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UPDATE 8PM, 3/11/2023: Confidence has grown considerably in widespread snowfall on Sunday morning, with accumulations from a coating to 2 inches across most of Southwest and Southside Virginia excluding a few extreme southwest counties. There appears to be some potential for a band of 3-5 inches to develop, but pinpointing where that may occur is difficult, and may come down to “nowcasting” with radar and observation on Sunday morning. Temperatures are toward the colder side of expectations, already down in the 30s across much of the region on this Saturday evening, so it appears likely snow will be able to reach the surface from the outset. Sleet, rain and freezing rain will mix with the snow from west to east on Sunday, but the heaviest precipitation may already clear the region before this is a huge factor. Snow is expected to begin before sunrise west of the Blue Ridge, near sunrise in the Roanoke Valley and near the Blue Ridge, and from 8 to 10 a.m. to the east of the Blue Ridge. Paved streets retain much warmth from recent mild weather but may become slushy or briefly snow covered in any heavier snow bands that develop. Patchy light rain, sleet and snow may continue into Sunday evening though temperatures are expected to rise above freezing and begin the typically quick melting process. END UPDATE
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If this had been a winter that produced even a couple of fairly widespread snowfalls of a few inches, Sunday’s dalliance with wet snow would be sort of “meh” and just a momentary speed bump on the way to spring.
But even a tenth of an inch of snow at some locations could have implications on historic weather records, and just seeing flakes falling would be a novelty for this 2022-23 winter season that has been, until recently, dominated by warm high pressure over the southeast U.S. deflecting cold and snow away from Southwest and Southside Virginia and most of the Eastern U.S.
A winter weather advisory is in effect for Sunday for localities from along and just west of the I-77 corridor east to along and just east of the Blue Ridge for the potential of a mix of wet snow, sleet, and cold rain during the day on Sunday that could collect a little slushy white in some areas.
Deep cold air will be banked against the Appalachians, pumped southward by high pressure over Canada and the backside rotation of a strong low-pressure system a few hundred miles off the East Coast.
As moisture advances west to east early Sunday with a low-pressure system, it will encounter deeper cold air, and this will likely allow snow to develop and fall. A narrow layer of temperatures above freezing near the surface will have to be bridged in some areas, but will likely be cooled some as precipitation falls through it, lowering snow levels even to sub-1,000-foot elevations like the Roanoke Valley and areas east of the Blue Ridge for a while.
Accumulations are generally expected to range from a trace to 2 inches, with higher elevations favored for the most, or anywhere that just happens to get under a heavier snow band for a while. Narrow, localized bands of up to 4 inches may develop, and there is at least a small chance of a more widespread, significant snowfall developing (as there is also a chance that the warm layer is too thick and it’s mostly rain, again.)
The ground holds considerable warmth from previous extremely warm days, and air temperatures just above the ground may be slightly above freezing, so grass, trees and exposed objects may collect snow while pavement and bare ground are affected minimally or remain just wet.
The thinnest slush on Roanoke’s official snow board – which is located at the WDBJ (Channel 7) studios on Hershberger Road not far from the airport sensor that records all other official statistics – would keep the 2022-23 cold season from being the Star City’s first without measurable snow since the back-to-back trace-snow 1918-19 and 1919-20 winters. It would also be Roanoke’s first measurable snowfall in exactly a year, the last one being 0.3 inch on March 12 a year ago.
Blacksburg has not had a snowfall of 1 inch or greater since the same March 12 date a year ago. National Weather Service records list 2.4 inches in the 1955-56 winter as the lowest seasonal total on record, so it would take 1.5 inches to tie that from Blacksburg’s current seasonal total of 0.9 inch.
Lynchburg won’t be setting a record for least snowfall, as the 0.3 total for 2022-23 already edges out the record-low trace snow winter that happened just three years ago in 2019-20. Danville could be on track for its first cold season without measurable snow since 1997-98. While both sites are outside the winter weather advisory, some snow is likely on Sunday, and just a little heavier precipitation or a little colder temperature could easily produce some light accumulations.
The Bristol area looks to be west of the most likely area for measurable snow. The official Tri-Cities Airport total across the line in Tennessee is only 0.6 for the season, its lowest since nothing in the 2001-02 winter.
The heaviest precipitation likely clears the region by mid-afternoon with lingering drizzle, light snow or sleet possible into the evening. Anything that accumulates will be mostly melted by sunset, made one hour later artificially by the switch to Daylight Saving Time.
Cold, windy days are ahead, with some mountain snow showers Monday and Tuesday. A widespread hard freeze appears to be on tap by Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, with some teens west of the Blue Ridge and widespread 20s elsewhere. Anything already budding or blooming will be at risk of significant damage.
A brief warmup is expected late this week before cold surges back toward the weekend, and there may be additional scrapes with late snow after that.
Journalist Kevin Myatt has been writing about weather for 19 years. His weekly column is sponsored by Oakey’s, a family-run, locally-owned funeral home with locations throughout the Roanoke Valley.