NASCAR: Bristol Race Weekend Weather Forecast


As mentioned in last week’s article, we meteorologists who are interested in the Bristol race weekend forecast have quite a challenge ahead of us.  Rain will fall on Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend, but when it will rain is still very much in question.

Mar. 18, 2012; Bristol, TN, USA; A general view of Bristol Motor Speedway during the running of the Food City 500. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a cold front passing through Wisconsin and Michigan right now, and it is going to be racing south toward Tennessee over the next 24 hours.  Unfortunately, it looks as though it’s going to stop around Bristol for a few days.  With the front nearby and at times overhead, there will be a chance of rain at any point during the weekend, but it’s our job to try and pinpoint when it is most likely, and in my case how it might impact the race weekend.

As of this morning, the latest model data suggests that the best chances for widespread and persistent rain during track activities will stay just north of BMS… mostly just across the border into Kentucky and Virginia.  While that it is too close for comfort, it is somewhat encouraging.  The most likely times for those showers to dip south into the Bristol, TN area appear to be around and after 5pm ET on Saturday and then into Sunday morning.  One of the better short-range models I look at suggests that the bulk of the rain may split into two areas by noon on Sunday, with one area lifting north into Kentucky along a northward moving warm front, and another area lingering over the higher terrain of the Smoky Mountains, mainly just east of Bristol Motor Speedway.  This idea makes some sense to me, and is why I am not personally giving up hope on seeing a full race on Sunday, perhaps even without interruption.  Can’t rule it out at this point.

Without much more clarity in the forecast details right now (unfortunately), and to avoid getting too much into the nerd-speak we meteorologists love to use every chance we get, I’m just going to put a forecast out there and hope for the best.  But please, however you read into it, if you have tickets to this race, don’t look at other forecasts or mine and give up on the weekend and stay home… It’s easy to look at the National Weather Service forecast right now and see a 60% chance of rain and give up… but the only time I will ever tell you to even think about staying home is when the weather could be dangerous, and this is not one of those times.  There’s no reason to not give this weekend a chance, especially since this is Bristol we are talking about!

No worries for today.  Practice and Sprint Cup qualifying will all get completed barring any non-weather issues.  Temperatures today will be in the upper 50s to low 60s, just above normal for this time of year.  It’s going to be breezy though, so it will feel a little colder than that.  Winds will be out of the west-southwest at 15-20 mph, with gusts to 25 mph at times under partly cloudy skies.  Tonight, we’re headed for an overnight low around 46 degrees.

On Saturday, the weather should be good for Nationwide Series qualifying at ~10:30am, but an isolated shower is possible.  Rain chances will increase slightly by afternoon, but I think the best chance of rain holds off until 4-5pm.  I don’t know for sure if we’ll get the Jeff Foxworthy’s Grit Chips 300 started on time (or at all,really), but I don’t think there will be much chance for racing beyond 4-5pm.  Last year’s race took just shy of an hour and 45 minutes to complete, so if we get started on time at 2pm ET, we just might make it.  Only time and Saturday’s radar will tell.  Temperatures will again be just above normal for Bristol standards, with highs in the low to mid 60s and a (hopefully) green flag temperature around 61.

For campers and anyone in attendance, Saturday evening and night does look wet, so be prepared.  It’s fortunate for the racing that the highest chances for rain will be when nothing is scheduled on the track, but that doesn’t help you if you are staying in a tent outside the track!  Be sure to secure your campsite, because there will be enough of a breeze again on Saturday that a wind gust could reorient your tents, canopies, tarps and the like… and if you leave camp to walk to your seats and it rains while you’re gone, you could come back to quite a mess.  Take it from someone who’s woken up to someone else’s abandoned tent pressed up against mine!

The cold front looks like it may slip through the Bristol area overnight as the rain pushes through, and that will switch the winds around to the northeast and draw in some colder air.  Combine that with cloudy skies and perhaps still some rain around on Sunday, and it’s going to be kind of a raw day.  Highs on Sunday will be lucky to reach the lower 50s unless we get lucky and the cold air gets trapped east of the TN/NC line.  More likely, it’ll probably get trapped right there in Thunder Valley, so be prepared for a cold, damp day.  The good news is at least the wind will die down, otherwise it would be much worse!

As for the rain, I am most concerned with fog and light rain/drizzle Sunday morning lingering into the afternoon.  Most weather models do not handle this well.  As I mentioned, the heavier, more widespread rain may go north into Kentucky with another area moving east into North Carolina, but it’s easy for moisture to get trapped in those valleys.  So I think Sunday is going to be one of those annoying situations when the fog, drizzle or mist gets heavy enough to cause some delays, but right now I am just not seeing enough persistent rain to start worrying about a Monday race.

In short, I’m expecting overcast skies with periods of fog and drizzle in the morning and possibly lingering through around noon.  Then remaining overcast with intermittent and mostly light rain possible for the remainder of the day.  Air Titan might just get a chance to shine here, as we’ll want to take full advantage of any windows we might get.  Green flag is scheduled for around 1pm ET for the Food City 500, and we do have lights to work with, if need be.  It may take a while, but I am optimistic that we’ll see a checkered flag on Sunday.

As always, I like to give you a longer term “sneak peek” on the following race weekend’s forecast, and I am especially happy to end this somewhat gloomy article with some better news- The forecast keeps looking better and better for next weekend’s festivities at Auto Club Speedway!