Does it have to snow in Atlanta for it to snow in Charlotte? No!
Ever since I have been in Charlotte now 11 years and counting. I’ve always heard this saying, “If it doesn’t snow in Atlanta it’s not going to snow in Charlotte”. It was kind of an odd thing even though the first several snow storms I experienced in 2002 and 2003 didn’t cause snow in Atlanta. Ever since then I have been keeping tallies of the myth/folklore and can understand how this started and why it may be true at times but more often than not it’s just false. It kinda reminds me of that famous line from Anchor man, “60% of the time it works every time”. In this case it might be more like 30% of the time it works every-time.
Here are some facts and theories on why this might be true some of the time but more often than not it doesn’t work. I have roughly calculated that it only works out about ~30-40% of the time. It’s hard to really gauge due to the record-book differences and time of storms between Atlanta and Charlotte. Here’s though is a look at what might be going on.
1st it just snows more in Charlotte than Atlanta:
Charlotte gets about 38% more snow than Atlanta. We are further north and we are more often than not in the “Cold Air Damming” than Atlanta. Plus as you’ll see later we have more favorable coastal storms tracks.
2nd Major storms don’t always match up in both cities:
These are the top 20 one day snow storms from each city. You can see 4 of them affected both cities. Now this is not a perfect comparison since a smaller storm in Atlanta can equal a bigger storm in Charlotte. So they may not show up in each cities top ten. Either way though if the saying was always true or even mostly true I’d expect more of our top 20 storms to be mutual storms.
The thing that does stick out here though is the 1988 and 1983 storms both were top tens storms for each city. Which may explain how this saying got started. The 1980’s seem to have many cross over winter storms in each city. Which might have been the decade this saying got it’s origin.
Since the 1980’s though there has been very little cross over, at least for significant storms.
The “Miller A” versus “Miller B” type storms are what we usually look at around here in the Winter. The simple storm track only really affects Charlotte and the eastern Carolinas. While the Complex storm usually affects both ATL and CLT. With the Miller B set-up, while you can get snow in Atlanta with the upper low more often than not the transition to the coast will cause the storm to skip over Atlanta and intensify in the Carolinas. That transition is a forecasting nightmare by the way!
This southern Storm track does make sense that Atlanta snow would mean better chances for Atlanta and Charlotte, but like many “rules” in meteorology they are often broken.
The winter storm tracks in the Carolinas really are tricky and often times don’t bring winter weather as far west as Atlanta.
These tracks above are courtesy of The NC Climate page and really do dictate our winter weather across the Piedmont.
While I can certainly see how this saying got started tying Atlanta to Charlotte snow. It’s not a very good forecasting technique. More often than not it will snow or sleet or freezing rain in Charlotte more often than Atlanta. It doesn’t hurt if it does in both places but it certainly is nowhere near a necessity. The greatest example of this can be found in one of the biggest storms to strike the Charlotte metro area in the last decade. The February 2004 Winter Storm which dumped almost 2 feet of snow in the area. Almost nothing fell in Atlanta and when looking at the visible satellite image you can see how that storm really was just centered over Charlotte.