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Home Snowmaking with these arctic temperatures

About 3 years ago I decided to make a homemade snowmaker similar to those that are used at the ski resorts in the North Carolina mountains. My wife thought I was a nut but she already knew I was a little off when it came to science and weather. Part of me did it because I love snow and skiing, the other part was because the science of snowmaking fascinated me. It isn’t like taking out your hose on a cold day and just spraying it in the air that just makes ice, to make snow you need just the right combination of compressed air and water. Which is where the science comes in.  When you compress a gas it warms this happens in the atmosphere under high pressure aloft or downsloping winds. Another example is when you pump up tires on your car or bike if you use a hand pump feel the valve after a few pumps it will be warm. Or on an air compressor it get warms as it compresses the air. Well the opposite happens when you decompress a gas like hair spray or compress air to clean your computer. Press the nozzle for a while and the can get cold. Well if you compress air and water together then decompress it you get super cooled water vapor that will turn to snow under the right temperatures and dewpoint conditions. The best are when temperatures are below 28 degrees and the dewpoint is in the teens.  The colder and drier the easier it is to make snow.

Okay building the tee gun is pretty simple and cheap, but you need a good air compressor that is built for continuous running. Which means it usually has oil in the motor to lubricate it. The rest of the parts are available at most hardware stores. I found great plans and information on snowmaking at this site is awesome for amateur snowmakers.


Hers the parts list from


Here is how to assemble the gun



Once you have a goo compressor test out the nozzles and here is what mine looks like.


It’s the real deal check it out!


Here’s a video from a few years ago the very first time I tried it.

So if you have the time and effort to be the most popular Dad in the neighborhood give it a try, it fun and the kids will love it! One word of warning once you start you’ll get a addicted to trying to make more and more snow, just check out the forums under the website. You’ll see how people take snowmaking in the back yard to a whole new levels! Have fun!


Coldest Air in 4 years for the Charlotte area

Arctic air is invading the country this week and most areas will see the coldest air in over 4 years. The Charlotte region hasn’t seen an arctic outbreak like this since 2005. That was the last time we had a high temperatures below the freezing mark. In January 29, 2005 we only had a high of 30 degrees with 1″ of snowfall on that date. This Friday we won’t get the snow but we won’t make it to freezing either. I’m forecasting a high of only 29 degree as the heart of the Arctic air mass will be settling right on top of the Carolinas. Saturday morning we will see a low near 9 above zero a number we haven’t seen either since January 2005. The reason for the arctic outbreak is record snow cover for the northern hemisphere as almost 1.37 million square kilometers more snow cover than the 4th week of January last year, the previous record.

This massive amount of snow cover has allowed huge areas of arctic air to build up over the Alaska, Canada and Siberia which then moves south as the jet stream buckles. Temperatures in Alaska have been brutally cold with Fairbanks being in the -30 to -60 range for the past 4 weeks. One reading in Siberia was as cold as -90 and that air mass is on the move. The snow cover over the mid-west and great lakes helps to keep the air mass cold as it moves south. Normally this air would modify or warm-up a little on the way south but as it travels over snow pack it stays cold.

The result is a cold outbreak that will last into early next week. High temperatures will only be in the 30s and lows in the teens and single digits. The other thing to watch is for the possibility of low pressure developing along the end of the arctic air in the Gulf of Mexico or along the east coast. These storms often form when arctic air hits the warmer water of the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf Stream and often can bring snow to the mid-south. Something we’ll be watching carefully in the first Warn Storm Center.

Interesting mid week storm

Been watching this storm for the better part of a week and the details of this storms are still not entirely clear. The GFS has been all over the place and while it was the first to pick the storm up it has also has been the most inconsistent. It looks like we will see the potential of wintry weather at the beginning and at the end of this storm. The question is how long each phase lasts.


The event starts of with a weak cold air wedge but not ideal, and one that is going to weaken rapidly by Tuesday afternoon. Which means maybe  wintry mix in the mountains and north of I-40 early Tuesday, but amount will be light and temperatures will warm pretty quickly Tuesday changing everything to rain. The middle of this event will be a cold rain with a small wrinkle Wednesday when a severe threat is possible. 

The middle rain storm then gets very interesting Thursday as another low pressure system forms in the gulf of medico with cold air aloft and some deep south snows are very possible as this low tracks northeast. There could be a brief, but heavy swath of heavy wet snow along I-85 late Thursday along a deformation zone to the northwest of the 700mb low.


Watch he forecast very carefully the next few days and make sure to check for the latest on this potential winter storm.

What a difference a year makes

One of those things I like to check to see wether things are going to get colder or not is the amount of cold air in Canada, the Arctic and Siberia. The amount of cold air is highly depended on the amount of snow cover and ice cover over the polar regions of the northern hemisphere. The reason we have had such an early cold snap including one of the coldest Novembers in about 10-15 years is the record growth of ice in the arctic compared to last year. I check the cryosphere every couple of days and check out the comparison from today to last year at this time.


Notice the amount of snow and ice cover but also the depth of the sea ice this year compared to last year. Large area that were open water last year are now covered in ice and at a much deeper level than last December.

Weekly Winter Updates

With some recent computer troubles I haven’t been able to update nearly as much as I’d like that will be changing next week. Check back for weekly winter forecast for the north Carolina and Virginia mountains as we continue this epic start to the winter/ski season in the southeast! As always you get my daily forecast for Charlotte/Hickory/Boone regions on my stations website at

Cold November could mean December snow!

The cold air of November is now leading to a cold December. November was the coldest November in Charlotte in 32 years and the 5th coolest on record. It’s early this month but we are already 9 degrees below average just 5 days into the month. Now we turn our eyes towards our first chances at some wintery precipitation for areas outside of the mountains. The models have been consistent in developing a major storm system for Tuesday into Wednesday next week, but that have been flip flopping from a rain storm to a winter storm the past few runs. The track will be the key, because based on the pattern we have seen and the amount of snow cover being laid down to our northwest. The cold would appear to be there if the storms tracks just to our south or right over us.

Today’s GFS model shows a rain storms will some back side snow. Notice the 540 line all the way down to the Gulf coast on the back side of the storms

Notice the amount of cold air coming down from Canada over the snow-covered grounds of the upper mid-west. Those temperatures are -34 below zero Celsius and the models maybe underestimate the amount of cold! You can see why next week will be very interesting to say the least. Check out the early season snow cover already on Dec 4th!

Cold air is here to stay!

This early Arctic blast is just a taste of what is yet to come to the Carolinas. A series of impulses kind like mini cold fronts will come down this week each one bringing colder air for everyone and snow showers to the mountains. Even though there isn’t as much moisture to work with in these impulses the colder air will create some fluffier snow this week. Some Carolina powder will be laid down in the mountains Tuesday and again Friday. I received some lone range forecasting tools from a fried of mine this morning which helps to back up my winter forecast. It confirms the forecast for a much colder winter for all the eastern U.S. Especially the rest of this month all of December into January! Something to keep an eye on, I’ll post more information about this forecast later, but you can check the Winter Forecast again here..

Brad’s Winter Forecast

Heavy Rain moving in

Warm and moist air is surging northward with a warm front that is bringing is some very heavy rain. There could even be some thunder late today and earl tonight as the warm front moves in from the northwest. There are already some flood advisories down in Columbia, SC with this rain. The next big thing to arrive early Saturday is the monster cold front that will bring a drastic change to the temperatures by late tomorrow. Snow will eventually fall Saturday night in the mountains.

Here’s a look at the cold air moving across the country

Brad’s Winter Forecast

Brad’s 2008-2009 Winter Forecast for the Southeast

                Let’s face it; if you like cold and snow in the southeast the last 6 years have been very inconsistent to say the least. We have had bouts of very cold weather only to be interrupted by very mild weather for weeks on end in the December-March time frame.  With the exception of the 2004 winter where we had a major snowfall in February the winters since 2000 have lacked major snowstorms. Most of the snow has been thanks to “long range lake effect” along with northwest flow snows. This has been beneficially to the Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia resorts, but has done little for the North Carolina Mountains. Northwest flow snows are the primary source of snow for the southern Appalachian Mountains and recurring events help bring cold and snow to most of the southeast ski resorts. These events usually bring small amount of snows but are great for snowmaking operations and creating bases on the slopes.

Locations of snow when we have northwest cold and moist flow during the winter


Well after the past few years with La Nina and weak El Niño’s in the equatorial Pacific Ocean there are many climate signals for a colder winter then the past 6 winters. Snowfall will be below the long term averages but a huge improvement over last year is very likely. It would appear that the Eastern United States may get back to a more typical winter, the kind that people around here often lament about when, “we use to have real winters”

Of course what is average snowfall? Let’s looks at nationally then locally for the southeast using these average snowfall maps that follow.

U.S. average Snowfall


Southeast Snowfall Averages


The number of winter events either ice or snow in an average winter season


Total number of snow events per season below


Last year’s forecast re-cap

Before we look forward it’s always nice to look back. Last year’s forecast panned out almost as good as I could expect for the Virginias with lots of snow and cold. The North Carolinas resorts I had a worse forecast, especially temperatures. While I nailed the December cold the January into February thaw was a killer. Snow forecast verification in West Virginia last season was around 83% but a measly 60% for the Carolinas.  The one big highlight for me was my forecast of the December 7-10 cold and snow which I forecasted more than a month in advance. The actual storm started on the 9th but was a nice start to the season.

Snapshot from last year’s Winter Forecast! This was posted Nov 6th 2007.

I hit the March storm and came close to February storm but overall not bad, but it can better and I will try again this year!

The Forecast tools, things I base the forecast on!

There will be 5 indicators that I use to base my December 2008 through March 2009 winter forecast on. Let’s remember we are just now coming out of a drought in the southeast and coming out of a moderate La Nina within the past 12 months.

#1 La Nina / El Nino a.k.a. ENSO

ENSO is currently in a neutral phase after a strong La Nina last year which meant dry and warm weather for the southeast. Now El Nino would be better for snow fans but ENSO neutral is a huge improvement over last year and means cold for the east coast. ENSO neutral years are usually an anything goes kind of winter, but neutral is better than the strong La Nina we saw last year.

Current ENSO Phase

What La Nina and El Nino usually mean weather-wise in the U.S.

So with a neutral ENSO and a slight lean towards LA Nina things are looking cooler than last year, but any indication in the next few months of a return to La Nina would spell warm and dry for the southeast. The good news is that we have seen a reversal of the strong La Nina of last year and already this year has been much cooler than average for the whole


#2 North Atlantic Oscillation a.k.a NAO

For my money this might be the best and most closely correlated oscillation for cold and snowy winters on the east coast. When the NAO is in the negative phase the east coast is snowy and cold, when it’s positive it’s warm and dry. A good example of who this works is the period from the winter of 1979-1980 until the winter of 94-95 the NAO stayed positive except for 1984/85 and 1985/86. What we would like to see is a winter similar to the very strong negative phase of the winters of 1995-99 when we had a east coast snow storm just about once a week.

Here is an historical look back at NAO during the winter months notice the negative phase from 1995-1999 compares to recent winters since 02.clip_image019

The forecast for the NAO is going negative for the month of end of November and early December meaning cold weather for the East coast. Notice already we are seeing a forecast of negative for the end of the November into December.


#3 The Arctic Oscillation a.k.a AO

This oscillation is correlated closely with the NAO and it too goes negative when cold air is building in the Arctic and is likely to spill south and east into the East coast of the U.S.


It’s important to note that these oscillations…well they oscillate but the more negative they go and the more frequent they persist negative the colder and usually snowier it is on the east coast.

# 4 Sunspot activity

I talked about this last year that we were going into a solar minimum and that the amount of solar activity continues to be lower than average. This continues this year and the forecast is for the solar minimum to continue. The weaker the sun the less heat the earth absorbs and the cooler we will get


# 5 Arctic Ice Coverage

Last year the arctic ice recovered from a record low which is amazing. The problem for the southeast was all the cold air was working in the arctic to re-freeze that ice pack and not moving south to cool off the southeast. This year that has changed dramatically, the ice coverage is back big time. Contrary to some erroneous media reports the ice coverage is increasing at record rates in October and is on the verge of being the biggest extend of ice to date since 2002. This means larges domes of cold air can and have been building in the polar regions of the Northern Hemisphere.


Images from a year ago to this week show a much bigger and deeper snow and ice pack in the Northern Hemisphere. These leads to an early cold air mass building over the arctic region.


To back this up Alaska had a near record cold summer and the 4th coldest October on record, setting the stage for lots of cold air to build early this fall in northwest Canada and Alaska the source region of most of our cold air outbreaks. You can read about the cold more at this article.

Needless to say our source region for cold air up north is in the best shape it’s seen in several years.

Conclusion and forecast for Winter 2008-2009 in the Southeast United States

All signals point to a better winter for skiers than the past winter, but natural snow maybe hard to come by further south. While I do see colder temperatures building in Canada and the arctic this fall into the winter the storm track appears to want to set up similar to last winters. This means Northern plains to Ohio valley then a New England storm track. This will bring heavy snow for the Virginia and West Virginia resorts. Snowshoe should have another bumper year with lots of cold and snow. This storm track will bring Northwest flows snows and cold further south into the Carolina resorts but big natural snow in the southern Appalachians come from the Gulf of Mexico as low pressure systems move to the Carolina coast. This would be a favorable storm track for the Carolinas. We see these tracks typically during El Nino winters. This kind of storm track has been noticeable absent in the last 6 winters. Though one or even two per winter are possible just about any winter, we just haven’t seen the persistent storm track from Texas to north Florida to the Outer banks. These dump snow on the North Carolina Mountains. The one saving grace is that temperatures should remain colder then the past few winters especially in December, February and March with our usually January thaw.

In the short term I already see the cold air and snow for this weekend Nov 15-16 and even better cold air and a major storm possible next week Nov 21-23. This weekend it’s just a very cold air mass and front that will bring 1-2” of northwest flow snows to the whole Appalachian chain with 4-6” possible at Snowshoe.  It appears to be a very cold pattern next week which could allow numerous resorts to open very early.

This weekend’s storm below

Next weekend the models point to an awesome set-up for big snows in the North Carolina Mountains and the kind of pattern I’d like to see all winter. You get both the cold air and the moisture in place for major snows next weekend!

Next weekend’s storm

In the model chart the purple line in the snow line and the colored contours are precipitation.

So on my scale of winter forecast I’ll split the southeast into two distinct regions because the weather truly is different in these 2 areas. Looks pretty good early on and I think that will be the case this late November and all of December cold and snowy

Forecast for the Southeast

Temperatures DEC 08 – Mar 09

Snowfall DEC 08 – Mar 09


We need to split the area into two parts the “Northern South East Resorts” Snowshoe, Wisp, Canaan Valley and Winter Place.

Area #1 Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland resorts

Temperatures forecast colder than average  (scale warm-cold 1-10)


Snow forecast near average with potential for above average ( scale light-heavy 1-10)



Area #2 North Carolina Resorts the “Southern Southeast” Beech, Sugar, App and the Cat!

Temperatures forecast near average to slightly below


Snowfall forecast average to slightly below average but better then the past few years!



So stay tuned for weekly updates again this is just a seasonal forecast and no way indicates a specific forecast for any particular date. Just the overall pattern trends for the upcoming winter season in the southeastern U.S.

For more information, comments or a specific forecast for upcoming storms please contact Chief Meteorologist Brad Panovich

Rain Stuck in the Foothills and Mountains

The rain is just plain having a hard time getting to the Charlotte area. The only thing to fall so far has been drizzle. It might take till this afternoon for more of the rain to reach the piedmont aimagend we may have to wait for the second front tomorrow. This one could bring strong thunderstorms as well if enough warm air surges northward. In the mean time keep the umbrella around because there is still some descent rain out there!