20 inches of snow in Raleigh: A look back at the big snow of January 2000

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Tuesday, January 26, 2021
Looking back at the big snow that hit central NC in January 2000
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A snowstorm the likes of which our area had never seen before hit central North Carolina in January of 2000.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Twenty-one years ago, central North Carolina saw the most snowfall it has ever seen.

"It just kept snowing," ABC11 Chief Meteorologist Chris Hohmann recalls. "It was just unbelievable that it could snow 20 inches in Raleigh and Durham in one day."

Snowfall started the evening of Monday, January 24 and continued through Tuesday, January 25.

"It could happen again one day, but it is very unlikely that we'll see that in our lifetime," Hohmann said.

This wasn't your typical North Carolina snow flurries. The snow was falling at around 4 inches per hour--an unheard of number in the Tar Heel state.

"It's something I'll never forget and probably will not see for the rest of my career," ABC11 Photographer Paul Furr recalled.

WATCH: ABC11 Anchors recall working through the big snow of 2000

People who were kids two decades ago, recall the big snow a bit differently.

"All our friends went up to the local elementary school nearby that had the big hill," Nathan Whitworth said. "So we built a jump. Of course we hurt ourselves but we had fun for days. It was a blast."

"We don't get snowfall rates here of 4 inches. Now that's very rare, even in the mountainous areas in the Rocky Mountains to have 4 inches of snow an hour," Hohmann said.

But still, that's exactly what happened. The snow came down heavy, with the most accumulating across a swath stretching from Moore County through Lee, Wake, Durham, Orange, Granville, Franklin, Vance and Warren counties.

"Just before midnight I looked out that window onto the deck and it just started snowing to beat the band," ABC11 Reporter Ed Crump said. "It was really, really coming down hard. It was blowing everywhere. I went to bed and when I woke up the next morning it was snowing the exact same way. It had been snowing like that all night long and it was unbelievable to me how much snow was already on the ground."

"The Triangle was actually the bulls eye for the heaviest snow anywhere on the east coast. We had more snow than Richmond, more snow than Washington, more snow than New York City," Hohmann said.

Snowfall totals from the storm:

  • RDU: 20.3"
  • Chapel Hill: 16"
  • Fayetteville: 5-10"
  • Durham: 18"
  • Roxboro: 15-17"
  • Louisburg" 16"

"Twenty inches of snow in Chicago or Minneapolis would shut them down. The biggest snow ever in Chicago is 26 inches -- you know we're right in that ballpark, so for an area that averages much less snow for the year, it was a huge deal," Hohmann said.

When crews had finally finished plowing clear the streets, there were snow piles left everywhere. Those packed piles of snow did not melt away for weeks.

The storm was actually the third of four that hit between Jan. 18 and Jan. 30. Those storms started after weeks of unusually warm temperatures. Highs for multiple days in early January were in the 70s.

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But after the four snow/ice storms closed out the month, Raleigh-Durham had seen 26 inches of snow and temperatures dropping to nearly 0 degrees.

The January 2000 snow storm was not only one of the worst in North Carolina history, it was also one of the most poorly forecasted snow storms.

Computer models ahead of the storm did not predict a major winter storm, many of them did not predict any winter precipitation at all.

"Computer models they are much much better now. I don't think that would happen again," Hohmann said.

In two decades, the computer models have vastly improved. But the storm also serves as a reminder to many meteorologists that models can only go so far. Experienced local meteorologists, like ABC11's First Alert Weather Team, compare the models with observations and experience to make more accurate forecasts.