The last time it snowed in Mobile AL was Feb 12 2010, when we got about half an inch of snow. Picture taken at the University of South Alabama by me.
Many of the people I've talked to in Mobile over the last month or two have said that they're grateful that the recent blasts of Arctic air haven't come with any sort of wintry precipitation. It looks like we've tempted fate one too many times, as the deep south is on track for the most significant winter storm it's seen in at least a decade. The precipitation could start as early as Monday evening in places and will continue through Wednesday afternoon as you get closer to the Atlantic Ocean.
It won't be a lot of snow relative to what Ohio or Virginia or New York have gotten recently, but since areas right along the Gulf Coast rarely get any snow, this is a big deal. Snow falls every 10 years or so in this part of the country.
The last major snowfall reported in Mobile AL was in December 1996, when the airport reported 3.4" of snow. The last time snow accumulated in Mobile was on February 12, 2010 (pictured above).
New Orleans' last major snowfall was on Christmas Day 2004 when 1.5" fell in the city.
Snow is so rare in Florida -- even in the Panhandle and northern regions -- that there is a Wikipedia page dedicated to every recorded instance of snow in the Sunshine State.
This storm will be dangerous not only in that it's going to snow, but that the storm will start off as sleet and freezing rain across much of the area before changing over to snow. Areas closer to the coast may not change over to snow until late in the event, creating a dangerous ice storm in an area not equipped to handle winter weather.
Where is the wintry precipitation going to fall?
The bulk of the wintry precip will fall in the area I've circled in red. The counties shaded in blue are under winter storm watches right now.
Several major cities are included in the path of this possible winter storm, including Houston, New Orleans, Mobile, Pensacola, Montgomery AL, Charleston SC, and Wilmington NC.
What kind of precipitation is going to fall?
Plain ol' rain, freezing rain, sleet, and snow are all possible throughout the region during this winter storm. The danger is that temperatures are going to plummet into the 10s and 20s across much of the area as the storm continues, changing most if not all of rain over to frozen precipitation with time.
Inland areas have the best chance of seeing significant amounts of snow (greater than 1 or 2 inches), while areas closer to the coast have the chance of seeing a significant ice storm (>1/4" of ice accumulation).
As it stands right now, the area from Houston TX to New Orleans LA stands the best chance of having a major ice storm.
RISKS BY METRO AREA...
Link to Houston TX National Weather Service
LAKE CHARLES/SOUTHERN LOUISIANA
Link to Lake Charles, LA National Weather Service
NEW ORLEANS METRO
Link to New Orleans, LA National Weather Service
MOBILE, AL/PENSACOLA, FL
Link to Mobile, AL National Weather Service
(Note: MOB hasn't put any numbers on the potential for winter weather, but several inches of snow along with at least some ice accumulation looks likely. James Spann is predicting 1-2" of snow across southwestern AL and a small portion of the Florida Panhandle north of Pensacola)
Link to Birmingham, AL National Weather Serivce (which covers the area including Montgomery AL)
Link to Tallahassee, FL National Weather Service (which covers portion of southeastern Alabama and southern Georgia)
It appears that freezing rain will be more of a factor across southeastern Alabama (near Dothan and Enterprise) than snow.
CENTRAL GEORGIA/SOUTHERN ATLANTA SUBURBS
Link to Peachtree City, GA National Weather Service
(click to enlarge)
CHARLESTON, SC/SAVANNAH, GA AREA
Link to Charleston, SC National Weather Service
The NWS office didn't issue any graphicasts like the ones I've posted above, but the winter storm watch has the generic >2" of snow and >1/4" of ice statement. Check with the office as the event draws closer for updated accumulation forecasts.
WILMINGTON, NC AREA
Link to Wilmington, NC National Weather Service
As with Charleston, ILM didn't issue a graphicast. Their watch calls for snow accumulations potentially exceeding 3" across the area. The models are hinting that this area has the best opportunity for the highest snowfall totals out of everyone under the gun from this system.
What's the big deal? I live in [northern city] and we get snow all the time.
When you criticize areas for not handling winter weather in an appropriate manner, you have to remember how often they experience these kinds of conditions. I rarely talk about snow in northern New York or around the Great Lakes because it's so commonplace during the winter. It's supposed to snow a lot during the winter.
Places like Washington DC are less equipped to handle the snow just by virtue of the people who live there. VDOT and MDOT have plenty of plows and salt trucks to handle snow removal in the area, but the people themselves just can't deal with it even though it snows in the area with some regularity.
The deep south, on the other hand, gets snow and ice so rarely that it's truly a big deal down here. Take Mobile AL (where I go to school) for instance. We don't have plows. We don't have salt trucks or even a stockpile of salt for the roads. Nobody has snow shovels. The grocery stores don't sell rock salt or shovels or even many winter clothes. It just doesn't snow here, and when it does, it's usually not a lot. This is true of many areas in the deep south that rarely (if ever) get winter weather.
This is a big deal. It'll be a one or two day event before temperatures creep back above freezing and it's not a big deal anymore, but for the time being, this could be the biggest winter storm along areas of the Gulf Coast in a decade or more.
Make plans for school cancellations and the potential for travel to be nearly impossible now so you don't get caught by surprise.
You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter for the latest updates. I'll probably post quite a bit about this because I'm going to be in the middle of it. I haven't seen accumulating snow since 2010...I'm trying to balance level-headedness with the excitement level of a 5-year-old on Christmas.