Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Devil Fork Basin & October 2010 Recap

October 31, 2010
Jefferson National Forest
Pristine Beauty - Devil Fork Basin of High Knob Massif
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

The High Knob Landform

Roddy Addington and Bill Harris ended the month of October 2010 in style, with a photogenic hike into the rugged, remote wilderness setting of the incredibly majestic Devil Fork Basin of the High Knob Massif.

The above photograph says much more than I can about the Devil Fork, which features a 4525 acre roadless area that has been designated a Virginia Mountain Treasure by the Wilderness Society ( includes at least 628 acres of old growth forest ).

The High Knob Landform website is proud to showcase the truly awesome beauty of Devil Fork Basin for the first time!

October 31, 2010
Big Stony Basin Multi-Gorge Complex
Classic Photograph of The Devil's Bathtub
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Mother Nature's handiwork in carving out this amazing bathtub formation would make any artist of rock sculptures proud ( and jealous too! ).

Devil Fork Basin is a featured section amid lower reaches of the Big Stony Basin multi-gorge complex in northern Scott County, Va., with a truly unique geological formation called the Devil's Bathtub being one of the main attractions.

October 31, 2010
Incredible Sculptured Sides of Devil's Bathtub
 Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Set amid interbedded siltstones & sandstones of the Middle Lee Formation of Pennsylvanian age rocks, weathering over time has finely dissected stratas within this section of Devil Fork Gorge to carve out numerous amazing formations.

October 31, 2010
Finely Dissected Waterfall - Devil Fork Gorge
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Although the bathtub featured in the classic Roddy Addington photograph above is the master bath, the Devil has carved himself out more than one washing place amid this gorge!

October 31, 2010
A "Guest" Bath of Devil Fork Basin
 Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Devil Fork Basin possesses 1900 vertical feet of total relief between the crest of Little Mountain and the confluence of Devil Fork with Straight Fork ( the union of a very DEEP gorge ).

Devil Fork Gorge is a remote, wild setting that is bounded to the south by overturned stratigraphy associated with the Back Stone Mountain Syncline, and north by plunging slopes of Little Mountain.

It is labeled Stone Mountain Syncline on USGS mapping, but is more properly called Back Stone Mountain Syncline since it lies to the back of the main Stone Mountain section
of the High Knob Massif.

Back Stone Mountain stretches from Little Stony Gorge southwest along the southeastern base of the High Knob Massif, and is a footwall syncline stacked up against the massive
Powell Valley Anticline of the High Knob Landform.

October 31, 2010
High Knob Massif
Rocky Wildness - Devil Fork Gorge
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Devil Fork Gorge is said to contain a Class III-IV whitewater creek when running, with no large rapids but a respectable 250 feet of drop per mile along the main creek between Three Forks and its Straight Fork confluence.

October 31, 2010
Devil Fork Gorge
Cobble & Boulder Filled Creek Bed
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Remember that what "meets the eye" is not always the case amid the porous diversity of subterranean richness that is this great High Knob Landform, where underground conduit systems are extensive ( water is everywhere lurking in this land ).

Clearly, in Devil Fork Basin the real "hair" for any insane steep creeker is to be found on many micro-creek tributaries that nearly free fall into the main gorge ( some dropping 500-1000+ feet in a mile or less! ). 

October 31, 2010
Devil Fork Gorge of High Knob Massif
Mother Nature's Painting - Reflections From The Sky
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

On this day, at the conclusion of the driest two month period in some 2 years, it was not about gushing whitewater but pristine beauty as so well captured by my friend and award winning photographer Roddy Addington.

October 31, 2010
Remnant Massif of High Knob Landform
Crystal Clear Pool - Devil Fork Gorge
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Devil Fork Basin contains a rather significant USFS trail system, with a 7.2 mile loop trail that connects up with the 1.8 mile Straight Fork Ridge trail to offer a strenuous 9 mile hike ideal for a day or overnight backpacking trip.

October 31, 2010
USFS ( United States Forest Service ) Public Land
Trail Marking - Devil Fork Basin
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Roddy & Bill encountered a fine troop of American Boy Scouts who had taken advantage of this wilderness setting, with trail marks discovered along the way being the only sign left of their presence in this wondrous backcountry!

The way it should be, as you should always leave such places as good or BETTER than you found them.  How better, make it a habit to pick up a can or any piece(s) of trash that might be seen along the way.  It will make you feel better too!.

October 31, 2010
Devil Fork Basin of High Knob Massif
Clean Water Feeds All Life ( Including YOU )
 Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

The production and storage of clean water 
( both above and beneath its surface in the subterranean ) is an aspect that makes the High Knob Massif and other portions of its great landform so vital to the health and well being of the Upper Tennessee and Upper Cumberland river basins.

The Upper Tennessee & Upper Cumberland river basins collectively contain the greatest assemblage of aquatic diversity on the North American continent, with the great Clinch River possessing more mussel species than any other river in the entire world.  These are not statements made lightly, as they indicate that this is no ordinary mountain region of planet Earth!

October 31, 2010
Diversity of Life In The Devil Fork
Wrinkled & Weathered At End of Growing Season
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Devil Fork Basin is only a relatively small part 
of a huge section of magnificent mountain terrain featuring the Big Cherry Basin and South Fork Gorge, adjoining sections of the Big Stony Basin multi-gorge complex, and the entire southwestern expanse of the rugged Powell Mountain block of the massif ( Cove Creek Gorge to Duffield Valley ).

The Cox Place and Upper Devil Fork homes on Little Mountain of High Knob being the only significant concentration of permanent and part time residences within this entire area.

October 31, 2010
Masterpiece of Natural Art
Swirl of Pristine Water & Leaves
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

A photograph need not always be made in perfect focus.  Roddy shows how allowing a little motion can bring forth the true beauty that might not be so immediately apparent to the naked eye.

Such beauty is a unique part of nature as dynamic forces of motion and energy, swirling water and autumn leaves counterclockwise, are revealed here amid this very special place that is the Devil Fork!

The counterclockwise tendency for flows of energy being the natural design on all scales, from minute to monstrous, across the Northern Hemisphere.  All ultimately driven by waves of endless, undulating photons streaming forth through a vaccum of space to ignite invisible movement in molecules that unify all living and non-living entities of the natural world.  Is it not incredible!

Thanks to my buddy Roddy for sharing
his truly extraordinary gift with us all, in this
seemingly simple ( he makes it look so easy ) but important documentation of what has been
and what is now! 

Climate Statistics 
For October 2010

Tennessee Valley Divide
Long Ridge of Sandy Ridge
Last of Autumn Colors - October 23, 2010
Photograph by Wayne Riner - © All Rights Reserved.

This photograph is looking from the Tennessee Valley Divide across the Russell Fork Basin of the Big Sandy River Basin ( of the great Ohio River watershed ).

Birch Knob of Pine Mountain is the highest peak visible on the horizon, toward the left side, of this scenic Wayne Riner picture.

October 2010 generated above average temps and below average rainfall across much of the mountain area, to mark the second consecutive month with such conditions.

( Lower Elevations of Russell Fork Basin )
Clintwood 1 W - Elevation 1560 feet
Average Daily MAX: 67.9  degrees
Average Daily MIN: 38.3 degrees
MEAN: 53.1 degrees
Highest Temperature: 80 degrees
Lowest Temperature: 27 degrees
October Rainfall: 2.68"
2010 Precipitation: 36.82"

( Northern Base of High Knob Massif )
City of Norton - Elevation 2141 feet
Average Daily MAX: 65.2 degrees
Average Daily MIN: 36.7 degrees
MEAN: 51.0 degrees
Highest Temperature: 79 degrees
Lowest Temperature: 25 degrees
October Rainfall: 3.26"
2010 Precipitation: 45.97"

( Along the Tennessee Valley Divide )
Nora 4 SSE - Elevation 2650 feet
Average Daily MAX: 64.8 degrees
Average Daily MIN: 46.2 degrees
MEAN: 55.5 degrees
Highest Temperature: 79 degrees
Lowest Temperature: 34 degrees
October Rainfall: 2.32"
2010 Precipitation: 38.81"

In the High Knob high country October temp means varied from mid-upper 50s by day along the highest crestlines to low-mid 30s by night amid the colder basins ( with low-middle 40s at night along exposed ridges having abundant mixing by wind ).

October rainfall totals were generally around 3.00", near to somewhat below average for what is typically the driest month of the year across the High Knob Landform.

Combined September + October rainfall totals were much below average, with tallies varying from 6.50" to 7.00" along the crest zone of the massif from High Knob to Robinson Knob.

A total of 6.84" being officially measured at 
Norton Water Plant in the City of Norton.

My friend Gary Hampton, superintendent of the Big Stone Gap Water Plant, reports that Big Cherry Lake was only down 3.5 feet below its spillway at the end of October.  This despite only 5.72" measured at the Dam during September-October, around 1.00" below what fell at the head of Big Cherry Basin ( and a little less than what actually fell at the Dam due to some evaporation ).

Elevation 3120 feet ( at full pool )
Big Cherry Lake - October 2010
Photograph Courtesy of Joyce McMahan

The Thermal Belt 

An interesting aspect of the mountain climate that becomes rather distinct during both autumn and spring is the relative warmth of the thermal belt.

The thermal belt is an elevation zone which tends to have warmer nocturnal temps than both adjacent valleys and higher ridges, as illustrated well by the average nightly MINS recorded by Wayne & Genevie Riner during October at their official Nora 4 SSE station on Long Ridge.

All regions with topographic relief tend to have thermal belts, which became well recognized by pioneers as good places for planting frost sensitive crops such as orchards.

Average nightly lows within the thermal belt were some 10 to 15 degrees milder than those observed within colder mountain valleys during October 
( a typical occurrence climatologically ).

October 22, 2010
Long Ridge of Sandy Ridge
Fall Colors Against October Blue
Photograph by Wayne Riner - © All Rights Reserved.

Well drained slopes and ridges, where the air is well mixed at night by wind, tend to hold autumn colors longest during seasons that lack vigorous storms packing heavy rain, strong winds, and blasts of sub-freezing post-frontal air ( helps define the thermal belt ).

Such was the case during October 2010, where steep slopes above Powell Valley and across surrounding areas held locally good color until the major leaf fall of October 25-27, when heavy rainfall and strong winds combined to end the best color period across lower-middle elevations.

October 29, 2010
A Lonesome Pine - Long Ridge of Sandy Ridge
Photograph by Wayne Riner - © All Rights Reserved.

Wayne Riner Photograph notes...
"A single hemlock stands as a lone sentinel looking to the Northwest with Pine Mountain in the far background.  All of nature cries farewell to the colors of fall."

This awesome photograph by my friend Wayne Riner pretty much says it all about the ending of autumn color in 2010.  A simply great shot!

Beautiful lighting from late afternoon sunshine upon     the tree snag, set against a dark blue sky that so very often typifies October in the mountains, makes the above photograph an extra special capture by the great eye of my friend Wayne ( in addition to the colors and lone Hemlock, as he so well stated ).

Regional Climate Statistics
For October 2010

Elevation 1365 feet
Jackson, Ky., NWSFO
Average Daily MAX: 71.3 degrees
Average Daily MIN: 47.7 degrees
MEAN: 59.5 degrees
Highest Temperature: 85 degrees
Lowest Temperature: 34 degrees
October Rainfall: 1.68"
2010 Precipitation: 36.52"

Elevation 1211 feet
London, Kentucky
Average Daily MAX: 71.0 degrees
Average Daily MIN: 42.3 degrees
MEAN: 56.6 degrees
Highest Temperature: 83 degrees
Lowest Temperature: 30 degrees
October Rainfall: 1.95"
2010 Precipitation: 37.47"

Elevation 780 feet
Buckhorn Lake State Park, Ky.
Average Daily MAX: 73.1 degrees
Average Daily MIN: 42.6 degrees
MEAN: 57.8 degrees
Highest Temperature: 86 degrees
Lowest Temperature: 31 degrees
October Rainfall: 2.29"
2010 Precipitation: 38.14"
( 1 day missing in September )

Elevation 1525 feet
Tri-Cities, Tennessee
Average Daily MAX: 70.0 degrees
Average Daily MIN: 42.2 degrees
MEAN: 56.1 degrees
Highest Temperature: 83 degrees
Lowest Temperature: 31 degrees
October Rainfall: 2.41"
2010 Precipitation: 29.95"

Elevation 981 feet
Knoxville, Tennessee
Average Daily MAX: 73.3 degrees
Average Daily MIN: 46.7 degrees
MEAN: 60.0 degrees
Highest Temperature: 85 degrees
Lowest Temperature: 33 degrees
October Rainfall: 3.99"
2010 Precipitation: 36.87"

Elevation 683 feet
Chattanooga, Tennessee
Average Daily MAX: 77.7 degrees
Average Daily MIN: 48.0 degrees
MEAN: 62.8 degrees
Highest Temperature: 89 degrees
Lowest Temperature: 36 degrees
October Rainfall: 2.31"
2010 Precipitation: 32.48"

Elevation 167 feet
Richmond, Va., ( State Capitol )
Average Daily MAX: 72.6 degrees
Average Daily MIN: 49.6 degrees
MEAN: 61.1 degrees
Highest Temperature: 88 degrees
Lowest Temperature: 35 degrees
October Rainfall: 2.14"
2010 Precipitation: 31.36"

Climatology of November

November 5, 2010
Heavy Snow at Lonesome Pine Airport In Wise
Photograph Courtesy of Lisa Gilley

Although the first snowflakes often fall across the highcountry in October, it is November which typically produces the first real hits from the Ole Man of Winter!

Such was the case in early November 2010.  Please reference this section of my website for an extensive recap of this first episode:

It can really get cold at times in November with a look back at the top ten coldest nights on record proving just that!

Top Ten Coldest November Nights On Record
Wise 1 SE and Wise 3 E
Elevation: 2549 to 2560 feet
Record Period: 1955 to 2009

4 degrees...November 24, 1970
5 degrees...November 30, 1976
6 degrees...November 25, 1970
7 degrees...November 22, 2008
8 degrees....November 15, 1969
8 degrees...November 29, 1955
9 degrees...November 14, 1986
9 degrees...November 27, 1977
10 degrees....November 7, 1967
10 degrees...November 18, 1959

Since the Wise weather station sits upon an exposed plateau, it can get much colder at night amid the mid-upper elevation valleys that have cold air drainage.

An inspection of the very long record period in Burkes Garden is a good illustration.

Top Ten Coldest November Nights On Record
Burkes Garden Basin
Elevation: 3068 to 3300 feet
Record Period: 1896 to 2009

-3 degrees...November 15, 1904
-3 degrees...November 25, 1950
-1 degree.....November 23, 1937
-1 degree.....November 27, 1930
0 degrees...November 22, 1926
0 degrees....November 26, 1971
0 degrees...November 28, 1938
2 degrees...November 19, 2008
2 degrees...November 29, 1953
2 degrees...November 30, 1929

Warmth is still likely during November but no true heat is expected as an inspection of the top ten warmest days on record reveals.

Top Ten Warmest November Days On Record In Wise
Wise 1 SE and Wise 3 E
Elevation: 2549 to 2560 feet
Record Period: 1955 to 2009

79 degrees...November 3, 2003
78 degrees...November 2, 2003
78 degrees...November 4, 2003
77 degrees...November 5, 2003
75 degrees....November 1, 1980
75 degrees..November 14, 1993
74 degrees...November 6, 1975
74 degrees...November 9, 1975
74 degrees...November 10, 1975
73 degrees...November 13, 1994

A great warm wave in 2003 dominates the record period, with a maximum of 71 degrees being observed at 4178 feet above sea level on Eagle Knob of the High Knob Massif ( possibly the warmest temp at that elevation in at least 55 years during November ).

November is a significant month in that it typically marks an up-tick in observed precipitation, as the orographic forcing season kicks in across the HKL and especially its remnant massif.

November also marks a spike in severe thunderstorms and tornadoes across the USA, as the transition from autumn to winter drives a secondary severe weather season.

It can be a very fickle month at this latitude for wintry weather, with November 2009 hardly seeing any snow at all across the High Knob Massif.

For an overview of November 2009 please reference:

By contrast, the year before, winter settled into the High Knob highcountry with 27 days of 1" or more of snow depth across upper north slopes during the November 15 to December 15 period of 2008.

While December is clearly the month that is most favored for the onset of prolonged wintry conditions, November can occasionally generate powerful winter storms.

Perhaps the greatest of all-time, and the best known, buried the mountain landscape during Thanksgiving week in November 1950.

No Appalachian climatology for November would be complete without noting this awesome storm episode.

November 24, 1950
Analysis of Pre-Storm Setting
From My Climatology Archive ( Source Unknown )

A Greenland blocking pattern supported by a negative phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation, and formation of a Newfoundland Low ( termed a 50/50 low for its 50 N & 50 W position ), were signals of major southeastern USA cyclogenesis.

This storm became a BEAST!

Historic Storm Reanalysis
850 mb Chart - 7 AM November 25, 1950

By the morning of November 25 in 1950 a very intense low was centered over western Virginia at 850 mb, with an unseasonably bitter surge of arctic air into its backside ( note 850 mb temps of -16 to -18 C over the High Knob Landform ).

According to the Kentucky Climate Center, a liquid water equivalent of 2.36" was obtained out of 21.5" of snow which fell in Benham, Ky., of Harlan County, at 1610 feet above sea level.

This observation was very significant, since the location rests 2613 feet lower in elevation than the summit of the High Knob Massif ( some 18 air miles to the southeast of Benham ).

Very important snow densities would have been much lower ( i.e., snow to water ratios much higher ) amid much colder air at higher elevations, such that 2.36" of water equivalent would have yielded much more snowfall in the colder air.

In reality, however, total water equivalent production by the storm was likely greater to much greater into upper elevations ( i.e., total snowfall would have been much greater ).

Although no official weather data exists for this event in Wise, Norton, Pound, Clintwood, and the High Knob Massif, a personal account from my own family indicates that snow got much deeper on the Virginia side of the mountains.

My father & mother were married in June 1951, and just happened to be courtin' at the time of this great storm ( Thanksgiving Week in 1950 ).

Needless to say, their courtship was seriously disrupted by this mammoth winter storm!

My mother ( Dora Selina ) recalls that her family lived in an isolated mountain hollow, "a good walk from the main highway," and that Walter Lee 
( my father ) was unable to court her for over a week due to the deep snow.

Dora Selina recalls...
"My mother ( Grace Lucille ) became concerned over the weight of the snow atop our roof, so my father ( Creed ) and older brothers climbed up and shoveled some off.  It was around 3 feet deep in the yard."

The elevation of this homestead was just under 1900 feet above sea level, in western Dickenson County of the Russell Fork Basin ( some 18 air miles north of the High Knob Massif ).

Across the mountain my other grandparents 
( Gilmer Ephriam & Lula ) said their baby son Walter Lee "drooped around like a sick puppy the week of the great snow, being unable to make the trek across the mountain to court his sweetheart."

Given around 3 feet of depth in the Clintwood area, and 2.36" of water equivalent out of snowfall some 2613 feet lower in elevation than the High Knob Massif, in combination with climatology of major events in recent decades, it is highly suggestive of 4 to 5 feet of snow depth amid upper elevations of the massif ( many examples could be cited to support such differences, a brief one noted below from March 1942 ).

Map Courtesy of Jackson, Ky., NWSFO

While the map above suggests heavier snowfall on the Virginia side of the stateline, it clearly does not capture the magnitude of what is climatologically the corridor of greatest accumulations with flow trajectories having northern & western components ( from the High Knob Massif to Breaks Interstate Park ).

It does capture the downstream snow shadowing effect of the High Knob Landform, with storm snowfall totals of only 7" in Kingsport and 8.1" at Tri-Cities Airport in northeastern Tennessee.

During the epic snowstorm of March 1942, snow depths of 30" to 51" were measured in a corridor from the Head of Powell Valley into Wise, while only 5" were measured in Kingsport, Tennessee.

The November 1950 storm was complicated by bitter cold air, high winds with drifting, and by its long duration.

A couple years later another major storm buried portions of the Tennessee Valley and southern Appalachians with heavy, wet snow as it featured only marginally cold air in November 1952.

Historic Storm Reanalysis
850 mb Chart - 7 AM November 22, 1952

This storm dropped 18" on the Great Valley of eastern Tennessee, from Knoxville to Kingsport and the TRI ( Tri-Cities Airport ).  It still holds the all-time November snowfall record in these locales.

Some 25 years later a different type of storm setting hammered the High Knob Landform with heavy snow, as strong SW winds upsloped into the High Knob Massif and Tennessee Valley Divide in November 1977.

Historic Storm Reanalysis
850 mb Chart - 7 AM November 27, 1977

During this episode a strong advection of warmer air was working to displace an arctic air mass that had been engulfing the mountain area.

Snowfall developed with isentropic upglide of warmer air over the arctic dome, and became enhanced by orographic forcing as strong low-level southwesterly winds pushed upward into the highcountry surrounding High Knob and adjacent high terrain along the Tennessee Valley Divide.

Public snow depth reports of up to 16" were received from Big Stone Gap, with 14" depths reported from the Norton-Wise area northeast to Hazel Mountain in southern Dickenson County.

Much deeper depths were likely amid the High Knob Massif, but no data is available for this event.

So November can be an exciting month as it has literally ran the gamut from no snow to winter storms of historic proportions!