Viewer question: What does it take to get snow in Hampton Roads?

Posted at 10:09 AM, Nov 25, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-25 11:09:40-05

With the official start to winter less than a month away and the recent cold snaps across the area, many in Hampton Roads and Northeastern North Carolina are asking questions about what this winter season will bring.

This weekend I received an email from Philip with several questions about the winter season:

“My question is, in order to get a good snow event here in the Hampton Roads area is to have a storm either from the west or a storm coming up from the gulf coast states,which then meets up with cold air in place over Hampton Roads. Or a cold high pressure positioned just right over the eastern half of the country filtering in cold air over us. Is this true in most cases? Also the next 64 dollar question! What are the long range models and, or forecasts suggesting what type of winter we may be getting this year?”

Let’s start with the first question… What does it take to get snow in Hampton Roads? The short answer: Cold air and moisture, at the same place at the same time. That sounds simple but for much of the Mid-Atlantic it is trickier than it seems.

This time of year we do see big strong cold fronts that move down from the northwest and bring in large areas of arctic air (we have felt a few of these over the past few weeks). These systems are good at bringing in the cold but often lack large amounts of moisture. We also see areas of low pressure tracking up the coast, sometimes in the form of Nor’easters. Theses systems tend to bring in a lot of moisture but struggle to bring in the cold air. Our best snow chances usually arrive when we can get a mix or hybrid of these general types of storms. These are not the only ways to get snow… any system that can bring in cold and moisture can do the trick.NOAA Winter_Temp

As for the outlook for this Winter: Seasonal outlooks are always very broad and look at large patterns and trends for the country. This year NOAA’s Winter Outlook is very “average” for the area. The temperature forecast calls for “equal chances” of above or below average numbers. The precipitation forecast calls for “equal chances” of above or below average numbers but we are very close to the “drier” area in the Southeast.

What is “average”?NOAA Winter_Precip In Norfolk, we average 5.8″ of snow per year. Record snowfall ranges from 0″ to 17.5″. Average Winter temperatures range from 50° to 34°. Record Winter temperatures range from 82° to -3°.

-Meteorologist Myles Henderson