Winter weather forecast up in the air for next several days

By ED HOWELL, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 12/27/17

It was expected to be a close call this morning on whether the area would have a mix of rain and sleet, but a National Weather Service meteorologist said the weather would warm up today.

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Winter weather forecast up in the air for next several days


It was expected to be a close call this morning on whether the area would have a mix of rain and sleet, but a National Weather Service meteorologist said the weather would warm up today.

As for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, another threat of freezing rain and low temperatures may loom, but meteorologist Jim Westland from the National Weather Service office in Birmingham said Tuesday that it may take a couple more days or so before anyone has a better handle on that situation. He advised no one to cancel travel plans — but to be ready for contingency plans.

He said at mid-afternoon Tuesday there was a good chance of rain that night after midnight, with the Jasper area being on the “southern end of the potential for having sleet mixed in with that as well.” He said that would come primarily after midnight and to about 9 a.m. today.

Westland said some slick spots on roads and bridges could take place, but noted the low temperature was set to hover around freezing at 32 or 33 degrees. Moreover, temperatures will rise to the lower 40s this afternoon.

“It will be a quick hitting thing and it won’t get that much colder, so we’re not expecting anything to be widespread bad as far as impacts,” he said.

A hazardous weather notice put out early Tuesday afternoon for the Jasper area by the NWS office said, “Rain may mix with sleet and freezing rain after midnight generally along and north of a line from Fayette to Jasper to Gadsden. The best chance for any impacts from freezing rain should be confined to Marion and Winston counties, where minor accumulations cannot be ruled out. Mixed precipitation could continue to cause isolated impacts for the aforementioned areas through 9 a.m. Wednesday.”

The NWS forecast Tuesday afternoon called for 60 percent chance of precipitation for Jasper Tuesday night, with little or no sleet accumulation expected. However, the precipitation forecast for Double Springs Tuesday night was even lower, at 40 percent, also with little or no sleet accumulation expected.

As for the long-range forecast for the New Year’s holiday, the forecast Tuesday afternoon called for “a slight chance of rain, snow, and sleet” in the Jasper area, with the chance of precipitation set at 20 percent. A low of 21 is called for Sunday night and a high of 36 on Monday.

However, some other forecasts online Tuesday were warning of possible problems Sunday night and going into Monday. One weather app from WTVA-TV in Tupelo, Miss., is going as far for Jasper as to call on Sunday for 40 percent precipitation, with snow changing to wintry mix — as well as a Sunday high of 37 degrees, a Sunday low of 18, a Monday high of 30 and a Monday low of 12.

“It does look colder. There are a lot of questions regarding moisture and precipitation in addition to the cold,” Westland said. “We’re getting mixed signals from various different computer models.” 

He said some weather apps on phones can use one model that has the worst case scenario, where the NWS looks at different models.

“If we think one of the models has the best handle on the situation, we’ll kind of nudge our forecast in that direction,” he said. “In this case, one model is saying really cold but no precipitation at all. Another one might say, ‘Well, there is some moisture coming up here and you have to watch it, but it is not as cold.’”

Westland said essentially it is too early to tell about what will happen with Sunday and Monday.

“I would keep an eye on it but not give a lot of attention to worst case scenario model solutions that some people are putting out on social media or through their weather apps,” he said. “It is very fluid. It certainly needs to be watched, but it is so far out there.” 

Westland said some forecasts are predicting some very cold air during the holiday, but some of that could depend on getting some wintry weather, such as a snowpack.

A better handle can usually be obtained about three to five days away from a system, he said, as that is when the weather system coming here actually gets to the West Coast and weather balloon data can actually be gathered.

As for holiday travelers, “I would say people don’t need to change their plans or cancel any plans based on a forecast that is five, six, seven days out,” he said. “Come up with some contingency in case you have to change those plans but don’t cancel based on the forecast right now.”