snow

Gale winds, heavy rain and a swamping high tide await Charleston this weekend as a potentially historic snowfall is expected across the western Carolinas, including into the Upstate.

"The bottom line is that a potentially very dangerous winter storm looms for much of the forecast area this weekend," said meteorologist Lauren Carroll, with the National Weather Service in Greenville.

"As the day-shift yesterday put it, 'This could be a once-in-a-generation event for areas that experience mostly snow and ice,'" she said.

Along the coast, Saturday will be rainy and windy, while the worst of the weather arrives Sunday morning.

Northeast winds from 20 to 30 mph and gusts as high as 40 mph will accompany some 2 to 3 inches of rain. The winds will ease off farther inland but still blow hard. High and low temperatures will be in the 50s and 40s near the coast, 40s and 30s farther inland.

Sunday's high tide is predicted to peak at 9:45 a.m. above 8 feet — a height that can swamp low-lying streets, can undermine properties as well as exacerbate erosion.

"It looks like downtown Charleston is going to have some water problems Sunday morning," said meteorologist Neil Dixon, with the Weather Service in Charleston.

Officials reminded residents that the huge tide experienced here in November and driven by Northeast winds "caught a lot of people off-guard," said Charleston-based meteorologist Shea Gibson with the private company WeatherFlow.

Forecasters predict no snow here except for a few possible stray wet flakes in the air, particularly in the outer counties and most likely Tuesday morning, if at all.

But spots in the Appalachian Mountains could see more than 20 inches of snow starting Saturday, Dixon said.

More than 2 inches of freezing rain could fall as far south as a line along Interstate 20 through the South Carolina Midlands and Pee Dee regions.

"Incredible snow totals are going to fall," he said.

He cautioned people planning to travel to the area. "It certainly looks like a major winter storm is going to unfold in the western Carolinas," Dixon said.

Flurries could continue into Monday as far south as the Pee Dee, said Mark Malsick, severe weather liaison with the S.C. Climate Office.

Across South Carolina, groups holding public events already have begun postponing them. Governments and schools also had eyes on the forecast and were considering their own closings.

The S.C. Emergency Management Division is coordinating with local emergency managers and partner state agencies. "We are sharing information about the latest forecasts from the National Weather Service. We have no word on closures yet," said spokesman Derrec Becker on Thursday.

He and others urged the public to monitor local weather forecasts throughout the weekend.

State and county government office status will be posted at scemd.org/closings and in the SC Emergency Manager mobile app, Becker said.

The line between heavy snow and other precipitation is so tight that parts of Charlotte, N.C., are forecast to see up to 18 inches of snow, while other parts may get as few as 4 inches, said Dixon, with the Weather Service's Charleston office.

Reach Bo Petersen Reporter at Facebook, @bopete on Twitter or 1-843-937-5744.

Science and environment reporter. Author of Washing Our Hands in the Clouds.