Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Winter 2019_In The High Knob Massif

January 15, 2019
Head of Big Cherry Lake Basin
Beautiful Late Afternoon Light And Rime
Photograph by Wayne Browning - © All Rights Reserved

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Late Afternoon of January 15, 2019
Heavy Rime At Upper Elevations In Massif
Photograph by Wayne Browning - © All Rights Reserved

Although a recent Miller B winter storm system dropped very little snow, it left a beautiful winter wonderland in upper elevations of the High Knob Massif with prolonged riming as clouds engulfed the high country in sub-freezing air.

High Knob Massif
Late Afternoon of January 15, 2019
Heavy Riming At Upper Elevations
Photograph by Wayne Browning - © All Rights Reserved

Rime accumulations of 1" to 3" were measured at elevations above 3300 feet, with lighter amounts 
of generally less than 1" below 3300 feet.

Rime Covered Pickem Mountain
Early-Mid Afternoon of January 15, 2019
View From Flag Rock Recreation Area
Photograph by Wayne Browning - © All Rights Reserved

For anyone who may doubt the importance of 
trees and rime deposition to the moisture budget 
of upper elevations, above 3000 feet, in the High Knob Massif please consider the following.

January 15, 2019
Late PM Light Illuminates Forest of Rime
Looking At Head of Big Cherry Lake Basin
Photograph by Wayne Browning - © All Rights Reserved

Using a 4"-diameter NWS rain gauge I scraped rime off of a single, small limb approximately 18" 
in length and allowed it to melt to obtain the 
water content.

The result = 0.67" of water.  Amazing!

How could rime moisture ( and fog drip ) from trees not be important to the water supply basins 
of this massif and to its biodiversity?

January 15, 2019
Peak of High Knob Massif
Heavy Rime Formation In Upper Elevations
Photograph by Wayne Browning - © All Rights Reserved

January 15, 2019
Majestic Late Afternoon Light
Looking Across Head of Big Cherry Lake Basin
Photograph by Wayne Browning - © All Rights Reserved

Big Cherry Lake Basin
UVA-Wise Field Trip_Week 1

Big Cherry Lake had mostly frozen 
over prior to the recent arctic blast.

January 26, 2019
UVA-Wise Field Trip
Ice Covered Big Cherry Lake
Photograph by Wayne Browning - © All Rights Reserved

January 26, 2019
UVA-Wise Field Trip
Late Afternoon Reflections On Ice
Big Cherry Lake of High Knob Massif
Photograph by Wayne Browning - © All Rights Reserved

January 26, 2019
UVA-Wise Field Trip
Snow Covered Roads In High Country
Photograph by Wayne Browning - © All Rights Reserved

Although snow had mostly melted away by afternoon hours on February 2, high elevation roads still had a little snow on them.  

This marked 16 consecutive days with snow 
cover on northern slopes at the highest elevations; however, snow was never very deep and the month of January ended having produced much below average snowfall across the mountain area.

High Knob Lake Basin
UVA-Wise Field Trip_Week 2

February 2, 2019
UVA-Wise Field Trip
Frozen Solid At High Knob Lake
High Knob Lake Recreation Area
Photograph by Wayne Browning - © All Rights Reserved

February 2, 2019
High Knob Lake of High Knob Massif
Downed American Beech ( Fagus grandifolia )
Photograph by Wayne Browning - © All Rights Reserved

Scenes like this are common along the trail between High Knob Lookout and High Knob Lake, with numerous, large trees across the trail thanks to heavy icing, rime-snow, and high winds. 

February 2, 2019
UVA-Wise Field Trip
Frozen Cove At High Knob Lake
Photograph by Wayne Browning - © All Rights Reserved

High-elevation lakes were completely frozen on February 2, with standing or running water found only on top of the ice (where snow had just melted) and where tributary creeks entered the lake.

February 2, 2019
UVA-Wise Field Trip
Looking SE Across High Knob Massif
Toward Mount Rogers & Whitetop Mountain
Photograph by Wayne Browning - © All Rights Reserved

An array of beautiful lenticular clouds were observed along the High Knob Massif during late afternoon.  Such mountain waves are very common over this area and occur on many days throughout the year (along with standing waves and many other forms).

February 2, 2019
UVA-Wise Field Trip
Lenticular Mountain Wave Clouds
Photograph by Wayne Browning - © All Rights Reserved


Little Stony Creek Basin
UVA-Wise Field Trip_Week 3

February 9, 2019
Upper Tennessee River Basin
Upper Falls of Little Stony Creek Gorge
Photograph by Wayne Browning - © All Rights Reserved

Whitewater was gushing out of the 16.4 square mile Little Stony Creek basin in wake of a general 2.00" of rain a couple days prior to our third consecutive UVA-Wise Field Trip of the 2018-19 season.

February 9, 2019
Little Stony Creek of Clinch River
Upper Falls of Little Stony Creek Gorge
Photograph by Wayne Browning - © All Rights Reserved

Little Stony Basin contains an array of special habitats, including Spray Cliffs which could be 
seen and felt on this day with icing on vegetation downstream of the major water falls.

February 9, 2019
Little Stony Basin of High Knob Massif
Middle Falls of Little Stony Creek Gorge
Photograph by Wayne Browning - © All Rights Reserved

Little Stony Creek heads up near the eastern end 
of Bowman Mountain, within the Brushy Knob and Robinson Knob section of the massif.

February 9, 2019
Little Stony Basin of High Knob Massif
Middle Falls of Little Stony Creek Gorge
Photograph by Wayne Browning - © All Rights Reserved

February 9, 2019
Whitewater Churns In Little Stony Gorge
Photograph by Wayne Browning - © All Rights Reserved

Whitewater is like the atmosphere, it is constantly changing and generating new flow lines in a chaotic array of beauty and power.

February 9, 2019
Whitewater Churns In Little Stony Gorge
Photograph by Wayne Browning - © All Rights Reserved

The Little Stony Creek National Recreation Trail has slid off just prior to reaching the Big Falls of Little Stony Gorge, so use caution in this area.

February 9, 2019
Little Stony Basin of High Knob Massif
Big Falls of Little Stony Creek Gorge
Photograph by Wayne Browning - © All Rights Reserved

The Big Falls is nearly a straight drop of 35-40 feet.

February 9, 2019
Little Stony Basin of High Knob Massif
Big Falls of Little Stony Creek Gorge
Photograph by Wayne Browning - © All Rights Reserved

February 9, 2019
View From Bear Rock Heath Barren
Little Stony Creek Gorge of High Knob Massif
Photograph by Wayne Browning - © All Rights Reserved

The Bear Rock Heath Barren which overlooks 
Little Stony Gorge is a unique habitat featuring rare plants and a dramatic 360 view of the gorge and surrounding mountain landscape.

February 9, 2019
View From Bear Rock Heath Barren
Photograph by Wayne Browning - © All Rights Reserved

It appeared that a few maples 
were beginning to bud.

February 9, 2019
View From Bear Rock Heath Barren
Little Stony Creek Gorge of High Knob Massif
Photograph by Wayne Browning - © All Rights Reserved

February 9, 2019
Rugged Cliffs of Little Stony Gorge
Photograph by Wayne Browning - © All Rights Reserved


Too Much Rain = Flooding

Rain, rain, and simply more rain finally reached a climax with mud-rock slides and flooding across the mountain region during this past week.

Graphic Courtesy of the U.S.G.S.

Observe how consistently above the long-term 1921-2018 mean flow this past year has been, illustrating antecedent wetness that led to flooding during this month and that will lead to more flooding in coming months if this pattern does not relax and the mountain landscape dry.

The biologically diverse Clinch River exemplifies this pattern, with the 35,000 cubic feet per second flow achieved on February 24 being the highest since February 2018 when a discharge of 35,800 cfs was reached during flooding amid what became the Wettest February on Record in Virginia.


Height of 26.5 feet = 8.5 feet above flood stage

Who would have believed, only one year later, that February 2019 would challenge that record?


While flooding was generally considered only minor-moderate, one has to go back to March 2015 to find a significantly greater discharge and higher flow level at the Speers Ferry gage, then to March 2002 to find a major event where the flow was about double that observed on February 24, 2019.

The benchmark flood of record was observed in April 1977 when 89,000 cfs passed the Speers Ferry gage at an incredible 36.7 feet (18.7 feet above flood stage).

Height of 8.2 feet = 1.7 feet above flood stage

Steep creeks draining the High Knob Massif became raging torrents, making whitewater 
shots seen above in this section appear as mere trickles, which is always both awe inspiring and frightening at the same time as the ground vibrates next to these beasts as they exceed red alert stage.

Notable High Knob Massif Creeks

Big Stony Creek of Clinch River
2230 feet of vertical drop in 13 miles

South Fork of Powell River
1433 feet of vertical drop in 4 miles

Straight Fork of Clinch River
Chimney Rock Fork of Clinch River
1460 to 1505 feet of vertical drop in 4 miles

Little Stony Creek of Clinch River
780 vertical feet of drop in 3 miles

Guest River Gorge of Clinch River
100 vertical feet of drop per mile in gorge

Beaverdam Creek
Benges Branch
Burns Creek
Clear Creek
Corder Branch
Cove Creek
Devil Fork
Dry Creek
Glady Fork
Jasper Creek
Laurel Branch
Laurel Fork
Lost Creek
Machine Creek
McGhee Creek
Mill Creek
Pine Creek
Ramey Branch
Robinette Branch
Stock Creek

and many more add water to 
the Clinch-Powell river basins. 

This marked the third time in the past couple weeks that Big Stony Creek had reached flood stage.  Precipitation measured at the base of the High Knob Massif in the City of Norton reveals why, with even greater totals at upper elevations where fog drip and rime collection by trees also added to the moisture budget.

February 1-24, 2019
City of Norton Water Plant
Daily Hand-Measured Precip
( 9:00 AM / 24-Hour Daily)

02/05    0.03
02/06    0.06
02/07    2.14
02/08    0.63

02/11    0.58
02/12    0.37
02/13    1.01

02/16    0.38
02/17    0.14
02/18    0.95

02/20    1.09
02/21    1.19

02/22    0.50
02/23    0.99
02/24    1.86

February Total: 11.92″

January Total: 5.44″

2019 Total: 17.36″

December 1-February 24: 25.30″

13-Month Average Per Month: 7.55"

Most creeks in the High Knob Massif area achieved their highest stream levels since February 2018.

Black Mountain Mesonet
( Elevation 4031 feet )
Courtesy of Kentucky Mesonet_WKU

January Total: 6.49"

2019 Total: 19.45"

December 1-February 24: 27.84"

The general 25.00" to 30.00" of precipitation measured in the High Knob Massif-Black Mountain corridor, which includes the City of Norton, is now greater than observed last winter during the period of meteorological winter (Dec 1-Feb 28).

At upper elevations, above 3000 feet, it should again be stressed that these totals do not include significant additional moisture added by fog drip from trees and rime collection and drop by trees during many days and nights spent within orographic clouds.

Graphic Courtesy of the U.S.G.S.

Flooding within the Tacoma to Coeburn corridor becomes common when Guest River approaches flood stage, with input from creeks draining the High Knob Massif into Ramsey, Tacoma, Bond Town and the Town of Coeburn (in addition to those draining the Tennessee Valley Divide).

Courtesy of Virginia Department of Transportation

While many state roads were closed across southwest Virginia due to flooding, or mud-rock slides, many more private roadways were impacted during this event (not listed).

Courtesy of Appalachian Power

Despite the return of welcomed sunshine, high wind gusts downed many trees with a widespread array of power outages resulting to complicate clean-up efforts (Old Dominion Power, serving much of Wise County, is not included).

This section is under construction.  Please check back.