Monday, December 19, 2011

History Of Christmases Past ( 1963 to 2011 )


December 7, 2011
On The Tennessee Valley Divide In Wise
Christmas Decorations At Snowy Camp Bethel
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.


Dreams of a WHITE Christmas begin around this time every year as it becomes the major topic of conversation, with even snow scrooges having to ponder what the holiday might bring!

Whether you love or hate snow it will forever be associated with at least this one day of the year.

December 7, 2011
Dreams Of The Christmas Season
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

The following history will document conditions observed in Clintwood and Wise during early years, with City of Norton and High Knob Massif observations starting in the 1983-1993 period.


History Of Christmas Holidays
During 1963-2011
( 49 Years )

Winter's Harsh Beauty In The High Knob Massif
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

1963...Christmas morn dawned to a 9" snow depth in Clintwood, down from 12" on December 24.  By 
5 PM on Christmas day snow had settled to a mean depth of 6" at Wise 1 SE located on the campus of University of Virginia's College in Wise 
( formerly Clinch Valley College ).

1964...Stormy Holiday.  A total of 1.11" of rain fell in Clintwood during the December 24-26 period, to include a rare thunderstorm on the morning after Christmas ( MAX of 66 degrees in Wise on December 24 ).

1965...Bare in the lowlands on Christmas morning with a trace of snow on the ground December 26.

1966...A Christmas morning snow depth of 8" was measured in the town of Clintwood ( southern exposed location at 1780 feet above sea level ).

1967...A trace of Christmas morning snow depth 
in Clintwood was followed by a major winter storm during December 27-30 ( e.g., 9.2" of snow were measured in Wise just during the 24-hours ending at 5 PM December 28 ).

1968...A 1" snow depth on December 24 melted to only a trace on southern exposures in the town of Clintwood by Christmas morning.

1969...A trace of Christmas morning snow depth 
in Clintwood gave way to major winter storm conditions, with 8" of mean depth by the next day in both Clintwood & Wise.

1970...A bare ground on Christmas morning gave way to 1.2" of snowfall by the AM of December 26.

1971...No snow on the ground in Clintwood during Christmas with only 4.7" being measured in Wise during the combined November-December period.

1972...A rainfall total of 0.29" in Clintwood into Christmas morning, with rain changing to snow on December 26.

1973...Several inches of snow depth prior to the holiday melted to a trace upon southern exposed locations in the town of Clintwood by Christmas Eve.  A total of 2.18" of rain measured at Wise 1 SE in the 24-hours ending at 5 PM on December 26.

1974...Rainy again with a total of 0.45" measured in Clintwood into Christmas morning.

1975...Just a trace of Christmas morning snow depth in Clintwood.

1976...A snow depth of 1" at Clintwood 1 W on Christmas morning ( 1 mile west of town at an elevation of 1560 feet above sea level in the Russell Fork Basin ).

[ The year of 1976 marked the beginning of my snowfall 
measurements ( as I got old enough to do the JOB! ) ].

1977...A rainfall total of 0.49" into Christmas morn in Clintwood, with evening snow developing ( 1" on the ground at Clintwood 1 W by the AM of December 26 ).

1978...Only a trace of snow depth at Clintwood 1 W on Christmas morning.

1979...Snow, sleet, and freezing rain all fell into mountain valleys during Christmas, with heavy snow across higher elevations.  A 3" snow depth was reported at the Wise 1 SE NWS Cooperative Station at its 5 PM observation time on Christmas day ( followed a 61 degree Christmas EVE day MAX in Wise ).

1980...Christmas Holiday snowfall totals of 1.1" at Clintwood 1 W and 1.6" at Wise 1 SE were observed during December 25-26.

1981...Christmas morning found 1.0" of snowfall at Clintwood 1 W, with 1.3" reported at Wise 1 SE. 

1982...Warmest Christmas on record!
The maximum temperature reached 69 degrees in Wise to establish the highest Christmas temp ever observed since record keeping began in 1955.  This reading was taken at an elevation of 2560 feet, with lower elevations being warmer ( e.g., 75 degrees in town of Pennington Gap ) and higher elevations cooler.

1983...Coldest Christmas on record!
The minimum temperature fell to -13 degrees below zero in Wise to establish the lowest temp ever observed since record keeping began in 1955. Unofficial MINS as bitter as -25 degrees below zero were reported in the area ( i.e., lowest for Christmas ).

1984...A rainfall total of 0.70" was measured into Christmas morning in the City of Norton 
( at Norton Water Plant ), with 0.49" in Clintwood.  
Only a few snow flurries were observed. 

1985...Heavy snow developed Christmas Eve with 3" to 4" on the ground Christmas day at Clintwood 1 W.  Plunging temperatures produced a bitter 
6 degree above zero reading by 8 PM.  Snow depths were deeper, temps and wind chills much lower, across mid-upper elevations above 2500 feet. 

1986...A rainfall total of 1.42" was measured at Norton WP during the Christmas Holiday, with 1.18" in Clintwood ( mostly fell during December 24, with foggy conditions during Christmas day ). 

1987...Wettest Christmas Holiday on record!
A total of 4.55" of rain fell at Norton WP during the December 24-27 period, with locally greater tallies across the High Knob Massif ( a rainfall total of 2.40" in Wise established the 24-hour record for Christmas, ending at 5 PM on Christmas day ).

1988...Powerful afternoon thunderstorms prompted a rare, late season tornado watch for the area during December 24 ( Franklin, Tn., was devastated by a twister ).  Rainfall totals reached 1.40" at Norton WP and 0.71" at Clintwood 1 W during Christmas Eve.  Dry and much cooler conditions dominated Christmas day.

1989...Arctic cold & snow.
Temps as cold as -20+ below zero occurred amid upper elevation basins from the High Knob Massif to Burkes Garden during December 23-25 
( all temps in degrees Fahrenheit ).

A mean 4" snow depth was observed at Wise 1 SE on Christmas day, with deeper depths amid the High Knob Massif.

1990...NWS Cooperative Stations in Clintwood and Wise were the only official sites in Virginia to report at least 1" of snow depth during Christmas 
( included northern slopes in the City of Norton, with deeper depths along the High Knob Massif ).

1991...Snow flurries fell on Christmas Eve with none on the ground amid the lower elevations at Clintwood 1 W on Christmas.

1992...Heavy snow developed during afternoon on Christmas day with up to 6"+ accumulating across mid-upper elevations of the High Knob Landform and Tennessee Valley Divide.  A total of 2.6" were observed in Clintwood. 

1993...Snow developed during Christmas day with intense afternoon snow squalls.  A snow depth of 6" was measured at Clintwood 1 W by early hours of December 26.  Air temps plunged to -3 below zero atop Eagle Knob of the High Knob Massif, 
amid snow depths of up to 12"+ . 

1994...A Christmas morning snow depth of 1" atop the High Knob Massif, with no snow in the valleys 
( MIN of 23 degrees in Clintwood on Christmas, with 18 degrees on morning of December 26 ).

1995...A 1" snow depth on Christmas morning increased during the day, with 4.2" of new snow falling at Clintwood 1 W.  Snow depths of 6" to 8" were reported across the High Knob Massif 
( MIN of 9 degrees in Wise on AM of December 24 ). 

1996...A cold wave prior to the Christmas holiday, with minimum temps of 3 degrees in Norton and 
5 degrees in Wise on morning of December 21.  A warming trend brought rain, not snow, with totals varying from 0.58" in Clintwood up to 1.01" in the City of Norton into December 24.  Only a few Christmas morning snow flurries.

1997...Mostly cloudy and mild with 0.15" of rain 
at Clintwood 1 W and 0.26" at Norton WP for the 24-hours ending Christmas morning. Major back to back winter storms followed the holiday with snow depths of 12" in Norton and 18" to 36" across the High Knob highcountry by December 31.

1998...An ice storm during December 23-24, with 1" of packed ice and sleet remaining on the ground at Clintwood 1 W on Christmas morning ( MIN of 10 degrees ).  Heavy snow followed the holiday for the second consecutive year, with snow depths of 4" 
in Clintwood and 6" to 10"+ across the sprawling High Knob Massif by December 31.

1999...Snow fell during December 24-25 with Christmas morning depths of 3" at Clintwood 1 W and 7" atop the High Knob Massif. MINS reached 
3 degrees in Norton and 5 degrees in Wise.

2000...Bitter temps before the holiday produced 
-2 degree below zero temps in the City of Norton on the morning of December 23.  

A trace of snow depth on Christmas morning at Clintwood 1 W, with 2" at Norton WP ( 4" to 6" in upper elevations of the High Knob Massif ).

2001...Bare ground across the entire Appalachian range, southward of the Pennsylvania border, on Christmas morning.  

2002...A Christmas morning snow depth of 1" at Norton WP, with a trace at Clintwood 1 W.  Snow accumulated during the day with 4" of depth in the City of Norton by late Christmas evening ( deeper depths across the High Knob Massif ).

2003...A Christmas morning snow depth of 5" 
at Norton WP, down from 14" on the morning of December 21 ( a trace at Clintwood 1 W increased 
to 1" by 9 AM with new snow ).  Christmas snow depths were much deeper across northern slopes of the High Knob Massif where accumulations 
had reached 20" or more on December 21.

2004...Bitter cold gripped the area before the holiday with MINS of -4 degrees below zero in both Wise and at Clintwood 1 W on December 20.  A -10 below zero minimum was recorded on Eagle Knob of the High Knob Massif, amid 15-30+ mph wind gusts.  Strong warming followed the cold wave with bare ground across much of the area by Christmas Eve as bitter air returned.  Deep snow continued to blanket northern slopes of High Knob Lake Basin, where up to 9" of depth lasted into December 30 
( suggesting a foot or more of Christmas morning depth ).

2005...Christmas Eve day found a solid blanket of snow across the upper elevations in the High Knob Massif with a generally bare landscape below 3000 feet.  Sleet & freezing rain created bad driving into the evening, with numerous traffic accidents and abandoned vehicles along Alt. 58 between Norton and Castlewood.

Christmas day featured an array of conditions with rain showers, fog, rare lightning & thunder, peeps of sun, and a evening transition to snow across upper elevations ( 1" to 5" of new snow accumulated into December 26 ).

2006...Bare ground was once again found across the entire Appalachian range to the south of the Pennsylvania border during the December 24-25 period.  Christmas day got off to a chilly, wet start as predawn rain overspread the mountains on gusty SE-SSE flow.  Downsloping combined with a distinct dry slot to generate partly to mostly sunny skies for a while with temps soaring into the 55-60 degree range below 3000 feet.  Much cooler air was felt across the High Knob Massif where an array of low clouds and mountain leewaves formed on the strong SE flow.

For the second year in a row snowflakes flew the day after Christmas, with 0.5" to 3"+ across the area during December 26.

2007...Bare ground was yet again found, for the second consecutive Christmas holiday, across the entire Appalachian range south of Pennsylvania during December 24-25 ( the third Christmas holiday this decade to be completely snow barren south of the PA border, even on the highest summits! ).

Despite 1" or more of snow depth through morning hours of December 20 in the High Knob Massif, warming temperatures and a couple rain events washed all snow away from even the very coldest, northern basins. It had been an anemic start to winter across the great southern Appalachians, with only 4" to 7" of snow across the sprawling 
High Knob Massif in weeks prior to Christmas 
( during December ), and just 2.5" in low elevations at Clintwood 1 W.  A fitting conclusion to the all-time driest year on record in the local mountains 
( e.g., only 45.00" to 50.00" in Big Cherry Basin of High Knob ).

2008...A break in the mild, wet December 2008 pattern raised hopes that a White Christmas would finally return to decorate the mountains as bitter cold, arctic air poured south into the Appalachians on December 21. Wind chills dipped to -12 below zero in Wise by early on December 22, with air temps from -6 below zero on Eagle Knob of the High Knob Massif to 7 above in Clintwood.

However, bitter cold left as fast as it arrived with strong SSE-SSW winds ROARing across mountain ridges by late on December 23. Rain, NOT snow, arrived for Christmas Eve gatherings with up to 0.60" measured at Big Cherry Dam of High Knob on wind driven upslope flow ( 0.21" in Clintwood ).

For the third consecutive year, and 4th time this decade, Christmas day dawned with no snow on the ground south of Pennsylvania. That included even most favored, and typically snow laden north slope locations like lofty High Knob Lake Basin, Mount Rogers, Mount LeConte, Tn., and the ski resort of Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia. 
Amazing!

2009...Be careful what you WISH FOR!
A major pre-holiday snowstorm crippled & buried the mountain area during December 18-19, 2009 to generate a MEGA-Disaster event ( electricity was lost in 96% of Dickenson County alone ).

24" of Snow Depth - December 19, 2009
Buried In Robinson Knob of High Knob Massif
Photograph by Otis Ward - © All Rights Reserved.


The morning of December 19 found 2 to 3 feet of snow depth, with 4-5+ feet in drifts, across upper elevations of the High Knob Massif, with 1 to 1.5 feet of snow depth being more common across lower-middle elevations below 3000 feet.

The high density, WET fall devastated much of central-northern Scott, Wise, Dickenson, and Buchanan counties, below 3000 feet, with miles of downed power lines, many hundreds of broken poles, and the worse, most massive tree damage ever observed in a snowstorm ( topping January 1998 destruction ).

Post-Storm Destruction - December 2009
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Despite warming and rain into Christmas day, a general 6-10" of Christmas Eve snow depth at Clintwood 1 W diminished to 6" by Christmas morning ( 2-6" into early hours of December 26 ). 

Water gushed out of the snow laden High Knob highcountry during Christmas, with strong rises on whitewater creeks and headwater rivers like South Fork of the Powell and North Fork of the Clinch into the new year.

Early January 2010
South Fork Gorge of High Knob Massif
Whitewater From BIG Snow Melt & Rain
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

2010...Major Christmas Holiday Snowstorm!
The second White Christmas in a row greeted the mountain landscape as light to moderate snow, with embedded heavier bursts, dominated the overnight to sunrise period of Christmas Morn to generate an idyllic 2" to 3" coating of pristine white over old snow. 

This as a major winter storm took shape across the already snowy mountains.


Cloudy, cold conditions ruled Christmas Eve day with maxs in the 20s to around 30 degrees from Norton-Wise north to Clintwood as clouds lowered and thickened ahead of the developing storm. 

Doppler indicated virga began reaching the summit level of the High Knob Massif in evening hours of Christmas Eve as the atmosphere saturated from the top downward.

Christmas morning snow depths varied from around 5" ( 3" to 7" ) in Clintwood and the City of Norton to as much as 15" at higher elevations in the High Knob Massif ( deeper in drifts ).

What began as a moderately wet snow turned fluffy in nature by PM hours of December 26 as gusty winds increased upsloping amid increasingly bitter air. PM temps in the 10s from Norton-Wise into the High Knob highcountry fell into single digits on Eagle Knob by 7 PM on December 26 as snowfall turned heavy to mark the most intense period of this prolonged December 25-27 event 
( 9.0" of new snow fell in High Chaparral of the High Knob Massif from the PM of Dec 26 into the AM of Dec 27 ).

December 27, 2010
Massive Snow Drift Line In High Knob Massif
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Massive drifting in the High Knob Massif occurred amid a general knee to waist deep snowpack!

Elevation 4189 feet
General Knee to Waist Deep Snow
Eagle Knob Communications Area - December 27, 2010
Photograph by Steve Blankenbecler - © All Rights Reserved.

Snowfall Totals For The 
Christmas Holiday Storm of 2010

Clintwood 1 W: 12.2"
City of Norton WP: 12.6"
Nora 4 SSE on Long Ridge: 15.0"
High Chaparral of High Knob Massif: 18.5"
*Eagle Knob of High Knob Massif: 23.0"

( * ) - Approximate storm snowfall total ( local amounts may have been greater or less within the main crest zone ). A general 4" to 5" of total settlement was observed during this event given the low density of the fluffy snowfall from Dec 25 ( PM ) to Dec 27 ( AM ). 

Mean snow depths reached around 10" in both Clintwood and the City of Norton, varying from 7" to 13", with 14" or more of mean depth on Long Ridge of Sandy Ridge and within upper elevations of the High Knob Massif ( where snow depths were generally knee to waist deep, as illustrated, or greater in the Crest Zone ).


Most significantly, this Christmas Holiday Storm helped make December 2010 the snowiest on record ( in at least 50 years ).

Snowiest December On Record 
December 2010 Snowfall Totals

Clintwood 1 W: 36.2"
Nora 4 SSE on Long Ridge: 46.3"
High Chaparral of High Knob Massif: 55.0"
*Eagle Knob of High Knob Massif: 67.0"

*Approximate tally ( with greater & lesser amounts likely in the main crest zone of the massif between Bowman Mountain and Thunderstruck Knob of Powell Mountain ).


2011...A BARE Christmas.
Following two wintry Christmases the only signs of winter in the High Knob Massif on Christmas Day 2011 were icicles hanging off cliffs.

A recap from my climate archives.

Photographer Roddy Addington found only icicles hanging off cliffs in the High Knob Massif during a Christmas morning drive into the highcountry on December 25 in 2011. 

A stark contrast from the previous year when deep snow was poised to get much deeper.  Still, despite the lack of snow, views were beautiful upon looking across the rugged mountains from atop the wind swept  expanse of High Knob Meadow 
( at 4223 feet above sea level ).

View From High Knob Meadow - Christmas Day 2011
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Holiday Snow ( After Christmas Day )
Christmas was barely over when one of the most energetic systems of the entire month developed
into December 26, with SE-S wind gusts of 40 to 60+ mph.  Winds remained strong as cold air arrived on SW flow trajectories into afternoon hours of December 27, with gusts around 40 mph being observed in Wise.  
A transition from light rain to snow occurred amid the High Knob Massif as temps tumbled below freezing.

Upslope snowfall increased through late evening hours into the overnight of December 28, with conditions becoming blizzard-like at times on Eagle Knob in wind driven, swirling snow.  By morning 2" to 3"+ depths had accumulated across the main crest zone of the massif, with 1-2" common at middle elevations.


End Of 49-Year Christmas History.


A few data sources for this 49-year 
period included but was not limited to
the following individuals and locations:

The High Knob Massif Area

( Elevation 4178 feet )
Blue Ridge Public Television 
Terry Surface 
Carl Henderson
Dennis Salyer
Marty Genusa

( Elevation 4178 feet )
Eagle Knob Weather Station
Wayne Browning
Walter Lee Browning
Larry Browning
William Browning
John Mullins
Jonathan Owens

( Elevation 4189 feet )
Virginia-Kentucky Communications
Steve Blankenbecler

( Elevation 3300 feet )
High Chaparral Community
Joe & Darlene Fields and Family
Wade Fields

( Elevation 3240 feet )
Robinson Knob Community
Otis & Nancy Ward

( Elevation 3420 feet )
Little Mountain Community
James & Carol Bolling 
David & Ann ( Marie ) Sturgill
Cal Adams

( Elevation 3600 feet )
High Knob Lake Host Cabin
Temperature Observations

( Elevation 3120 feet )
Big Cherry Dam 
Gary Hampton & Staff of Big Stone Gap WP

( Elevation 1940 feet )
South Fork Gorge
Gary Hampton & Staff of Big Stone Gap WP

( Elevation 2750 feet )
Flat Gap Community
Johnny Combs

( Elevation 1945 feet )
Head of Powell Valley
Elizabeth & Addison Stallard
Sharon Daniels 

( Elevation 1600 feet )
Cracker Neck of Powell Valley 
Tracy & Jennifer Garrison 

( Elevation 1900 feet )
Skeens Ridge of Powell Valley
Ida & David Holyfield

( Elevation 2360 feet )
Appalachia Lake 
Jack Pitts & Staff of Appalachia Lake Water Plant 

( Elevation 2141 to 3308 feet )
City of Norton & Dual Norton Reservoirs 
Tommy Roberts
Steve Adams
Gary Hampton
Joe Carter
Andrew Greear
Raymond Ricketts
Ed Dauphine
Wes Ward

Lakes of the High Knob Massif Area
Larry Robbins 

( Elevation 2500 feet )
Flatwoods Community
Janet Couch

Clinch Ranger District of Jefferson National Forest 
United States Forest Service Staff ( Wise Office )

Virginia Department of Transportation ( VDOT ) 
Wise Office
Coeburn Office
East Stone Gap Office


High Knob Landform 
( Landscape & Environment )

Roddy Addington
Bill Harris
Harold Jerrell
Wayne & Genevie Riner
Steve Blankenbecler
Richard Kretz 
Darlene & Joe Fields
Otis & Nancy Ward
Gary Hampton
Andrew Greear
Denver Garrett
Addison & Elizabeth Stallard
Sharon Daniels
Frank Gentry
Jimmy Stidham
Jonathan Owens
Alan Cressler 
Jimmy Fawbush
Ron Flanary 
Johnny Stanley
Donnie Rose
Rodney Parsons 
Karen Peters
Tim Mullins
Steve Ruth
John King
Johnny & Jo Combs
Beckie & Tommy Roberts
Frank Kilgore
Dan Weemhoff 
Dr. Phil Shelton
Dr. Richard Peake
Dr. Paul Marek
Dr. Benjamin Schwartz 
Dwight Peake
Anna Hess & Mark Hamilton
Members of The Clinch Coalition
Members of The U.S. Forest Service In Wise
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service ( Shane Hanlon )
Virginia Natural Heritage Program Staff
Virginia Karst Program ( Wil Orndorff )
Thomas Wieboldt of Massey Herbarium
Plus many ( MANY ) others.............

City of Norton
Norton Water Plant Staff
AWS Weatherbug at Norton Elementary School
Jimmy Fawbush 

Town of Wise 
Roy L. Wells, Jr. & ETS Staff  
Wise 1 SE & Wise 3 E NWS Cooperative Stations 
Wise RAWS - United States Forest Service 
LNP AWOS - Lonesome Pine Airport
Roddy Addington
Steve Blankenbecler

Town of Appalachia
Jack Pitts
Mark Quillin
John King

Town of Coeburn
Coeburn Filtration Plant Staff
Tracy Garrison

Town of Big Stone Gap 
Big Stone Gap Water Plant Staff
Big Stone Gap Wastewater Treatment Plant Staff
Frank Gentry

Town of Pennington Gap
Pennington Gap Water Plant Staff

Town of Jonesville
Denver Garrett

Community of Silver Leaf
Harold Jerrell

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
Carol Borneman & Staff


The Russell Fork Basin
( Northern Wise & Dickenson counties )

Town of Pound
Geneva Varner & Staff of North Fork of Pound Dam

Town of Clintwood
Paul D. Buchanan
Wayne Browning & Family
Steve Mullins & Staff of Clintwood WWTP

Community of Birchleaf
Jonathan Owens

Long Ridge of Sandy Ridge 
Wayne & Genevie Riner

John W. Flannagan Dam
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Staff

Breaks Interstate Park
Carl Mullins & Staff

Breaks Village
James Childress


And finally, a very special thanks to the 
main photographers for this website:

Roddy Addington
Bill Harris 
Harold Jerrell
Richard Kretz
Wayne Riner
Genevie Riner 
Darlene Fields
Alan Cressler
Steve Blankenbecler 

This is only a partial listing of the many who make what I do possible.  To all those named and the many others un-named, which I've met and talked with over the years, I am so very thankful and appreciative to each and every one!

While many are named more than once, I could never thank
any of them enough for their contributions over the years.


Merry Christmas In 2011.

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