter weather this season.  Meteorologist agree that the jet stream is dipping further south, bringing colder temperatures into the area.  That combined with precipitation is the main reason why we’re experiencing an increase in sleet, freezing rain and snow across the region.

“This setup is really what has been the driving force.”

Charlie Ironmunger is a meteorologist at WITN.  He says very cold temperatures originating in the Midwest are carried by the abnormally low jet stream into eastern North Carolina.  These colder than normal conditions create the perfect weather for wintery precipitation.

“We’ve seen such a large snow pack in the Rockies and in the Midwest.  That really allows the air over that region to really stay cool. When all that air stays really cold, it can expend more energy pushing it to us then having to warm up the air over the Midwest and then get to us.  So the snowpack is really making it easier for the jet stream to push south.”

In addition to the snowpack in the Midwest, WCTI Meteorologist Ellen Bacca believes an early accumulation of the Siberian snowpack has led to an active winter season.

“Up in Siberia, there’s been a study that shows that if you start to get snowpack accumulating early in the year, it starts to create this cold air mass.  And if it happens earlier in the year, the cold air mass can really get settled and grow stronger as we go throughout the year.”

Global weather patterns also have an impact on the winter precipitation we see in eastern North Carolina. Bacca says we’re experiencing an ENSO neutral year, which means neither El Nino or La Nina conditions are present.

“The Bermuda high usually takes care of us.  It steers everything to the north of us.  So we usually see a couple cold intrusions each year. But this year, that Bermuda high isn’t there.  Instead of being there to steer everything to the north of us, it is way, way on the other side of the Atlantic.  So because of that, we get our jet stream and all that cold air to kind of sag down into eastern Carolina.”

 Many factors are contributing to a cold winter for us, and the four snow events we’ve had this year.  Perhaps even more unusual than the frequency of snow events is the mix of winter precipitation.  Meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Newport Brian Cullen.

“There are forecasters here that have been here 20-25 years we actually have one that grew up in Beaufort.  He doesn’t recall seeing so much difficulty with the different precipitation types. Of course, we’ve had some historic snowfalls here, but to get this mix and have it come fairly often, in succession here, is definitely unusual. It’s definitely unusual.”

 Spring is still more than a month away so the possibility of another snow storm can’t be ruled out.  With all the winter precipitation, it begs the questions, what impact does this have on our homes and vehicles?  Before each snow event, the Department of Transportation coats major roads and highways with salt or brine solution.  The salt lowers the freezing temperature of water.  But it does have some drawbacks.  Pitt County Maintenance Engineer for DOT Jeremy Stroud says if the salt is left on your car for too long, it can be corrosive.

“Here at DOT Maintenance, after each event, we clean our trucks and clean out our spreaders, which is what the salt sits in before we put it out on the road.  We pressure wash that equipment to try to eliminate the possibility of the salt affecting the metals and becoming corrosive and causing rust.”                                   

 Stroud says the best way to remove salt from your vehicle after a snow event is with soap and water.

 “try to pressure wash it.  A lot of these car washes, you know the laser washes that have pressure, they would probably do the trick on your personal vehicles.”

 Make sure to spray the undercarriage of your car and clean the wheel wells thoroughly.  If your vehicle is really salty, you can add a couple of tablespoons of baking soda to your soap bucket help remove and neutralize the salt. 

The greatest threat to your comfort during the winter months is freezing pipes.  Stephen Bryant is the owner of Eastern Plumbing in Greenville.  He says pipes near exterior walls are especially susceptible to freezing.

 “Most of the homes on the interior of the crawlspace are protected from heat loss from a heating and air unit. Typically, we don’t have problems in eastern North Carolina unless it stays below freezing for three, four, five days consecutively.”

With a very cold winter season, Bryant says he’s had a significant increase in repair calls.

“It has magnified tenfold on the days that we’ve had extremely cold weather where it’s below 30 degrees, 20,15. Frozen pipes, exterior tankless water heaters have really been a huge problem for our customers.”

 Letting a faucet drip during extreme cold weather can prevent a pipe from bursting.  Bryant says more effective methods include wrapping at least one inch of insulating material around pipes.  Heat trace, an electrical heating element, can be installed on exterior pipes and pump houses to prevent them from freezing.  Bryant also suggests closing crawl space vents during the winter.

“In the wintertime, that prevents wind from blowing through.  Wind will really cause pipes to freeze really quickly. It also allows that heat loss from your heating and air system to go out. If you close those crawlspace vents, it will keep some of that heat loss in the crawlspace.”

 Implementing these tips will protect your property during this abnormally cold winter.  Even stranger than the weather… This week, a 2.5 magnitude earthquake was reported in Beaufort County on Tuesday afternoon, 9 miles east of Aurora.  According to WITN, residents in Beaufort and Pamlico counties said they felt the tremor or heard a boom, however, no damage was reported.  The US Geological Survey said the tremor was located 2.4 miles underground.  The earthquake occurred at 3pm on February 11th

Jared Brumbaugh is the Assistant General Manager for Public Radio East. An Eastern North Carolina native, Jared began his professional public radio career at Public Radio East while he was a student at Craven Community College earning his degree in Electronics Engineering Technology. During his 15+ years at Public Radio East, he has served as an award-winning journalist, producer, and on-air host. When not at the station, Jared enjoys hiking, traveling, and honing his culinary skills.