The coldest air mass so far this season arrived in the Carolinas on Tuesday morning, sending temperatures into single digits in the higher elevations of North Carolina’s mountains and threatening to produce morning lows in the teens Wednesday.
Over the horizon, a possible freezing rain or snow event is being eyed Friday in parts of the Carolinas.
Arctic air began spilling into the Carolinas after midnight. By 10 a.m., the temperature was only 3 degrees at Mount Mitchell, at well over 6,000 feet elevation. But it also was brutally cold -- by Carolinas standards -- at lower elevations. Franklin, in the western mountains, had a reading of 8 degrees. And it was only 11 degrees late Tuesday morning in Hendersonville.
Under full sunshine, temperatures gradually recovered a bit, hitting the 40-degree mark in Charlotte by mid-afternoon. But a cold night is in store for the region.
National Weather Service meteorologists say the temperature likely will be in the upper teens by daybreak Wednesday, and 10 degrees or even slightly colder in the higher elevations.
The air is extremely dry. The dewpoint temperature, a measurement of humidity in the atmosphere, was minus-4 degrees in Charlotte at 2 p.m. That is about 40 degrees colder than at the same time Monday.
Only a slight rebound in temperatures is forecast for Wednesday and Thursday, despite near full sunshine each day. Charlotte’s highs are expected to climb into the middle 40s, which is about 8 degrees below the average at this time of year.
The next big question mark comes Friday, when a low pressure system is forecast to dive from the Midwest into the Southeast. The computer models, as usual, don’t agree on the track of the storm, the amount of precipitation it will have, or the temperature of the atmosphere at the time.
However, the trend in the models over the last 12 to 18 hours has been toward a solution of frozen precipitation -- at least for a few hours -- in the Charlotte region. National Weather Service meteorologists say they think precipitation levels will be light. Freezing rain appears to be the most likely form of precipitation for Charlotte, with a mix of sleet, snow and freezing rain farther to the north.
“The event looks to be fairly low impact at this time,” the Weather Service’s James Oh said earlier Tuesday.
But that could change over the next two days, as the low pressure system forms across the western United States and moves eastward.