Sunday, January 31, 2010

ADDING UP SNOWFALL: Winter 2009-10


"Red sky in the morning,
sailors take warning."

Blazing Red Dawn - January 29, 2010
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

My friend Harold Jerrell captured this blazing RED dawn, a little after 7 AM on January 29, as Mother Nature foreshadowed yet another major winter storm with prophetic glory! 

Weather charts early on January 29 revealed an organizing winter storm, with an already nasty mixture of frozen precipitation types being spread across the Oklahoma-Missouri borders.

NAM Model Initialization at 7 AM January 29, 2010
Image Courtesy of Unisys

Unlike the December 18-19, 2009 MEGA-Disaster event, a much colder, drier air mass won the BATTLE this time to generate a lower density fall of snow.

NAM Model Initialization at 7 PM January 29, 2010
Image Courtesy of Unisys

Snow densities did increase, from 13:1 to 10:1 in Clintwood, from late evening of January 29 to predawn hours of January 30.  Some power outages were reported in Scott County, Va., with many traffic mishaps across the entire area.

NAM Model Initialization at 7 AM January 30, 2010
Image Courtesy of Unisys

Snow accumulation rates became the biggest problem this time, with 1" to 2" per hour being common during the storm climax.

Heavy Snow Falling In Big Stone Gap
Gabe & Jessica Shupe Photograph - NEWS 5 Picture Archive

My friend Rodney Parsons measured 4" of snow accumulation within only 2 hours in higher elevations of Lee County, Va., as the storm began cranking with intense waves of banded snow.

Horizontal Snow Falling - Eagle Knob of High Knob Massif
 Image by Steve Blankenbecler - © All Rights Reserved.

My friend Steve Blankenbecler, of VA-KY Communications, revealed how different snowfall was between the highcountry and lowlands with strong easterly winds driving snow horizontally across crestlines of the High Knob Massif 
( compare with Big Stone Gap ).

[ The unique Thermally Indirect Mesoscale Circulation 
( TIM ), which becomes orographically forced & anchored by the High Knob Massif on easterly air flow trajectories, could not fully develop during this event since weak to only moderate leeward subsidence was countered by low-level cold air advection on N-NNE wind trajectories to prevent formation of a rain/snow or mixed transition zone ]. 

Although snowfall totals ended up a little below MEAN forecast model predictions, a general 6" to 12" of snow depth was deposited from the rugged Virginia-Kentucky border counties eastward across much of the Old Dominion by early hours of January 31.

January 29-30, 2010 Snowfall Totals - JKL NWSFO

My friends Otis & Nancy Ward submitted a more tame looking photograph at the conclusion of this event with only 9" of snow depth being measured ( around 10" of total snowfall ).

Robinson Knob of High Knob Massif - 9" Depth
Photograph by Otis Ward - © All Rights Reserved.

[ For a view of snow depths observed during the "MEGA-Disaster Snowstorm of December 2009," please reference the following link on this website:


My friends Joe & Darlene Fields, long-time snow observers in the nearby High Chaparral community, measured 10" of total snowfall with also a mean depth that reached around 9" .

[ Drifting was, of course, a common feature along the highcountry ridges with given snow depths NOT being associated with drifts ].

A general 10" to 16"+ of snowfall was common across the High Knob Massif, above 3000 feet, with the heaviest again being measured some 4 to 10 air miles to the west and southwest of the High Chaparral and Robinson Knob communities. 

My friend Cal Adams measured 14" of snow depth at his home along Little Mountain, in the highcountry of the massif adjacent to majestic 
Big Cherry Lake, during morning hours of 
January 30 ( prior to 1-2" of new snowfall ).

A very similar storm track to the December 2009 Mega-Disaster, but with important mesoscale and upper air variations forced by a different thermal profile in the vertical.

NAM Model Initialization at 7 PM January 30, 2010
Image Courtesy of Unisys

[ The following section will feature many great photographs from across the mountain area, with a large set highlighting wonderful landscapes of Lee County, Va., an important part of the High Knob Landform ( HKL ) ].


ADDING Up Snow & Cold:
The Present and Past!

Wilderness Road State Park - Reflections
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

A final snowstorm at the end of January 2010 capped off a very active winter period, with some reflections upon the past couple of months not being nearly as gorgeous as those seen in Harold's photograph ( that is for certain )!

Cowan Mill near Ewing in Lee County of the HKL
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

Even for hardy snow lovers, this has been a rough period thanks mostly to the great December Mega-Disaster.  However, it has been notable in other ways as well, with the first 12 days of January having MEAN temperatures only in the teens.

[ An average nightly minimum of just 9 degrees in the Norton Valley during January 1-11, with even colder conditions within mid-upper elevation basins of the High Knob highcountry ].

Snow In Lee County - January 30, 2010
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

The 49.0" of snow measured at Clintwood 1 W during the December + January period has been the most observed, to this point in a winter, since the record setting 1995-96 season.

[ A snow depth of 2" or more was observed at Clintwood 1 W for 30 consecutive days, from December 19 through January 17.  Across northern slopes of the High Knob Massif, 6" or more of snow depth covered the ground from December 19-January 20 ].

Snow Drifts In The Garden - Long Ridge - January 31
Photograph by Wayne Riner - © All Rights Reserved.

Wayne & Genevie Riner...
"The morning sun casts a shadow of a poplar tree
across the orchard road and into the garden where
greens still grow under the drifted snow."

[ Wayne & Genevie Riner measured 51.4" of snow at Nora 4 SSE during the December-January period ].

Chicken In The Snow - Should I Go!
Photograph by Wayne Riner - © All Rights Reserved.

Wayne & Genevie Riner...
"The chalk chicken has sat on this rock for several years. After the second major snowstorm, she looks to the warming sun. I wonder if she will be ready to fly south with the Tree Swallows this coming fall."

Return to Smith Cemetery - January 31, 2010
Photograph by Wayne Riner - © All Rights Reserved.

In the High Knob highcountry, above 3000 feet, the past two months have dropped a general 70" to 100" of total snowfall with specific amounts including 69.3" in the High Chaparral community
and approximately 94.0" on Eagle Knob.

Cumberland-Stone Mountain Arm of HKL - Jan 31
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

That is the most December + January snowfall observed within the High Knob Massif since the 1997-98 winter.

Lee County Landscape of HKL
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

However, if the current winter can catch up to and keep pace with the 1997-98 season it will have to drop an additional 6.5 FEET of snow upon the lofty crestline of Eagle Knob.

Rugged Cumberland Mountain Frames Rustic Landscape
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

In order to top the 1995-96 season the current winter will have to produce nearly 9 FEET of additional snowfall atop the High Knob Massif.  A BIG order to fill, but certainly not impossible with this much winter left!

Blacksmith Shop at Historic Martin's Station
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

The best snowfall records only extend back into the early 1990s in the High Knob Massif, making one wonder what winters may have been like when legendary Long Hunter's roamed the great, wild landscapes of the High Knob Landform and Upper Tennessee River Basin?

The following submitted by my friend Harold Jerrell sheds "some light" on this, from a book written by Robert Kincaid in 1966 titled: The Wilderness Road.

The time is Winter 1779-80. 

“As Colonel Fleming moved from place to place to hold his hearings he became increasingly concerned about the welfare
of the people.

At Boonesborough on Christmas Day he was convinced that the cold was the most severe he had ever experienced in America. The Kentucky River was frozen to a depth of two feet, and the people who endured the hardships of the journey through the wilderness were now all down with colds.
 
At Logan’s Station on March 20, 1780, Fleming recapitulated some details of the prolonged sub-zero weather.

‘The effects of the severe winter was now sensibly felt, the earth for so long a time being covered with snow and the water entirely froze, the Cane almost all killed, the Hogs that were in the Country suffered greatly, being frozen to death, in their beds, the deer likewise not being able to get either water or food, were found dead in great numbers, tirkies dropt dead off their roosts and even the Buffalos died starved to death, the vast increase of people, near three thousand that came into this Country with the prodigious losses they had in their cattle and horses, on their Journey, and the severity of the winter after they got here killing such numbers, all contributed to raise the necessaries of life to a most extravagant price.’

During the inflationary period of Virginia currency, corn was bringing from $100 to $150 a bushel, salt $500 a bushel, and meat was so scarce it could hardly be obtained at any price. The settlers were forced to eat the horses and cattle frozen to death in the fields. More than 500 cattle perished while being brought in over the Wilderness Road.

All sections of Kentucky were paralyzed from the middle of November to the latter part of February.

Most of the smaller streams froze solid in their beds. Snow and ice continued through the winter, and not a drop of rain fell.


Water for drinking, cooking and washing was obtained by melting the snow and ice.

In the forests maple trees cracked like pistols and burst open as the sap froze. Through the nights the sleep of the settlers was broken by the frantic struggles of buffalo and other animals.

All wild life was almost exterminated. 
Many families caught in the severe weather on their way to Kentucky perished beside the road.”

*Cold experienced during the 2009-10 winter season has been NOTHING compared to past times.  I recall my grandfather, Gilmer Browning, telling of driving a wagon and team of horses onto the frozen Pound River, north of Clintwood, where they would proceed to saw out large blocks of ice to be hauled back and used in town.  Likewise, Harold Jerrell can remember his father, and older men in Lee County, telling of many times they crossed the frozen Powell River with horses and wagons.

East Cabin in Wilderness Road State Park
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

Thanks to my wonderful friend, the late Carl Henderson of Wise, snow measurements started being taken on Eagle Knob of High Knob during work days in the late 1980s.

Fort at Martin's Station - Wilderness Road State Park
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

Carl documented some legendary winter storms during the 1980s, such as the great February 1985 blizzard in which a Bell JetRanger Helicopter had to air lift him off the Eagle Knob summit ( amid 1.5 to 10+ feet of snow depth ).

West Cabin - Wilderness Road State Park
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

Winters of the late 1970s have been most talked about in "modern" times, with Otis Ward reporting that the MEAN depth of snow at his home increased to 42" during the 1977-78 season 
( with general build up over time at his 3235 foot elevation in the Robinson Knob community ).

Looking North from the Tennessee Valley Divide
Photograph by Wayne Riner - © All Rights Reserved.

Mean snow depths across northern slopes of the great High Knob Massif topped 4 FEET during that harsh 1970s period, as verified by my friend Steve Blankenbecler who noted trips to the summit, "were like driving through a tunnel." 

Rugged Mountain Terrain from Long Ridge - Jan 31
Photograph by Wayne Riner - © All Rights Reserved.

[ Close inspection of the above photograph reveals a home, sitting beside a winding dirt road in the distance, perched upon plunging mountain slopes that twist around an array of deep, shady hollows.  Such is the rugged character of terrain across most of Dickenson, Wise, and Buchanan counties ]. 

Beartown Mountain Rises Beyond Lebanon
Photograph by Richard Kretz - © All Rights Reserved.

Richard Kretz...
"There was an Air Force jet that crashed on Beartown in the winter of 1977. A friend was on the State Police force at the time and participated in the recovery. According to him, snow was waist to chest deep up there at the time."

Beartown Mountain from Green Valley - Jan 31
Photograph by Richard Kretz - © All Rights Reserved.

Since early 1990s the deepest MEAN snow depth upon the High Knob Massif reached 58" during the great blizzard of March 12-14, 1993.  Snow drifts of more than 20 FEET were well documented, with VDOT and rescue crews having to employ D9 Dozers and Logging Skidders to reach a group of individuals stranded within the crest zone of the massif. 

Cattle Herd Taking Latest Snow - January 30, 2010
Photograph by Richard Kretz - © All Rights Reserved.

Among the greatest snow depths observed during the past 70 years likely occurred amid the awesome snowstorm of March 1942, when depths of 3 to 4.2 FEET were measured within lower and middle elevations from Powell Valley to Norton, Wise, Pound, and Clintwood ( along and north of the High Knob Massif ).

City of Norton Buried by March 1942 Snowstorm
Elizabeth & Addison Stallard Photo - © All Rights Reserved.

While no records exist for the High Knob highcountry, it is very likely that depths eclipsed those observed during March 1993 since they did just that across lower elevations!

Wayne & Genevie Riner Home - Roof Swirled Snow
Photograph by Wayne Riner - © All Rights Reserved.

[ Note how winds drifted and swirled snow across the roof of the beautiful Riner home, site of official Nora 4 SSE NWS Cooperative Station, during the January 29-30 snowstorm ].

Countless other examples could be cited from my extensive climatology of great snow events of the past to place perspective upon the present 2009-10 season ( up to this point only ).

Sky Over Wilson Hill - February 1, 2010
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

A season which is FAR, VERY FAR, from being over, as confirmed by both forecast models and my photographic friend Harold Jerrell...with yet ANOTHER gorgeous RED, and this time GREEN, sky over Lee County at the dawn of February 2010!

Dare we even imagine,
what GREEN might prophesy!

Clear Creek Tranquility - January 31, 2010
 Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

I'm afraid it is not a scene of tranquility!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Whitewater GUSHES - January THAW 2010


Misty vapors rise above the rock filled chasm of
Class V+ ( super-extreme ) South Fork Gorge.

January 25, 2010
South Fork Gorge of High Knob Massif
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.


Turbulent, churning whitewater gushed downward through awesome depths of South Fork Gorge as pristine water drained lofty Big Cherry Basin of the High Knob Massif during a break from winter's frozen grip upon its highcountry domain!

Captured by photographer Roddy Addington during January 25, only twelve days removed from 1-2+ FEET of snow depth ( an atypically LONG thaw during what promises to be a HARSH winter amid the southern Appalachians ).

High Knob Massif
South Fork of Powell River
Whitewater & Rocks - January 25, 2010
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Dropping 1433 vertical feet in 4 miles
1069 feet during its final 2 miles, and containing two sections having max gradients up to 800+ feet per mile, great South Fork Gorge possesses one SUPER-TIGHT and SUPER-EXTREME steep creek!

[ Its only EYE CANDY for whitewater kayakers at the moment, as even before a MAJOR December 2009 snowstorm downed more trees it was FULL of wood!

But its there, and the POTENTIAL is real, VERY REAL, despite the hold back of large volumes of water by Big Cherry Dam ].

Between 80" and 90" of total precipitation fell across Big Cherry Basin during 2009 to keep water overflowing the Dam nearly all year.

Based upon City of Norton records, the wettest 12-month period since the early 1980s would have produced 90-100" across Big Cherry Basin, so 2009 was NOT a record wet year.

[ The above being gage caught precipitation, as the TRUE moisture budget of this highcountry basin is MUCH greater via FOG DRIP from trees, RIME deposition on trees, and the obvious loss of gage measurable precipitation due to wind driven precip ( reducing what is recorded digitally and by hand ) ].

Gushing thaws from deep winter snowpacks are not uncommon.

Reference the following section of this website for another example:


January 25, 2010
Most Tranquil Stretch In South Fork Gorge?
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

**For more incredible Roddy Addington WHITEWATER shots please reference:


This most recent rainfall event of Jan 24th, generated 7 to 8 vertical feet of total rise on both the Powell & Clinch rivers ( world-class biodiversity hotspots), downstream of whitewater creeks draining the High Knob Massif in Lee and Scott counties of southwestern Virginia.

Little Stony Basin of Clinch River
Big Falls - Little Stony Gorge of High Knob Massif
Photograph by Johnny Stanley - © All Rights Reserved.

Little Stony Gorge contains one of the most complete whitewater runs in the eastern United States, with Class IV-V+ rapids draining a 16.4 square mile watershed with more than 2100 vertical feet of total relief ( Little Stony Basin ).

[ Little Stony Gorge lies approximately 15 air miles E to ENE of South Fork Gorge, adjacent to majestic Guest River Gorge and the eastern end of the High Knob Massif ].

The Big Stony Basin multi-gorge wonder complex is situated in between South Fork Basin and Little Stony Basin, with 42 square miles of terrain so remote and rugged that few photographs ( of high quality ) even exist to illustrate its nearly 3000 vertical feet of total relief ( it is drained by extremely steep whitewater creeks amid Straight Fork Gorge, Chimney Rock Gorge, and Mountain Fork of Big Stony Gorge ). 

Up to 3.00"+ of rain accumulated along the Cumberland Mountain arm of the High Knob Landform ( HKL ), across Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, during January 24 to help boost the Cumberland River into minor flooding.

Calcareous Core of High Knob Landform
South Fork Gorge from Powell Valley Floor
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

South Fork Gorge rises upward and twists back behind mountain walls visible in the above scene, themselves being MUCH lower than highcountry crestlines which sprawl outward across the massif, to generate a watershed with nearly 2800 vertical feet of total relief ( South Fork of Powell Basin ).

[ The South Fork of the Powell River drains 41 square miles of the High Knob Massif on the Wise County side of the highcountry.  Collectively, the Big Stony Basin, Little Stony Basin, and South Fork Basin contain 99.3 square miles ( many more basins are present within the domain of the great High Knob Massif ) ].


Rising Into The Heavens - January 22, 2009
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.


The High Knob Massif can handle more total precipitation, without flooding ( rainfall and/or rain + snow melt ), than other locations across western Virginia since most creeks draining its highcountry sink, or partially sink, into the subterranean prior to reaching regional base levels marked by the Clinch and Powell rivers.

Reference "The High Knob Landform" to learn more about these world-class karst systems


Another factor making the High Knob Massif unique to Virginia, and the southern Appalachians, is that many of its higher elevation basins have lakes and wetlands which themselves hold back much water from direct run-off into creeks.

A Few Notable Ones Include:
High Knob Basin Wetland: 3500'+
High Knob Lake: 3490'
Upper Norton Reservoir: 3308'
Lower Norton Reservoir: 3230'
Cliff Mountain Ponds: 3155-3205'
Big Cherry Basin Wetlands: 3125-3200'
Big Cherry Lake: 3120'
Wolf Creek Wetlands of Stock Creek: 3000'
Glady Fork Wetlands of Big Stony Basin: 2900'
Robinson Fork Wetlands: 2740'+
Bark Camp Lake: 2734'

[ There are numerous additional small ponds, wetlands, and seepages within the High Knob Massif on both private and USFS public lands ].

Cloud Vapor Gathering Above Massif - January 25
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Once very extensive underground conduit systems become full of water, lakes and wetlands fill and overflow, extremely flashy situations can then develop with excessive rainfall, rapid snow melt, or a combination of rainfall + snow melt.

This makes the High Knob Landform hydrologically complex, with flooding more often than not being associated with rapid water level rises during flashy events ( the obvious exceptions being downstream along the Clinch and Powell rivers, which take longer to reach peak levels, and during historic events like the great floods of February 1862, January 1957, and the benchmark disaster of April 1977 ).

Changing Conditions - January 25, 2010
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

A distant snow shower obscures part of the lofty highcountry, as a hole opens in the overcast above Powell Valley to reveal PUFFY clouds rising vertically into blue heavens!

[ Some of these clouds generated lightning & thunder, with localized THUNDERSNOW during late afternoon hours of January 25 in parts of Wise and Dickenson counties ].

Rainbow Across The Valley - January 25, 2010
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Majestic and unusual looking rainbows were also part of weather conditions observed, as the THAW gave way to returning cold air.

Majestic Double Bows Grace Lee County
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

My friend Wayne Riner captured one of the most unusual looking rainbows amid the highlands of southern Dickenson, adjacent to the High Knob Landform.

Burst of Morning Color - January 25, 2010
Photograph by Wayne Riner - © All Rights Reserved.

Wayne described the scene in his own words:

"While in the yard, I noticed a burst of color on a distant ridge. This was the only part of the rainbow that was visible. There were rain showers and sun in the area at the time. I felt it was very odd to see such a bright patch of color and no other sign of the rainbow."

A most glorious ending to January THAW 2010!


This website update is dedicated to the wonderful, beautiful Gladys Stallard, who turns 97 years young today ( January 27 ).

Happy Birthday Gladys!

May you have MANY more.

Rainbow - Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Belated Christmas Present: Winter Beauty


High Knob Massif - January 6, 2010
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

The High Knob Landform

Given that most in Wise, Dickenson, and adjoining locations did not have much of a Christmas in 2009, I thought we would enjoy some of the majesty of this season!

[ Most would likely rather see sandy beaches and palm trees, at this point, but we are still thankful for what we have and the scenes presented in this update are certainly inspirational ].

At least, you can LOOK at them and ENJOY
without getting out in the COLD!

Although not yet up to the legendary status of late 1970s winters, or some farther back in time, the 2009-10 season will certainly be one to remember!

January 13, 2010
Remnant Massif of The High Knob Landform
High Knob Highcountry Flanking Powell Valley
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Great mountain walls of the High Knob Massif tower above Powell Valley in Wise County, Va., as captured by Roddy Addington during afternoon hours of January 13, 2010.

Capped by RIME and DEEP snow, the highcountry spreading outward from the above scene extends 17 air miles eastward until it plunges into depths of rugged Guest River Gorge ( the 40 to 50+ square mile portion of the massif extending southwestward from great South Fork Gorge, sometimes called the Powell Mountain block, not included in the above eastward expansion of the mass ).

[ NOTE: The U.S. Forest Service reports that trails within the Little Stony Gorge, Guest River Gorge, and Roaring Branch Gorge are ALL CLOSED due to the December 18, 2009 winter storm.

Other trails and portions of the National Forest may also need closing once weather conditions improve enough for a complete inspection of the situation ].

The above scene is both striking and educational since it reveals an EXTREME climatic gradient that exists throughout the year, but is most visible to the eyes in winter!

Caked In Multiple Layers Of "Hard Rime"
High Knob Peak - January 6 - Before 14" of New Snow
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

My friend Joe Fields measured 13" to 16.5" of snow depth at his home in High Chaparral of High Knob during morning hours of January 13, at 3300 feet elevation, amid a location possessing a SOUTHERN exposure ( compare with snow depth on Valley floor above at around 1660 feet elevation ).

My friend Roddy Addington drove across a portion of the High Knob highcountry during the late afternoon of January 13, and reported 12"+ of snow depth still IN THE ROAD.  That from recent fluffy snowfall which has settled over time.

North slope depths in upper portions of the High Knob Lake, Big Cherry Lake, and adjacent lofty northern exposed basins of the massif have consistently been 10" to 12"+ deeper than those possessing southern exposures within the High Chaparral area, ever since the great MEGA-dump snowstorm of December 18, 2009.

Awesome Mountain Walls of High Knob Massif
 Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

[ Snow depths on the morning of December 19, 2009 varied from 2 feet in the Robinson Knob to High Chaparral communities of the highcountry, to around 3 feet ( with 4-5+ foot drifts ) within the Eagle Knob, Camp Rock, Little Mountain, Grindstone Ridge Dome to Thunderstruck Knob corridor of the massif ].

Such HUGE snow depth variations are simply incredible and often hard for those living on the floor of majestic Powell Valley, nestled amid the great calcareous heart of the High Knob Landform, to truly comprehend!

Even within the Valley there has been a distinct and notable snow depth gradient since mid-December, with the Valley Head having MUCH more snow depth than its Big Stone Gap end.

Head of Powell Valley - January 13, 2009
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

By design or pure magic, the RIME level capping the massif often begins along upper edges of the great belt of calcareous cliffs which ring its steep mountain walls for more than 50 air miles.

Grindstone Ridge Dome - Cliffs & RIME
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

The vertical drop of Grindstone Ridge Dome ( on right of above picture ) is one of the greatest short-distance descents along the entire western expanse of the Appalachians, with 2000 feet of plunge within only 0.8 air mile!

Such great short-distance vertical changes in elevation are only one of many factors supporting the HUGE climatic gradients of the High Knob Massif, contributing to such unique features as the orographically forced and anchored Thermally Indirect Mesoscale Circulation associated with the MEGA snow dump of December 18, 2009.

Morris Butte of Powell Mountain - High Knob Massif
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Miles southwest of Grindstone Dome is another large vertical descent, beneath the very rugged cliff-lined peak of Morris Butte which towers above the great southwestern front of South Fork Gorge.

Although RIME has now dropped off to enrich the melting highcountry snowpack, it built up over time via multiple riming days to thicknesses of more than 6 inches in places.

[ Up through January 15 the highcountry snowpack had settled significantly, with rime input acting to increase its total water content which, via settlement, is becoming more concentrated over time into lesser depths ].

Thick RIME & Deep Snow - January 6
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

MUCH more rime and snow accumulated across upper elevations in the massif after Roddy took these photographs.

Highcountry Highway - State Route 619
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Of all the many amazing things I've learned about the High Knob Landform in the past 22+ years of research, the one thing which stands out most is that EVERYTHING within its natural world is connected in intimate and direct ways!

[ I feel nearly ashamed to state the above, since that should be so OBVIOUS to anyone with keen senses.  Native Americans understood this long before the "white man" came along, which is likely the reason I have such high respect for their cultures ].

High Knob Massif - January 6, 2010
Endemic Southern Appalachian Northern Hardwoods
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

That upper edges of the great calcareous cliff lines mark a MEAN riming level is no accident since that also marks a major zone of climatic transition into an ecosystem where winters become much more harsh, with deeper snows, higher wind speeds, lower wind chills, and much more stress on living things trying to balance out a heat budget!

The above being especially true in places where the environment has not been GREATLY altered by man, and is the NATURAL tendency of nature in the High Knob Massif when left alone by mankind ].

Jefferson National Forest
RIME Against Highcountry BLUE
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

While the above could be stated of most major mountain locations on earth, there are important differences amid the High Knob Massif which are driven by its great climatic gradients, themselves a product of unique orographically forced circulations arising on southwesterly and easterly air flow trajectories. 

[ Upslope snowfall enhanced by southwesterly air flows, and occasionally by the Thermally Indirect Mesoscale Circulation most recently highlighted on easterly air flow trajectories, are merely two examples of how the High Knob Massif interacts with the overlying atmosphere to generate special conditions which over the LONG-term make it climatically unique to southwestern Virginia.  This, in turn, impacts its biodiversity ].

WOW - High Knob Massif - January 6, 2010
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

In the BIG picture, orographically driven gradients in climate work to support and enhance the great biodiversity of the High Knob Landform, from its remnant massif of highcountry & calcareous core to its rugged mountain flanks containing majestic Cumberland Gap National Historical Park and other grand natural features.

DEEP Snow ( Jan 6 ) Prior To 14" of New Snowfall
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Reference the High Knob Landform Introduction 
on this website for more information:


In the BIGGER picture, orographically driven climatic gradients across the great High Knob Landform work to enhance those of the entire Upper Tennessee River Basin.

Beartown Mountain Panorama - January 7, 2010
Photograph by Richard Kretz - © All Rights Reserved.

My friend and naturalist Richard Kretz reports that a scattering of Red Spruce ( Picea rubens ) trees, capping the lofty 4672 foot summit of Russell Beartown Mountain, support a small winter population of beautiful Red Crossbills ( Loxia curvirostra ) and White-winged Crossbills ( Loxia leucoptera ) that feed on their pine seeds.

This collectively forms the rarity and richness of biodiversity for which the Upper Tennessee River Basin is renowned, uniting the major High Knob Landform with its Clinch River Valley and upper basin along magnificent Clinch Mountain ( this includes such extraordinary places as The Pinnacle NAP, Brumley Mountain, Beartown Mountain, and Garden Mountain ).

Majestic Elk Garden Road - Russell County
Photograph by Richard Kretz - © All Rights Reserved.

An old weathered barn marks a typical stretch of rolling landscape within the ecologically rich Clinch River Valley of southwestern Virginia.

Increasing Clouds Foreshadow More Snow - Jan 7
Photograph by Richard Kretz - © All Rights Reserved.

Winter 2009-10 has been hard on our feathered friends, but Harold Jerrell found some fine looking guys and gals!

White-throated Sparrow ( Zonotrichia albicollis )
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

White-throated Sparrows winter in the mountains
and typically stay until early May, before heading north into the
Great Lakes and Canada for their summer breeding season.

I love their vocalizations!

Blue Jay ( Cyanocitta cristata )
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

Rowdy Blue Jays are year-round residents with mass migrations into deep mountain hollows and cold air drainages dominated by American Beech ( Fagus grandifolia ) during autumn to eat beech nuts!

Northern Cardinal - Catching A Breeze
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

A female Northern Cardinal ( Cardinalis cardinalis ) catches a stiff breeze from Ole Man Winter.

The Northern Cardinal is Virginia's state bird, and the male of the species struts his stuff for Harold's camera!

Male Northern Cardinal In Snow
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

Are they posing for the camera?

Male Cardinal Posing - I'm The Prettiest!
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

No I Am - Even With Snow On My Beak!!
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

No, I don't think so!

They are strutting for those cute
Ladies, no doubt!

I think that says Harold Jerrell down there!
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

We probably take Northern Cardinals for granted since they are such abundant residents; however, they are a gorgeous bird and add greatly to our mountain landscape.

Tufted Titmouse ( Parus bicolor )
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

Tufted Titmouses are also common year round residents
which add greatly to our backyards with their territorial singing and fisty behaviors!

American Goldfinch ( Carduelis tristis )
Photograph by Harold Jerrell - © All Rights Reserved.

American Goldfinches are absolutely gorgeous birds, and when their colors brighten its certain that spring has arrived ( but in the mountains, that typically means SNOW is not over ).

Whether it be snow, rime, or even ICE, the winter landscape is truly a wondrous thing.

It can be harsh and cruel, yet so amazingly
beautiful, powerful, and even peaceful at times.

Peaceful Morning Amid The Highlands
Photograph by Wayne Riner - © All Rights Reserved.

Some of the most beautiful winter scenes are created by changing light, near sunrise and sunset, with heavenly reflections altering colors of ice or a snowpack ( as above and below ). 

Awesome Beauty
Along The Tennessee Valley Divide
Shimmering Sky & Pathway - Long Ridge
Photograph by Wayne Riner - © All Rights Reserved.


Roadway To Orchard - Long Ridge - December 2009
Photograph by Wayne Riner - © All Rights Reserved.


Variations In Light - Tennessee Valley Divide
Photograph by Wayne Riner - © All Rights Reserved.


Sometimes, the sunrise itself is purely
the STAR of the show!

Pine & Blue Sunrise With Snow - January 7, 2010
Photograph by Wayne Riner - © All Rights Reserved.


Sunrise Toward High Knob Massif - January 14, 2010
Photograph by Wayne Riner - © All Rights Reserved.

WOW...purely awesome!