This close to a major ice storm

Temperatures have finally warmed enough to not be in danger of freezing across the western two-thirds of Tennessee, bringing an end to two consecutive days of freezing rain.

Here on the northern plateau, ice accumulations began late Monday evening and continued through late yesterday evening, but were limited primarily to tree limbs and power lines — except for a few slick bridges and overpasses yesterday morning — and were very light.

Further west, the ice accumulations were more significant, but the problems were still relatively minor. Memphis officially reported 1/8 in. ice accumulations.

But considering how much rain fell with temperatures hovering between 32 and 35 degrees, this was much closer to being a major disaster than most folks realize. A couple of degrees difference in the temperature and the northern plateau, for example, would have received ice accumulations that could have been measured in inches.

And, yet, an ice storm was never seen as a serious threat here, which underscores just how accurate short-range modeling has become in many instances.

On the other hand, short-range modeling isn’t always accurate, and that may come into play tomorrow, as the next storm system approaches the region. For the past couple of days, the domestic NAM guidance model has been showing significant snow accumulations across the eastern third of the state, while many other models have been showing very little. Some have even showed no precipitation at all.

It now appears likely that we’ll see rain tomorrow, and some snow accumulations are also looking more likely. The NAM continues to project a winter storm unfolding across East Tennessee, from the plateau to the mountains. The latest run of the NAM, late this morning, projects snow accumulations topping 4 inches in Crossville and more than a half-foot of snow in Knoxville.

Will that happen? Probably not. The NAM is mostly on a limb by itself. A couple of other models have come on board with this solution, but they are mostly unreliable models. If either the GFS or the European ECMWF model begins to show a similar solution, meteorologists will be racing to play catchup. Until then, they can say that snow is possible tomorrow but it won’t be a big deal, and they’ll probably be right.

But there remains an element for surprise. Tomorrow’s system could very well result in accumulations for someone in East Tennessee. And it looks like the mountains could get hit hard, with heavy snow accumulations in the higher elevations. Mt. LeConte, for example, could wind up with at least a foot of snow.

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