Monday, April 2, 2012

April 2012 - Spring Majesty In Maple Gap

April 1, 2012
Looking To Big Cherry Basin & Head of Powell Valley
Majesty of Spring In Maple Gap of High Knob Massif
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Maple Gap rests upon the southwestern rim of South Fork Gorge and is one of the most beautiful places along the rugged border of Wise and Scott counties in southwestern Virginia.

April 1, 2012
Maple Gap of High Knob Massif
Large-flowered Trillium ( Trillium grandiflorum )
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

During a more "typical" spring it is early May before Trilliums reach peak bloom within these middle to upper elevations of the High Knob Massif.  Reference the following section of my website for an example from Spring 2010:

Famous for precipitous mountains, jagged cliffs, caves, trilliums, and sugar maples, the Maple Gap country of the High Knob Massif is a rich karst landscape where Native Americans once held ceremonial Stomp Dances!

April 1, 2012
Looking From State Route 722 Into Long Hollow
Spring Emergence Variations Are Visible With Elevation
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

From along the karst fields of Maple Gap distinct differences in spring emergence are visible upon looking into northeast slopes of South Fork Gorge, which rise 2000 vertical feet above the mouth of Long Hollow in southern Wise County, Virginia.

[ An April 11th drive along U.S. 23 between Big Stone Gap and the City of Norton continued to reveal a large contrast in "green up" between the floor of Powell Valley and the highcountry, with still mostly bare trees above the great band of calcareous cliffs 
( 3000 feet ) that mark a notable zone of climatic transition ].

April 1, 2012
South Fork of Powell River Basin
Karst Fields Spread Out In Highlands Below Maple Gap
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Extensive fields which spread outward across the middle elevations of this area, between 2100 and 3000 feet, make excellent points of reference for viewing from both the surface and satellites!

( Looking Down Upon The Above Photograph )
Karst Fields & Rugged Terrain As Viewed From Space

[ Note the stair-stepping nature of mountain ridges in this area with three consecutive and increasingly high levels in this view looking south across Maple Gap into rugged headwaters of Cove Creek & Stock Creek basins of the Clinch River watershed of this Upper Tennessee River Basin ( South Fork of the Powell River draining northern slopes of Maple Gap into Wise County ) ]. 

Looking down upon these fields from satellite a couple of aspects become clear, the huge size of this sprawling mass of mountain and the highly sculptured nature of this high precipitation area!

Looking NNE Into Sculptured Highcountry of Massif

Fields below Maple Gap are visible at far left center of the above view, looking NNE into this sprawling massif with its highly sculptured, stair-stepping ridges clearly seen from this perspective.

February 15, 2010
Looking from Powell Valley Overlook
Stair-Stepping Nature of High Knob Massif Terrain
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

[ The edge of karst fields below Maple Gap are seen as distinct white lines along front of the first "step up" on Powell Mountain, near center of this snowy Roddy Addington photograph ].

A beautiful Roddy Addington photograph taken from Powell Valley Overlook during February 2010 illustrates both the stair-stepping character of this section and its finely sculptured ridges which stand boldly out against the snow!

Vistas of Spring 2012
( Do not look bad either! )

April 4, 2012
Looking from Powell Valley Overlook
Majesty of Spring 2012 - Massif Capped In Clouds 
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

April 4, 2012
Panorama From Powell Valley Overlook
Mountain Star-Steps - Hidden In Clouds
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

[ Winds of change brought a notable chill into windward slopes of the Cumberland Mountains on April 5 with air temperatures that dropped into the 40s during the day along and N-NW of the High Knob Massif  ( a winter-like blast hit April 11-12 ) ].

Big Cherry Lake In Main Crest Zone of Massif
Big Cherry Basin Joins Maple Gap To Northeast

What truly makes all this extraordinary, of course, is that Big Cherry Basin and the main core of the High Knob Massif sprawls outward to the northeast of Maple Gap and the Powell Mountain Block to complete this large mass of mountain which stands as the remnant highcountry of the much bigger High Knob Landform.

Headward erosion and formation of the great calcareous core of the High Knob Landform, along with such finely sculptured topography as seen in these sections of the massif, reveal a long history of wet conditions in the mean.

April 1, 2012
Red Trillium ( Trillium erectum ) In Maple Gap
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

From more than 22,000 feet up its possible to view a portion of the High Knob Massif crest zone stretching from lovely High Knob Lake to majestic Big Cherry Lake.

Atop the Main Crest Zone
High Knob Lake to Big Cherry Lake In Massif

[ High Knob Lake ( 3490 feet ) is in extreme upper left of image with Big Cherry Lake ( 3120 feet ) on the right side below winding wetland valleys of Big Cherry Basin.  High Knob Meadow ( 4223 feet ) is the open field visible along the convex U-shaped crestline surrounding High Knob Lake Basin.  Beaverdam Gap & Sheep Gap form deep hollows at lower middle & right of image as they plunge off toward Powell Valley ( not visible ).  Maple Gap is to the SW ].

*Places & distances not visible in the above view include:

Maple Gap is 3.5 air miles WSW of Big Cherry Dam

Norton Reservoirs are 8 air miles NNE of Maple Gap

Bark Camp Lake is 8.5 air miles ENE of Big Cherry Dam
( 12 air miles ENE of the Maple Gap Karst Fields )

Little Stony Falls is 15 air miles ENE of Maple Gap

Guest River Gorge is 18 air miles E-NE of Maple Gap

Maple Gap is 9 air miles NNE of the Duffield Valley.

*Note driving distances are much longer than air miles.

April 1, 2012
Maple Gap of High Knob Massif
The Wondrous Colors of Mother Nature
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Mesoscale Weather Feature
Upslope Funneling In The High Knob Massif

While Big Cherry Dam and Robinson Knob are sites now featured most in the High Knob Massif for precipitation totals, outside of snowfall from High Chaparral & Eagle Knob, it was 10 years ago that I did a study in the Maple Gap area to look at air flow and precipitation on SE wind trajectories.

In specific, I was very interested in looking at a mesoscale aspect known as upslope funneling since there are a large number of deep gorges carved into the High Knob Massif.

Maple Gap was the perfect site to check out that potential on air flows with trajectories that could possibly funnel up the Cove Creek Gorge into an area with an automated rain gage.

The September to December 2002 period was chosen since it was dominated by SE wind precip events, during an El Nino winter with a ONI Index of +1.25 during the study period.

( Elevation of 2950 feet in Maple Gap )
Cove Creek Gorge Into Maple Gap from Scott County

[ Big Cherry Dam road is seen winding along Little Mountain in upper left of image, amid South Fork Gorge, while the long SE facing Cove Creek Gorge leading into Maple Gap is near middle of view ( base of gorge being at extreme upper right edge of image ) ].

Before and since this particular study I witnessed air flow funneling through gaps of the massif and increases in condensation rates and deposition of rime ( for example ) many times.

The long Cove Creek Gorge climbing up to Maple Gap from the Clinch River Valley of Scott County became a focus, as it was obviously aiding upslope enhancement via air flow funneling by its rugged mountain walls and SE orientation of gorge ( * ).

*The view above is flattened and tilted in order to get the entire gorge into image, with depth of gorge being much greater than it appears ( 5 air mile rise of flow from Stanleytown to Maple Gap ).

Observed Precipitation Totals
September-December 2002

Clintwood 1 W: 15.21"

North Fork of Pound Lake: 15.21"

Tri-Cities ( TN ): 15.86"

Breaks Interstate Park: 16.03"

Wise 3 E: 16.13"

Lebanon: 16.40"

Pennington Gap: 19.24"

Head of Powell Valley: 19.95"

Big Stone Gap WWTP: 20.84"

Norton Water Plant: 21.14"

Appalachia Lake Water Plant: 21.17"

Maple Gap of High Knob Massif: 31.14"

[ It is important to note that Maple Gap measurements were from an automated tipping-bucket rain gage, without a heater, while all other locations used NWS hand-measured gages.

Due to loss in winter precipitation and under reporting in heavy falls of rain the Maple Gap total was likely 10 to 15 percent less than what would have been observed by an 8" National Weather Service gage ( a general 15-20" of snow fell during the November-December 2002 period in the 2700-3000 foot elevation zone ) ].

Above differences are striking and revealed that orographic lifting on SE air flow trajectories can significantly enhance precipitation amounts in the High Knob Massif ( as also well documented at Big Cherry Dam, Robinson Knob, and other sites ).

Maple Gap Precipitation Totals
( September-December 2002 )

September: 7.12"

October: 6.88"

November: 7.66"

December: 9.48"

Total: 31.14"

2002 Total: 71.24" ( M )

The most significant snow event occurred during the December 4-5 period of 2002 and was SE flow dominated with 7-10"+ in upper elevations of the High Knob Massif and 2.96" of total rain + snow melt reported in Maple Gap.

[ The 2.96" water equivalent total being the most reported in Virginia during the December 4-5, 2002 event, with 1.99" being hand-measured in Powell Valley ( downslope side in this setting ) by Jennifer & Tracy Garrison using a 4"-diameter NWS rain gage ].

ETA Model Initialization At 7 PM - December 3, 2002

ETA Model Initialization At 7 AM - December 4, 2002

ETA Model Initialization At 7 PM - December 4, 2002

ETA Model Initialization At 7 AM - December 5, 2002

ETA Model Initialization At 7 PM - December 5, 2002

The bulk of heaviest precipitation fell on air flow trajectories having easterly components, with a SW-NW wind shift of lesser intensity occurring on backside of system.

December 7, 2002
High Resolution NASA Visible Satellite Image

[ The main winter storm was west of the Appalachians with cold air damming along the eastern slopes aiding snowfall toward the east in Virginia.  To the south, by contrast, only the highest crestlines of the Great Smokies ( near bottom of image ) were cold enough for snow to accumulate ].

This event generated a gorgeous NASA visible image that I have since used numerous times on this website to feature the High Knob Landform.

In the High Knob Massif a orographically forced and anchored TIM circulation ( thermally indirect mesoscale ) developed to boost total precipitation amounts.  This was most recently highlighted during February 2012.

Heavy and frequent falls of snow blanketed the High Knob Massif during January 2003 and this local study ended as roads became impassible at times and automated gages buried and clogged!

[ Other studies around this period included use of experimental storage rain gages on Eagle Knob to collect precipitation, monitoring of snowfall at different elevations, and a 14-month precipitation comparison using hand-measured gages between the eastern end of the massif ( Flat Gap community ) and nearby town of Wise ( at similar elevations ) ].

April 4, 2012
Spring In Powell Valley - Inside The High Knob Massif
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

My 2002 study and others since have proven that all these truly majestic, rugged mountain gorges carved into the High Knob Massif are more than just eye candy, they are very important to both its climate and that of adjacent locations as they alter flowing air and impact orographic forcing. 

It appears summer feedbacks and patterns of convection can also be impacted by these many gorges, including potential for excessive rains as highlighted during August 2010 ( for example ).

Gorges Of The High Knob Massif
And Its Northwestern Arm

Gorges have no strict definition of length and depth but typically are longer and deeper than mountain hollows.

South Fork of Powell River Gorge
Big Stony Creek Gorge
Straight Fork Gorge
Chimney Rock Gorge
Devil Fork Gorge
Glady Fork Gorge
Cove Creek Gorge
Dry Creek Gorge of Cove Creek
Stock Creek Gorge
Laurel Fork Gorge of Stock Creek
Dry Fork Gorge of Stock Creek
Roddy Branch Gorge of Valley Creek
McGhee Creek Gorge
Dry Creek Gorge of Clinch River
Little Stony Creek Gorge
Guest River Gorge
Mill Creek Gorge
Burns Creek Gorge
Machine Creek Gorge
Clear Creek Gorge
Lost Creek Gorge
Roaring Branch Gorge

The High Knob Massif possesses multi-gorge drainage basins that are supported by its geologic structure, which varies from a single tectonic ramp across its eastern end to a duplex-imbricate system of multiple ramps in central-southwestern sections featuring higher topographic relief ( main crest zone section from Bowman Mountain into the Powell Mountain block ).

[ Note that nearly all the steep creeks are FULL of wood and debris from major winter storms and high water events during the past few years and are not currently runnable ].

I wrote about the importance of these 
gorges in a former article:

"Many of the gorges are extremely steep, rugged, and remote, especially those carved out from the duplex-imbricate section of the massif.  If you have not been through them, you have missed the real High Knob!  

They are important on many levels.  They act like great funnels to transport air up and down, locally enhancing and/or depleting precipitation with changing air flow directions.  They are conduits for nocturnal cold air drainage, cold air advections, daytime thermals, and downslope enhanced streams of compressionally warmed air.  They create a diverse range of habitats, with mesic 
( northern-eastern facing slopes ) and xeric ( western-southern facing slopes and cliff outcrops possessing various exposures ) affinities.  This, of course, being further enhanced by their vertical downcutting through both acid-based and calcareous stratas."

April 1, 2012
Maple Gap of High Knob Massif
Early Spring Ephemeral Wildflower
Dwarf Larkspur ( Delphinium tricorne )
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Orographic Enhancement
of Convergent Air Flows

March 18, 2002
Flood In Coeburn Of Wise County, Virginia
Photograph Courtesy of Virginia Skywarn

[ The town of Coeburn was submerged by flood waters during this March 17-18, 2002 event which generated up to 8.00"+ of rainfall in the High Knob Massif ( northeastern slopes visible along upper right of photograph ) ].

Wind directions in the atmosphere often vary with height in the vertical, with different elevation levels of the High Knob Massif impacted by air flows from opposing directions at the same time.

The orographic enhancement of inflowing air can accentuate the natural convergence of colliding air masses under such conditions ( * ).

*This includes upslope funneling and other factors associated with orographic forcing highlighted on this website. 

While many examples could be cited, a couple from this period in which I was already looking more closely at upslope funneling and orographic forcing will illustrate how trouble can arise when air with easterly components in low-levels ( beneath the massif summit ) clashes with westerly component flows near and above the highcountry.

( Example 1 )
Severe Flash Flooding
of March 17-18, 2002

This event never had a strong surface low but instead was driven by a coupling of low-level convergence with upper-level divergence and abundant moisture inflow over a surface front.

The initial pre-flood state of the atmosphere, at 1900 hours on March 17, found a moist S to SW flow from the Gulf of Mexico at the 850 MB level to the south of a phasing and powerful 130 to 150 knot jet stream at 300 MB ( complete with a distinct sub-tropical moisture feed from the Pacific Ocean ).

March 17, 2002 at 6:45 PM ( 2345 UTC )
North American Infrared Satellite Image

East to northeast winds upsloping across the High Knob Massif during evening hours of March 17 set up a zone of enhanced convergence as they clashed with S-SW winds streaming in just above the highcountry.  The net result was coupling of orographics with upper level dynamics and a cloud burst of excessive rainfall which triggered severe flash flooding.

ETA Model Initialization At 7 PM - March 16, 2002

ETA Model Initialization At 7 AM - March 17, 2002

ETA Model Initialization At 7 PM - March 17, 2002

ETA Model Initialization At 7 AM - March 18, 2002

ETA Model Initialization At 7 PM - March 18, 2002

Rainfall was heavy across southwestern Virginia and northeastern Tennessee during this event, with excessive rain amounts centered upon the High Knob Massif - Black Mountain corridor.

Surface Chart At 7 AM - March 17, 2002

Surface Chart At 7 PM - March 17, 2002

Surface Chart At 7 AM - March 18, 2002

Storm Rainfall Totals
( March 17-18, 2002 )

Robinson Knob of High Knob Massif: 7.87"

Norton Elementary School: 7.02"

Big Black Mountain, Ky., FAA: 6.44"

Norton Water Plant: 6.27"

Appalachia Lake Water Plant: 6.25"

Closplint 4 ESE, Ky.,: 6.22"

Big Stone Gap WWTP: 6.04"

Pennington Gap: 5.76"

Head of Powell Valley: 5.69"

Wise 3 E: 5.47"

Clintwood 1 W: 4.32"

John W. Flannagan Dam: 3.91"

North Fork of Pound Lake: 3.73"

Breaks Interstate Park: 3.70"

Haysi: 3.24"

Hurley 4 S: 2.93"

Grundy: 2.85"

The 7.87" Robinson Knob total was from an automated IFLOWS rain gage which has read significantly lower than hand-measured amounts recorded by Otis & Nancy Ward in years following this episode ( only a short distance from the IFLOWS site ).

This was a major event for counties along the rugged Virginia-Kentucky border as flash flooding of headwater creeks gave way to moderate-major flooding along the mainstem rivers of the Clinch, Powell, and Cumberland.

[ At least 400+ residents had to evacuate their homes in Wise County where one fatality occurred on Callahan Creek near the town of Appalachia ].

Preliminary damage estimates topped 50 million dollars in Wise, Scott, Lee and adjoining counties along the Kentucky side of the stateline.

[ March 2002 precipitation totals of 11-13"+ were common in the High Knob Massif area, with 11.01" officially measured at Norton Water Plant through midnight March 31 ].

High Knob Massif
Above the Maple Gap Karst Fields - April 4, 2012
Cloud Capped Morris Butte of Powell Mountain
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

( Example 2 )
Major Rain Event
of February 14-16, 2003

The wetness of Autumn 2002 carried over into winter with a general 3 to 4+ feet of snowfall amid upper elevations in the High Knob Massif during January 2003.

[ Snow depths of 1-2 feet became common across the massif, even on southern slopes, with the snowpack carrying over into February 2003 ].

Surface Chart At 7 AM - February 15, 2003

Mudslides and high water problems became widespread as a major storm system produced more precipitation in 72-hours than would typically fall in some places during the entire month of February.

Once again convergent winds blowing across the High Knob Massif area were observed, with SW winds at 850 MB & easterly winds at the surface 
( general but variable NNE-SSE trajectories ) that eventually turned deeply SE as heaviest precipitation waned.

ETA Model Initialization At 7 AM - February 14, 2003

ETA Model Initialization At 7 PM - February 14, 2003

ETA Model Initialization At 7 AM - February 15, 2003

ETA Model Initialization At 7 PM - February 15, 2003

ETA Model Initialization At 7 AM - February 16, 2003

ETA Model Initialization At 7 PM - February 16, 2003

ETA Model Initialization At 7 AM - February 17, 2003

Flooding along steep creeks and in river valleys of the Clinch and Powell would have been even more severe had all the deep snowpack melted from the High Knob Massif, where in wake of this event a general 7-12" of snow depth remained across upper slopes with northern exposures.

[ In wake of this episode I took core samples of snow in High Knob Lake Basin and found a general 2.00" to 4.00" of water content in the snowpack, suggesting depths had easily been up to 2 feet prior to this major rain event ( the snowpack melted significantly but also retained much water that froze as air temps dropped below freezing during February 16-17 ) ].

Storm Rainfall Totals
*( February 14-18, 2003 )

Cracker Neck of Powell Valley: 6.42"
( 2600+ vertical feet lower than Head of Big Cherry Basin )

Big Stone Gap WWTP: 6.28"
( Along Powell River in High Knob Landform )

Norton Water Plant: 5.91"
( Northern base of High Knob Massif )

Appalachia Lake Water Plant: 5.69"
( Little Stone Mountain - NW arm of massif )

Closplint 4 ESE ( KY ): 4.99"
( Base of Big Black Mountain )

Wise 3 E: 4.85"
( Along Tennessee Valley Divide - N of massif )

Grundy: 4.56"

North Fork of Pound Lake: 3.76"

South Fork of Pound: 3.71"

Breaks Interstate Park: 3.66"

Clintwood 1 W: 3.58"

Kingdom Come State Park ( KY ): 3.56"

Burkes Garden: 3.19"

Saltville 1 N: 3.12"

Bland: 2.83"

Wytheville 1 S: 2.29"

Richlands: 2.25"

Blacksburg: 2.25"

Lebanon: 2.22"

Meadows of Dan 5 SW: 2.16"

Trout Dale 3 SSE: 1.97"

*Heaviest rains fell during the February 14-16 period.

While automated gages in the High Knob Massif were clogged with snow, my storage gages on Eagle Knob suggested that 16.14"+ of total precipitation fell during this January-February 2003 period 
( with 12.00" to 13.00" in February ).

February 2003 became the wettest ever observed in the state of Virginia, thanks in large part to the above event and a follow-up storm that dumped another round of excessive rains during the February 21-23 period ( ** ).

**At least 100 roadways became blocked by high water, mud and rock slides by early afternoon of February 22, 2003 in southwestern Virginia.

Precipitation Totals
For February 2003
( Wettest On Record In Virginia )

Cracker Neck of Powell Valley: 11.96"

Big Stone Gap WWTP:  11.81"
( Wettest "official" total in Virginia )

Appalachia Lake Water Plant:  11.61"

Norton Water Plant: 11.44"

Closplint 4 ESE ( KY ): 10.00"

Pennington Gap: 9.96"

Wise 3 E: 9.82"

Breaks Interstate Park: 8.89"

Hurley 4 S: 8.57"

Saltville 1 N: 8.26"

Grundy: 8.14"

John W. Flannagan Lake: 8.11"

North Fork of Pound Lake: 8.10"

Clintwood 1 W: 8.08"

Meadows of Dan 5 SW: 7.15"

Christiansburg: 6.85"

Bland: 6.78"

Copper Hill: 6.63"

Richlands: 6.63"

Lafayette 1 NE: 6.59"

Willis: 6.38"

Blacksburg: 6.31"

Newport 2 NNW: 6.27"

Lebanon: 6.25"

Pulaski: 5.99"

Roanoke: 5.80"

Trout Dale 3 SSE: 5.62"

Norfolk: 5.25"

Richmond: 4.21"

[ The differences observed in hand-measured totals between the Big Stone Gap Water Plant, just above Cracker Neck in the mouth of South Fork Gorge, and Big Cherry Dam during the past several years suggests that the 11.96" total measured by Jennifer & Tracy Garrison in Cracker Neck would have translated to 13.50-14.00" at Big Cherry Dam ( in approximate correlation to that observed on Eagle Knob where significant losses occurred in deep falls of snow during this period ) ].

April 4, 2012
Powell Valley Inside High Knob Massif
Cloud Capped Mountains Above GREEN Fields
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

The bottom line, upslope funneling is a factor in orographic forcing & enhancement of precipitation in the High Knob Massif area where convergent air flows with different inflow directions must always be monitored especially close amid this naturally wettest section of the Old Dominion of Virginia.

[ The ecologically rich, important Big Cherry Basin and Maple Gap corridor of the High Knob Massif has contributed greatly to the understanding of weather and climate in the High Knob Landform during the past 10-20+ years.

This area continues to do so today while giving everyone clean air, scenic beauty, and the most pristine and dependable water supplies in Virginia ].

( Shifting Back To 2012 )
Dogwood Winter Blast
And Moisture Gradients

April 1, 2012
Maple Gap of High Knob Massif
Fiddlehead of Christmas Fern ( Polystichum acrostichoides )
Photograph by Roddy Addington - © All Rights Reserved.

Everything is coming early in 2012 with Dogwood blooms peaking amid early April instead of during mid to late month, such that the current blast of cold air advection which is threatening to brown tender vegetation across the mountain landscape has to qualify as "Dogwood Winter."

[ Dogwood Winter is one of many traditional "winters" that denote spring & early summer spells of chilly air which annually hit the southern Appalachians of the USA ].

Cold spells before mid-April are typically no big deal as significant snows can still fall at this time of year ( remember 1987 ), but following the warmest March on record a surge of new spring growth has come unusually early this year ( * ).

*Remember April 2-5, 1987
Official Snowfall Totals In Virginia

Wise 1 SE: 30.8"

Grundy: 24.6"

Burkes Garden: 20.0"

Mountain Lake Biological Station: 14.0"

Pennington Gap: 13.0"

Hot Springs: 12.0"

Monterey: 11.5"

Wytheville 1 S: 10.9"

Roanoke: 6.3"

Blacksburg 3 SE: 5.3"

Unofficially, Gary Hampton reported 3 feet of snow depth at the City of Norton Water Plant with Carl Henderson observing depths of 2 to 6 feet on Eagle Knob of the High Knob Massif.

The only white observed so far in April 2012 has been due to hail and frost, with a gush of hail and drenching thunderstorms during April 1-5 .

( Ending at 11:00 PM on April 5, 2012 )
Doppler Radar 3-Day Estimated Precipitation Totals

[ While Doppler over-estimated total rainfall due to hail, it shows the hardest "hits" and also where heavy rain did accumulate.  An official total of 2.82" was measured at the Norton Water Plant ].

The change to colder conditions this week has ended a wet period in the High Knob Landform, with significant drying for the first time this year.

City of Norton
Monthly Precipitation Totals
Observers: Tommy Roberts & Staff of Norton WP
( Official 8" NWS Gage - Northern Base of High Knob Massif )

March: 8.38"
April: 8.66"
May: 5.13"
June: 6.40"
July: 8.43"
August: 5.55"
September: 9.21"
October: 5.04"
November: 8.08"
December: 5.63"

January: 4.11"
February: 5.77"
March: 7.87"
April 1-5: 2.82"

2012 Total: 20.57"

March 1-April 5, 2012: 10.69"

February 19-April 5, 2012: 14.45"

November 1, 2011-April 5, 2012: 34.28"

*Total Since March 1, 2011: 91.08"

*The most precipitation observed within any city or town
in Virginia during this 13 Month & 5 day period.

This has again generated a significant precipitation gradient across Virginia.

2012 Precipitation Totals
Across Virginia & District of Columbia
( Observed Totals from January 1 to April 10, 2012 )

Norton WP: 20.57"

Jonesville 3.1 WSW: 17.70"

Coeburn FP: 17.58"

Appalachia Lake WP: 17.16"

Nora 4 SSE: 15.23"

Lebanon: 14.79"

Wytheville 1 S: 12.91"

Clintwood 1 W: 12.85"

Lynchburg: 10.63"

Blacksburg: 10.52"

Hot Springs: 10.52"

Grundy: 10.25"

Covington: 9.89"

Wallops Island: 8.97"

Martinsville FP: 8.93"

Charlottesville: 8.65"

Danville: 7.72"

Staunton WTP: 7.68"

Roanoke: 7.51"

Richmond: 7.47"

Norfolk: 7.42"

Washington Dulles: 5.78"

Washington National: 5.69"

Luray 5 E: 5.68"

[ A general 19.00" to 23.00"+ fell in the High Knob Massif during January 1-April 10, 2012 to the SW, S & SE of the City of Norton ].

With a dominant SW air flow so far during 2012, note that a significant precipitation gradient has also developed between the lifting zone of the High Knob Massif and locations to its northeast such as Clintwood and Grundy.

While wild fires are possible anywhere in Virginia at this time of year, dryness in central and eastern portions of the Old Dominion is acting to make conditions much worse.

This is part of a general trend that has seen dryness and drought increasing from Florida to Maine as high pressure blocks and weakens rain producing systems moving toward the Atlantic Coast.

More than 82% of the southeastern USA was considered to be abnormally dry as of April 10, with dryness showing major increases across Virginia since start of 2012. 

( Updated April 15, 2012 )
Climate vs. Nurture
And Choices Which Are Made

April 14, 2012
Powell Valley Overlook - High Knob Massif
Majestic Head of Powell Valley In Mid-Spring
Photograph by John Mullins - © All Rights Reserved.

John Mullins captured a beautiful view from majestic Powell Valley Overlook in Wise County, Va., which reveals the nature of spring emergence at this mid-point of meteorological Spring 2012.

This view shows a distinct green zone that marks the local thermal belt in which mean temperatures have been milder than on the Valley floor, where cold air pooling at night slows tree green up, and much milder than above the great calcareous cliffs ringing the highcountry ( with many bare trees ).

April 14, 2012
Looking Toward Rocky Hollow Gap - High Knob Massif
Thermal Belt Extends Into Upper Reaches of Valley
Photograph by John Mullins - © All Rights Reserved.

Trees are bare enough to see logging roads cut into upper reaches of Grindstone Ridge, northeast of Rocky Hollow, as "development" of High Knob can be viewed from Powell Valley Overlook by all that follow along this Trail of the Lonesome Pine and its famed Crooked Road of Music & Coal Heritage.

[ This explains the muddy nature of Rocky Hollow Creek reported by residents in the Valley Head during recent months as there is no respect for this being the wettest area in Virginia or for the leaching of sediments into underground cave systems that feed water into the Valley ]. 

April 14, 2012
Logging In Rich Mesophytic Forest - High Knob Massif
Photograph by John Mullins - © All Rights Reserved.

[ After all the work done by this website and years of researching what is clearly one of the greatest landforms in the eastern United States and southern Appalachians there is not a single acre of land in the sprawling High Knob Massif of Wise, Scott, & Lee counties declared by local, state, and federal governments to be protected from logging, gas well drilling, or any other process. Not a single acre which has been legally protected for future generations!  And so it will be until people demand a change for a better future ( * ) ].

*Only the small Powell Mountain Karst Preserve has been established to protect a relatively tiny portion of a world-class cave system ( it was independently bought ).  Otherwise, as listed later, lands with varying degrees of protection are restricted to the northwestern flank of the High Knob Landform and a few interior areas like The Cedars NAP & Wilderness Road State Park.

April 14, 2012
Looking From Black Mountain to High Knob Landform
Photograph by John Mullins - © All Rights Reserved.

While the High Knob Landform seemingly stands in contrast to the widespread strip mining of Black Mountain it has limited protection since federal government officials rule against what the majority of people want, as recently illustrated by approval for the Keokee Lake Cut and Burn project ( * ).

*Due to this being the wettest area in Virginia, climatology dictates that fire was never an important part of this area of the Old Dominion.  This can easily be told by anyone with knowledge of these forest's, where signs of fire are distinctly lacking from locations not subjected to "prescribed" burning.

[ Around 8 air miles WNW of Keokee Lake is the wettest official site in the state of Kentucky, the NWS Cooperative station ( now closed ) of Closplint 4 ESE near Holms Mill on Clover Fork of the Cumberland River ( southwest slopes of Big Black Mountain ) ].

The wettest terrain in Virginia & Kentucky join within the High Knob Landform-Black Mountains corridor.

April 14, 2012
High Knob Massif & NW Mountain Flank
Photograph by John Mullins - © All Rights Reserved.

Keokee Lake rests 13 air miles WSW of the High Knob summit, along the northwestern mountain flank of the landform, adjacent to Roaring Branch Gorge and just southwest of Big Stone Gap.

Majestic Keokee Lake As It Looked In 2007

One thing that has always gotten to me is that no common sense is applied, as when one zooms out to look at the bigger picture majestic Lake Keokee is on the edge of massive logging & strip mining adjacent to the High Knob Landform.

( It has increased during the past 5 years )
Mining and Logging North of Keokee Lake In 2007

In a situation like this we should be making an extra effort to protect and preserve unbroken corridors of forest to help maintain at least some balance in our environment ( not cut and burn them ).

Are we truly foolish enough to believe that taking a little bit here, and a big bite there, all over planet Earth, will not alter everyones life if we choose not to establish places to nurture solely for production of clean air and clean water?

[ Many decades ago no one realized this area was the wettest in all of Virginia, but massive flooding in the wake of massive logging revealed something had to give!  It literally forced creation of the Clinch Ranger District of the Jefferson National Forest, whose sole initial purpose was to PROTECT headwaters of the mighty Clinch & Powell rivers of the Upper Tennessee River Basin ].

The rebuttal is that human management works to make the forest "more healthy," which in some rare cases may be true.  The plain fact remains, however, that the greatest forest ecosystem on the North American continent developed naturally, over time, amid the southern Appalachians long before a man ever came along to "manage it."

[ It is important to note that local U.S. Forest Service workers are not responsible for a governmental system that is broken and separated from what the majority of people appear to want for their public lands ].

The elongated and very rugged NW mountain flank of the High Knob Landform has unusual potential to become a Linear Park that already contains these natural features between Norton and Middlesboro:

Little Stone Mountain
Roaring Branch Gorge
Keokee Lake
Cave Springs Wilderness Area
Yellow Rocks
Stone Mountain State Natural Area
Cranks Creek Lake
Martins Fork Lake
Martins Fork State Natural Area
White Branch Falls & Gorge
Shillalah Creek Wildlife Management Area
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

The high resolution NASA visible image shown previously can be used to illustrated this NW mountain flank of the High Knob Landform.

Beautiful High Resolution NASA Visible Satellite Image

Click on above image while viewing to see outline.

( Outlined In RED )
Northwest Mountain Flank of The High Knob Landform

This potential needs to be looked at seriously with a connection to best sites in the High Knob Massif being added ( where not a single acre is now truly protected on your National Forest public land ). 

This would be a MUCH better use of the TAX money I just paid, and many others have paid, than funding a 2900 acre BURN in an area where fire is not part of its ecological history.  Although rarely admitted, your tax money is lost when logging occurs on Public Lands ( surely the government would not waste money ):

[ I am not against logging and mining.  My father was a coal miner for 40 years.  I just believe that it should not occur in some places if we are to ever attempt to balance out the natural world against all the many other destructive forces at work today.

The High Knob Landform, Pine Mountain, and Clinch Mountain offer the best hope of establishing conservation corridors in this portion of the Upper Tennessee & Cumberland River Basins ].

Spring Emergence
Differences In Mid-Spring 2012

April 14, 2012
View From State Route 160 on Black Mountain
Looking Into Northern Slopes of High Knob Massif
Photograph by John Mullins - © All Rights Reserved.

Northern slopes and high elevations clearly have a way to go before everything really greens up, with frosty cold conditions last week slowing down the process as also observed in previous photographs.

Climate Statistics
For April 1-15, 2012

Clintwood 1 W - Elevation 1560 feet
Average Daily MAX: 67.6 degrees
Average Daily MIN: 35.0 degrees
MEAN: 51.3 degrees
Highest Temperature: 82 degrees
Lowest Temperature: 25 degrees
Rainfall: 1.58"
2012 Precipitation: 12.85"

City of Norton - Elevation 2141 feet
Average Daily MAX: 64.1 degrees
Average Daily MIN: 33.4 degrees
MEAN: 48.8 degrees
Highest Temperature: 78 degrees
Lowest Temperature: 23 degrees
Rainfall: 2.82"
2012 Precipitation: 20.57"

Nora 4 SSE - Elevation 2650 feet
Average Daily MAX: 61.7 degrees
Average Daily MIN: 41.1 degrees
MEAN: 51.4 degrees
Highest Temperature: 74 degrees
Lowest Temperature: 29 degrees
Rainfall: 2.16"
2012 Precipitation: 15.23"

In the High Knob highcountry mean temps during the first half of April varied from low-mid 50s by day at highest elevations to 30 degrees at night in the high valleys ( above 2500-2700 feet ).

Rainfall generally varied from 1.50" to 3.00" during the April 1-5 period, with dryness ruling the next ten days ( only a trace of snow fell as flurries last week ).

April 14, 2012
View from Virginia Side of State Route 160
High Knob Massif Spans Distant Horizon
Photograph by John Mullins - © All Rights Reserved.

[ The major break or gap in the first forested mountain visible in the distance is the "Big Stone Gap" for which the lovely town was named.  Capping the entire horizon is the High Knob Massif, only part of which is visible from this vantage point along State Route 160 on Black Mountain in Wise County, Virginia.

It is interesting to note that the next major gap visible beyond the Big Stone Gap is that formed by South Fork Gorge, with the Maple Gap Karst Fields highlighted early in this section located along that long, sloping arm of mountain which drops from the distant horizon near center of photograph ( as labeled below ) ].

Labels For Locations On Above Photograph

[ Grindstone Ridge, High Knob, Eagle Knob and all sections east of Norton are off the photograph to the left while Wrights Pasture, Bowling Knob and Cliff Mountain sections are off the photograph to the right along the main massif.  Places like Bark Camp Lake being 12 air miles beyond the Maple Gap Karst Fields along the wide, sloping crest of the mountain ( an amazing natural feature ).

Little Stone Gap-Powell Valley Overlook along the NW mountain flank is to the left of view, with the Keokee Lake to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park section off to the right of view ].

April 13, 2012
Elevation 1381 feet
View from Sugar Camp Mountain In Kentucky Foothills
National Weather Service Forecast Office In Jackson, KY

The emergence of spring vegetation and trees in the Kentucky foothills is well ahead of the higher mountain terrain, as noted by this nice CAM view from the NWS Forecast Office in Jackson, sitting atop Sugar Camp Mountain.

[ The 1381 foot elevation on Sugar Camp Mountain is just a little under the lowest elevation in Wise County, Va., located on the Clinch River southwest of St. Paul ].