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!