'Clipper' Brings Storms and Snow at the Same Time Tuesday Evening

Snow coats the ground, blown by wind, in Pulaski County Tuesday night. Picture sent in by April Bopp.

Lynchburg, VA - Despite warmer weather on the way by this weekend, one last small, but powerful "clipper" brought a variety of weather with it Tuesday.

Temperatures warmed up fast Tuesday, reaching the 60s in places like Danville and Southside. By noon (see photo) the area was warming up fast, especially areas south of Lynchburg.

At the same time, a clipper, a fast-moving little pocket of very cold air high in the sky was heading in our direction for the evening.

Throughout the day, clouds increased, and very quickly rain showers began to form and show up on the ABC 13 Weather Radar.

Since the clipper was bringing cold air with it, when it got to our part of the country, it ran into the mild air that had been gathering all day.

Even in the New River Valley, an ABC 13 Viewer, Marty Goad, said he made it up to 50 degrees before the clipper arrived.

As the system moved east, the mountains didn't do much to break apart the clipper. They usually do. More on that below.

Temperatures had taken the steering wheel, not the mountains.

Acting on help from the simple cold air running into warm air creates active weather, actual thunder and lightning formed within heavy rain bands over Greater Lynchburg and Southside by 7 p.m.

At the same time, the clipper's cold air was being pulled into the New River Valley by strong winds over 40 mph, sending temperatures down into the 30s with areas of snow. Some of the bands of snow were heavy enough to coat the ground in the NRV, but since clippers are not large and organized systems, the reports were sporadic.

Still, at one time Tuesday evening, Halifax County was getting a thunderstorm with temperatures near 60, and Wytheville had snow and temperatures 30 degrees colder.

Our ABC 13 viewers let our meteorologists know they were seeing and hearing lightning and thunder around 7:10 p.m. Our ABC 13 Pinpoint Doppler radar confirmed eight cloud-to-ground strikes with the storms.

In between, brief but heavy downpours of rain fell for the Roanoke and Lynchburg areas. Some lightning and thunder accompanied heavier bursts of rain as the system moved trough.

Just a couple thousand feet higher, in the New River Valley, the moisture was falling as heavier snow showers and snow squalls (when it snows really hard for several minutes, enough to accumulate a little, then dies off, much like a summer storm.)

By 10 p.m. many of our ABC 13 viewers in the mountains were reporting snow and sending in pictures to prove it.

Everyone else felt a mild day quickly turn into a very windy and cold night as the clipper moved out. Over 700 AEP customers in Botetourt County had lost power as of this writing late Tuesday night.

A clipper that was believed would come through with a little fanfare, had an entire three-ring-circus lined up for the evening. And we all had a front row seat for it. Depending on where you live, you saw a completely different performance.

As you'll read below, however, that's the clipper's style in Virginia.

About Clippers

Clippers are fast-moving and generally small disturbances that are created way up in the sky within the jet stream.

The jet stream bends up and down, driving temperature patterns over the world and creating a storm track in between. The river of air is a major player in why the weather works the way it does.

For example, this weekend, the jet stream will move north of our area, and temperatures will warm up as a result. When the jet stream dips, colder weather is brought in.

It's not always that simple, however.

Within the jet stream, you can get a "ripple". Basically, you can be in a pattern where the jet stream is already dipping near your area, and a smaller dip forms within the overall dip.

During the winter, when the jet stream comes at us from the north, and one of these ripples, or smaller dips moves by above us, we call it a clipper.

Since clippers don't have an organized large structure to them, they just move on through the river of air very quickly: that's why they are called clippers.

While big, huge, winter storms are easy to see coming several days in advance, a clipper can often throw a kink (literally, remember?) in the forecast.

Clippers are not picked up on computer models well in part because they move so fast the information that's gathered on them is simply hard to get.

Also, because they come from the north, where there are fewer weather balloons and observations, most of our computer models have a hard time telling just how strong a clipper might be by the time it reaches us.

Still, if it weren't for our mountains, clipper systems would be relatively easy to forecast here.

However, the clippers we get don't tap any moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, a major ingredient that's almost a "must" if you want a good snowfall across the Heart of Virginia.

Instead, the clipper usually contains its own moisture. Simply by "bending" the jet stream, lift is created. And when you have lift, you can usually get clouds, rain or snow.

As most clippers near the ABC 13 Viewing Area, the mountains essentially eat them up. Air hits the western slopes, and rings out what little moisture the clipper had to begin with over places like the Greenbrier Valley of West Virginia, the New River Valley, and the mountains of North Carolina, around Boone.

A few flurries are sometimes able to make it over the Blue Ridge Parkway, which often serves as the "cut-off" from any snow coming from the northwest. That's because the exact opposite happens east of the mountains in places like Roanoke, Bedford, Lynchburg and Danville. The moisture in the air is all used up by the time it rides down the mountains and into the foothills. What's more, the sinking motion of the air, something called downsloping will dry the air out.

Obviously, many times, the weather doesn't quite work the way the textbooks or even this article so far has explained.

Tuesday night was a perfect example. It's hard to trust a clipper.

Some are duds.

Some are impressive.

Many are both... depending on where you live.