National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce


An Arctic cold front crossed the area during the late morning through afternoon hours on January 21st, before moving well to the south of the area by the morning of January 22nd. Up to 1" of snow fell from the late afternoon on 1/21 through the early morning on 1/22 following the Arctic cold frontal passage. Meanwhile, a positively tilted shortwave trough dropped south from the northern Plains to the central Plains during the night of 1/21 through the morning of 1/22. This feature played a key role in helping to generate the lift necessary for the significant snowfall that was observed. This shortwave slowly sharpened and took on a more neutral tilt as it tracked to the east (toward the local area) during the day on 1/22 as surface low pressure developed along the stalled front well to our south (off the Carolina coast).

The sharpening shortwave approached the area on 1/22 before crossing the area during the early morning hours on 1/23. At the surface, ~1040mb high pressure to our north funneled cold, dry Arctic air in the low levels toward our area while the surface low gradually deepened as it tracked NE off the Carolina coast. With temperatures not getting out of the 20s across the area during the day on 1/22 (and sufficiently cold air aloft), this was one of the uncommon events where precipitation fell in the form of snow across (nearly) the entire area. The cold, dry air in the low-levels limited snow amounts across central and northern portions of the area. No snow was reported north and west of the Richmond Metro/Farmville/Cambridge. Light snow overspread SE VA and NE NC during the late afternoon-evening of the 22nd. Rates slowly increased through the late evening hours as the snow gradually inched to the north and northwest (radar returns were showing snow aloft across the entire area but the dry air caused it to sublimate before reaching the ground). Travel conditions deteriorated quickly during the overnight hours, as the snow stuck to roads immediately with temperatures well below freezing (even in Hampton Roads/NE NC). The snow started to reach the ground by 10-11 PM in the Richmond metro area while rates increased further across SE VA and NE NC. The snow ended from west to east between 2 and 7 AM on 1/22 as the mid level shortwave quickly crossed the area. The most intense snowfall (perhaps 1-2"/hour in narrow bands) was observed between 11 PM and 5 AM across SE VA and NE NC, where there was slantwise instability present (as evidenced by negative equivalent potential vorticity (EPV). Model cross sections even showed some hints that there might have been some very weak elevated, upright instability across extreme SE VA and NE NC. While there was no thunder, a nearly stationary band of rates likely as high as 2"/hour was situated across NE NC (just to the north of the Elizabeth City) for a couple hours during the early morning. In addition, 1"/hour rates likely occurred at times in Hampton Roads. In total, amounts ranged from 1/4-1" in the Richmond Metro, 1-3" from south-central VA to eastern VA and most of the Lower Eastern Shore, and 3-7" (locally 8" just north of Elizabeth City) across Hampton Roads and most of NE NC. This was the most significant snowfall for much of SE VA and NE NC since January 2018! 

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