Snow Forecasting in McDowell County, NC, USA

My father, Don Smith, was a weather forecaster in the Air Force. As part of a project during this time he researched snowfall inMcDowell County, where he was from. With only two exceptions over the entire period that records had been kept, he discovered that McDowell County gets significant snow accumulation only under a very specific set of circumstances.

  • The Jet Stream must track down into the Gulf of Mexico and then angle up between Asheville and Charlotte. (The closer it passes to Asheville the more we get. Any further west and the mountains block most of the snow. The further east it passes the less we get. Due to the angle, the storm clips the southern Appalachian Mountains and snowfall for McDowell County tapers off to nothing by about Charlotte.)
  • There must be a low pressure area (clouds with precipitation) that forms or strengthens in the gulf and then rides the jet stream to our location.
  • As the low pressure system passes over us the air temperature must be at or below freezing at ground level and all the way up to the cloud layer. (If it’s freezing above but warm at the surface we get rain. If it’s warm at the surface but the ground is frozen we get freezing rain. If it’s warm above but freezing at the surface we get hail as the precipitation starts out as snow, melts to rain, and then refreezes.)

As noted above there were only two exceptions to the above pattern when my father looked at the records. One of those exceptions was a massive storm that came west over the mountains from Tennessee. The storm was so massive and moved so fast that it didn’t expend all its precipitation climbing over the Applachian Mountains so McDowell County got snow. The other exception was a Nor’Easter that came from the east. If my memory is correct the Blizzard of ’93 was also a Nor’Easter and counts as a third exception.

2 responses to “Snow Forecasting in McDowell County, NC, USA

  1. Your dad was great Christian man. And he rocked as a teacher and weather forecaster.You can find me on facebook if you ever want to share stories or talk weather.

  2. Vickey Justice

    Hi Daniel, What a surprise! I googled blizzard and McDowell Co. and found your blog. My secretary was talking about how cold it is now just before April and I was sharing how it was either a very heavy frost or a light snow on my birthday May 14, 1960. Uncle Bill Calahan always commented on that when he saw me. Brenda said she thought the recent blizzard was in 1993 and you just confirmed it. Hope you have a great day. This is just a one time comment. I don’t usually do social media. I get too wrapped up and it becomes too time consuming. I just wanted to wish you, Rebecca and the girls a Happy Easter.

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