Sunday, December 19, 2021

Christmas History In The Appalachians

History Of Christmas Holidays
During 1955-2022
(68 Years)

(Use Back Arrow To Return After Viewing Large Photos)

Rime Forest of High Knob Massif

Rime represents frozen clouds of water vapor captured on contact with surface and above ground objects.  It is not uncommon for supercooled water to exist to -40 F (-40C) and this is how clouds occur in Arctic conditions.

The following documents weather history of Christmases spanning 68 years.  While centered upon the mountain area surrounding Clintwood, Norton-Wise, and the High Knob Massif, it is certain to bring back memories for all. Enjoy!

An unseasonably mild Christmas with 
an afternoon maximum of 60 degrees 
at Wise 1 SE.

*Reference the end for a brief explanation 
of what these graphics represent and how 
to use them.

A seasonably cold Christmas with a trace 
of snow observed on the ground in Wise.  

A trace of precipitation occurred as the afternoon temperature reached a max 
of 45 degrees at Wise 1 SE.

A seasonally cold, dry Christmas occurred locally with colder air and snow showers toward the northeast.

A mild Christmas Day with very light precipitation observed at Wise 1 SE.

A seasonally cold Christmas day with temperatures mainly in the 30s over a trace of snow in Wise (greater snow depths were reported at upper elevations).

Cold conditions featured temperatures 
in the 10s to middle 20s on Christmas day.  A trace of snow was reported at Wise 1 SE at 5 PM (likely 1" during the AM following 1.2" of snow at 5:00 PM on Christmas Eve).

A snow depth of 2" were measured in 
Wise, with 2.6" of total snowfall during the 
24-hours ending at 5:00 PM Christmas day.

Snowfall was heavier along windward slopes facing SE flow, which favored the High Knob Massif south of Wise.

A sprawling arctic high pressure during 
12-13 December aided the development 
of frigid morning lows in the -10 to -20+ degree (F) below zero  range (*).

*A dramatic warming trend following this frigid cold pushed air temperatures to 59 degrees in Wise on 18 December prior to the Christmas Holiday snowfall.

Christmas morning dawned to a 9" snow depth in Clintwood (down from 12" on 24 December).  By 5:00 PM on Christmas day, snow had settled to a mean depth of 6" at Wise 1 SE located on the campus of The University Of Virginia's College At Wise 
(formerly Clinch Valley College).

The winter storm responsible for the deep 
snow impacted the mountain region during 
23-24 December.

This followed bitter cold that featured night-time low temperatures below zero during much of the 15-22 December period.

Stormy Holiday.  A total of 1.11" of rain fell in Clintwood and 1.08" in Wise during the 24-26 December period. 

This included a rare thunderstorm 
on the morning after Christmas (*).

*Maximum temperature of 66 degrees officially observed in Wise on 24 December 1964.


Bare in the lower elevations on Christmas morning with a trace of snow on the ground 26 December 1965.  A trace of snowfall was also observed in Wise, with falling temps Christmas Day to a reading of 29 degrees 
by 5:00 PM.


A Christmas morning snow depth of 8" 
was measured in the town of Clintwood 
(southern exposed site at 1780 feet above sea level), with 5" in Wise (*).

*A minimum temperature of 1 degree (F) 
was recorded at Wise 1 SE.

The winter storm responsible for this white Christmas was observed during the 23-24 December period.

A trace of Christmas morning snow depth in Clintwood was followed by a major winter storm during 27-28 December.

 A total of 9.2" of snow were measured in Wise during the 24-hours ending at 5:00 PM on 28 December 1967.

A 1" snow depth on 24 December melted to only a trace on southern exposures within the town of Clintwood by Christmas morn.
A cold Christmas Day followed with a MAX temperature of 26 degrees in Wise.

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

A 10" snow depth was measured within Lee County by weather observer Denver Garrett during this 1969 Christmas storm.

A bare ground Christmas morning gave 
way to 1.2" of snowfall by the morning of 26 December 1970 within Clintwood.  A total of 3.4" of snow were measured at Wise 1 SE by its 5:00 PM observation time on Christmas afternoon.

No snow on the ground in Clintwood during Christmas with only 4.7" of total snowfall being measured in Wise during the entire, combined November-December period.

A western USA trough, eastern 
ridge dominated this period.

This was correlated to an unseasonably
mild late autumn-early winter interval.

Wet. A rainfall total of 0.29" in Clintwood into Christmas morning, with rain changing to snow on 26 December (1.0" of snow was officially measured in Wise during 26-27 December in 1972).

Several inches of snow depth prior to the holiday melted to only a trace on 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 5:00 PM on 
26 December 1973.

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

Most of Christmas Day was engulfed within fog in Wise, with a 5:00 PM temperature of 34 degrees.

Just a trace of Christmas morning snow depth in Clintwood.  A wet holiday period with 1.31" of total precipitation measured in Wise during 25-27 December, ending with 1.3" of snowfall (*).  

This period featured some 
radical temperature changes. 

Bitter cold air prior to the Christmas 
Holiday, gave way to Holiday warming.

*Snow likely remained at upper elevations into Christmas with snowfall and bitterly cold nights observed during the 18-23 December period.

A snow depth of 1" at Clintwood 1 W on Christmas morning, located 1 mile west of town at 1566 feet above sea level in the Russell Fork Basin.  

A total of 4" on the ground in Wise at 5 PM Christmas Day (2.5" of new snow during the afternoon).  This was part of a snowy period that produced 6.0" of total snowfall in Wise during the 25-26 December period in 1976.

Snowfall during this period fell on a SW upslope flow into the High Knob Massif 
and Tennessee Valley Divide.

*The year of 1976 marked the beginning 
of my personal and later official snowfall measurements at Clintwood 1 W.

Snowfall observations in the High Knob Massif would not begin until the 1980s on a periodic basis, and early 1990s in a consistent manner.

An unsettled holiday period featured 
0.94" of total precipitation at Wise 1 SE.

This included 1.2" of snow as Christmas evening snowfall developed, with 1" also reported on the ground in Clintwood by morning hours of 26 December.

Temperatures turned bitter on cold air advection from Canada, with readings dropping from 31 degrees at Wise 1 SE 
at 5:00 PM on Christmas to 4 degrees 
above zero by the AM of 26 December.

Only a trace of snow depth in 
Clintwood on Christmas morning.

This was part of a much wetter than average December, featuring milder than average temperatures courtesy of mean ridging across the southeastern USA (*).

A major pattern change followed to produce colder than average conditions across most of the United States.

A cold, snowy January-February was observed locally, with 52.7" of snow in 
Wise (much more at upper elevations).

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 Wise 1 SE by its 5 PM observation time Christmas day (3.6" of total snowfall).


These wintry conditions followed a 61 degree Christmas Eve maximum temperature in Wise 
on 24 December 1979.

Christmas Holiday snowfall totals of 1.1" 
at Clintwood 1 W and 1.6" at Wise 1 SE were observed during 24-25 December in 1980 as rain changed to snow on northerly upslope.

Minimum temperatures dropped to 0 degrees in Wise and to below zero across upper elevations on Christmas day.

Christmas morning found 1.0" of snowfall at Clintwood 1 W, with 1.3" reported at Wise 1 SE, as a snow shield brushed the area (*). 

*Much more snow fell to the southeast versus 
the northwest side of the Mountain Empire.

Snowfall was heaviest along and mainly southeast of the High Knob Massif where more snow fell at TRI (3.0") than in Wise.

A seasonally cold Christmas day, with 
28 degrees at Wise 1 SE at its 5:00 PM 
observation time.

Warmest Christmas on record!

The maximum temperature reached 69 degrees in Wise to establish the highest Christmas temperature ever observed 
since record keeping began in 1955 (*).

 *This reading was taken at an elevation of 2560 feet at Wise 1 SE, with lower elevations warmer (75 degrees recorded in the town of Pennington Gap ) and higher elevations cooler.

Observed maximums
Burkes Garden: 63
Wise 1 SE: 69
Pennington Gap: 75
Grundy: 76

Record warmth supported a rare, Christmas day tornado outbreak 
over the middle Mississippi Valley.

Coldest Christmas on record!

The minimum temperature fell to a bitter -13 degrees Fahrenheit below zero in Wise to establish the lowest temperature ever observed since record keeping began in 1955 during Christmas day (*).
 *Unofficial MINS as bitter as -25 (F) were reported 
in the mountain area.

Observed minimums
Burkes Garden: -13
Wise 1 SE: -13
Pennington Gap: -8
Grundy: -7

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

This was part of an anomalously warm December, with much above average air temps across the central and eastern USA.

A dramatic and truly epic pattern 
change occurred into January 1985.

Heavy snow developed right on cue for 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 (by 5 PM in Wise) on Christmas day (*).

An arctic cold front and Great Lake connected NW upslope flow supported 
the heavy snowfall.

*Snow depths were deeper, temperatures and wind chills much lower, across upper elevations above 3000 feet.

A wet, windy storm spread rain 
across the mountain landscape 
during Christmas Eve day.

Rainfall totals of 1.42" in the City of Norton and 1.18" in Clintwood were observed, with foggy conditions on Christmas day. 

Wettest Christmas Holiday on record!  

A total of 4.55" of rain fell at the City of Norton Water Plant during December 24-27, with locally greater amounts across the High Knob Massif (a rainfall total of 2.40" in Wise established the 24-hour record for Christmas, ending at 5 PM Christmas day).

*The mid to late 1980's marked the beginning of weather observations in upper elevations of the High Knob Massif.

Powerful afternoon thunderstorms prompted a rare, late season tornado watch during 24 December 1988 (Franklin, Tn., was devastated by a powerful EF4 tornado).

Rainfall totals reached 1.40" at Norton Water Plant and 0.71" at Clintwood 1 W during Christmas Eve.  Dry, much cooler conditions dominated Christmas day.

Arctic cold & snow.  A mean 4" snow depth was observed at Wise 1 SE Christmas day.  Snow depths were significantly deeper in the upper elevations.

Temperatures as cold 
as -20+ degrees below zero occurred amid upper elevation basins from the High Knob Massif to Burkes Garden during December 23-25 (*).

*This was part of a bitterly cold December with mean montly temperaturs in upper 10s to middle 20s (mean monthly temps).

The 10-day period leading up to Christmas was especially bitter with mean night-time minimums as cold as -5 to -10 degrees below zero in colder basins (-8.9 degrees (F) in Burkes Garden).

Morning snowfall on Christmas Eve day produced 1.5" in Wise and 1.7" in Clintwood as cold air invaded the mountains.  

With temperatures dropping to 8 degrees in both locations into Christmas morning this was enough for a white Christmas (*).

*NWS Cooperative Stations in Clintwood and Wise were the only official sites in Virginia to report enough snow for a white Christmas.

Snow flurries fell on Christmas Eve with none on the ground in the lower elevations at Clintwood on Christmas.  

A 21 degree low temperature recorded 
in Wise on Christmas morning fell to 
11 degrees on 26 December. 

Heavy snow developed Christmas afternoon with up to 6"+ accumulating in the middle to upper elevations along the High Knob Landform and Tennessee Valley Divide.  

A total snowfall of 2.6" was observed 
in Clintwood with a local MIN of 3.4" in 
Wise (much more nearby).

Development of SW flow aided snowfall into middle-upper elevations along the Powell Valley Anticline (High Knob Landform).

Snow developed during Christmas day with intense afternoon snow squalls (whiteout bursts). A snow depth of 6" was measured at Clintwood 1 W by 26 December.

Air temperatures plunged to -3 (F) below zero atop Eagle Knob of the High Knob Massif over snow depths up to 12"+ (*).

*Great Lake connected upslope flow was responsible for heavy Christmas snowfall.

A Christmas morning snow depth of 1" 
was observed at the summit level of the High Knob Massif, with no snow in 
lower elevation valleys 

This occurred during 
a relatively mild pattern.

A minumum of 23 degrees in Clintwood 
on Christmas fell to 18 degrees into the morning of 26 December (colder within 
upper elevation basins).

A 1" snow depth on Christmas morning increased during the day with a total of 4.2" of new snow falling at Clintwood 1 W.  Snow totals of 6" to 8" were reported across the great High Knob Massif during Christmas.

*A minimum of 9 degrees was observed in 
Wise on the morning of 24 December 1995.

This was part of a prolonged NW-N upslope flow period during 20-27 December with 10.0" of total snowfall in Wise and 13" to 19"+ within the upper elevations of the High Knob Massif.

A significant cold wave prior to the Christmas holiday was felt with low temperatures of 3 degrees in Norton 
and 5 degrees in Wise on the 
morning of 21 December (*).

*Minimums dropped below 
zero in upper elevations.

A warming trend brought rain, not snow, with totals varying from 0.58" in Clintwood to 1.01" within the City of Norton into 
24 December.

Only a few Christmas morning 
snow flurries were observed.

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 depths of 12" in Norton and 18" to 36" across the High Knob Massif by 
31 December 1997.

The first storm (above) and second (below).

An ice storm developed along the edge of 
an arctic air mass during 23-24 December, with 1" of packed ice-sleet remaining on the ground at Clintwood 1 W on Christmas morning (a trace reported at Wise 1 SE).

Christmas minimums dropped to 10 degrees in Clintwood and 11 degrees 
in Wise.

Heavy snowfall followed the holiday for the second consecutive year, with depths of 4" in Clintwood and 6" to 10"+ across the sprawling High Knob Massif by 31 December 1998.

Snow fell during December 24-25 
with Christmas morning depths of 3" 
at Clintwood 1 W and 7" at summit-
levels of the High Knob Massif.

Minimum temperatures dropped to 3 degrees in Norton and 5 degrees in Wise.

A trace of snow was observed on the ground Christmas morning at Clintwood 1 W, with patchy 1" depths on northern slopes.

A Christmas morning snow depth of 2" at the City of Norton Water Plant, with 4"-6" across the High Knob Massif, accompanied frigid conditions (*).

*A 3 degree (F) morning MIN at Norton Elementary School in the Norton Valley 
of southern Wise County.


Bare ground was observed across the 
entire Appalachian range, south of the Pennsylvania border, on Christmas morning.

A frigid Christmas minimum of 11 degrees (F) was recorded on the Eagle Knob of High Knob (8 degrees on AM 26 December 2001).

Trace of snow was observed on the ground at 7 AM in Clintwood, with 1" at the City of Norton Water Plant (deeper depths in the High Knob high country).

New snow fell during Christmas day with the snow depth increasing to 4" at the Norton Water Plant.

This occurred as result of a Miller B storm, with an initial trough along the western side of the mountain range and a surge of above freezing air aloft across the southern Appalachians.

A trace of snow  was observed on the ground at 7 AM at Clintwood 1 W, with 1" 
of accumulation by 9:00 AM.  Snow depths of 4" to 5" were measured at the same time at City of Norton Water Plant (*).

A major Great Lake connected NW flow snow dropped 18.0" at Wise 1 SE and up to 
2 feet on the High Knob Massif during the 
18-20 December period.

 *These depths were down from 14" on the morning of 21 December at Norton WP, with deeper depths (20" or more) across higher northern slopes of the High Knob Massif).

Bare ground was observed across much 
of the mountain area, with lingering snow covering only upper north slopes of the High Knob Massif.  Christmas morning temps reached 6 degrees in the City of Norton, with 10 degrees in Clintwood, 
prior to late month warming.

Local snow depths of up to 9" were measured on 30 December across northern slopes in the head of High Knob Lake Basin, after 44-hours above freezing on the crest of Eagle Knob since Christmas (*).

My Snow Measuring Area In Head of High Knob Lake Basin
Snow Depth Measuring Area-High Knob Lake Basin

 *This suggested Christmas morning depths were a foot or more on north slopes of lofty High Knob Lake Basin.

Christmas Eve found a solid blanket of snow cover only at upper elevations of 
the High Knob Massif, with generally bare terrain below 3000 feet.

Cold rain, with areas of sleet and freezing rain, overspread the mountains during the evening.

Roadways, like Alternate 58 between Norton 
and Castlewood, became extremely hazardous with numerous traffic accidents as well as abandoned vehicles.

Christmas day itself featured an array of weather conditions including rain showers, fog, rare thunder-lightning, localized peeps of sunshine, and a evening transition to light snow at upper elevations 
(above 3000 feet).

The day following Christmas found a general 1"-2" snow accumulation around Clintwood, Norton, and Wise, with 2" to locally as much as 5" reported across the upper elevations above 3000 feet.

Precipitation totals during the 24-26th period reached 0.46" at Clintwood 1 W, 0.78"-0.82" in the City of Norton, and up to 1.12" in the high country near High Knob.

This marked the 4th White Christmas in a 
row atop the High Knob Massif, and the 6th White Christmas out of the past seven for 
upper elevations of the massif (especially northern slopes).

Bare ground was again featured across 
the entire Appalachian range south of 
the Pennsylvania border during 24-25 December 2006.

Christmas got off to a chilly, wet start as predawn rain overspread the mountains 
on gusty SE-SSE flow across mid-upper elevations. Downsloping combined with pronounced dry slotting to generate partly to mostly sunny skies for a while during mid-morning to early afternoon, with temps soaring into the 55-60 degree range across lower-middle elevations below 3000 feet.

Much cooler conditions prevailed across upper elevations of the High Knob Massif, where an array of upslope generated cap clouds and standing mountain leewave clouds formed on the strong SE winds.  

Snowflakes flew, for the second year in a row, the day following Christmas, with 0.5 inches of mixed snow-sleet at Clintwood 1 W and locally 2-3"+ of snow-rime in highest elevations of the High Knob Massif.

Bare ground was again featured, for the second consecutive Christmas, across the entire Appalachian range south of the Pennsylvania border during 24-25th (*).

*The 3rd Christmas holiday this decade to 
be completely bare of snow, even on highest summits.

Despite 1" or more of snow on the ground up through morning of 20 December, in the High Knob Massif, warming temperatures and a couple rainfall events washed all 
snow from even coldest, north slopes (**).

**It had been an anemic start to winter across the great southern Appalachians, with only 4" to 7" of snowfall amid the sprawling High Knob Massif during weeks prior to Christmas (in December), and just 2.5" in lower elevations at Clintwood.
A fitting conclusion for this driest year on record (45.00-50.00" of total precip in Big Cherry Basin of High Knob) within the local mountains!

A break in the mild, wet pattern of December 2008 raised hopes that a White Christmas would finally return to decorate the mountain landscape, as bitter arctic air poured into the southern Appalachians during 21 December.

Wind chill factors dipped to -12 (F) below zero in Wise early on 22 December, with air temps from -6 below zero on Eagle Knob to 7 above in Clintwood. Bitter cold, however, left as fast as it arrived with strong SSE-SSW winds ROARing across mountain ridges-plateaus by later on 23 December into Christmas Eve day of 2008.

Rain, NOT snow, arrived in time for Christmas Eve gatherings, with up to 0.60 inches measured at Big Cherry Dam of 
High Knob on wind driven upslope flow 
(0.21" fell in Clintwood).

For the third consecutive year, and fourth time this decade, Christmas day dawned with no snow on the ground south of the Pennsylvania border (*).

*This included even most favored, and typically snow laden northern slope locations like lofty High Knob Lake Basin, Mount Rogers, Mount LeConte, Tn., and Snowshoe Mountain in the northeastern West Virginia highlands.

White Christmas IN THE DARK!

A major pre-holiday snowstorm crippled and buried the mountain landscape during 18-19 December 2009 to generate a MEGA-disaster event (96% of Dickenson County lost electricity).

The morning of 19 December found 2 to 3 feet of snow depth, with 4-5+ feet drifts, across upper elevations of the High Knob Massif, with 1 to 1.5 feet of snow more common across low-mid elevations below 3000 feet.  A notable exception being Big Stone Gap where only 2" of snow stuck along the Powell River, generating a huge short-distance contrast with feet of snow blanketing adjacent Big Cherry Lake basin.

High density snow 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 most massive tree damage ever observed from 
a snowstorm (topping January 1998 destruction).

Despite warming and rain into Christmas day, general 6-10 inches of Christmas Eve snow depth remained at Clintwood 1 W. This diminished to a mean of 6 inches by Christmas morning (then 2-6 inches into early hours of 26 December 2009).

Water gushed out of the snow laden High Knob high country during Christmas day, with strong rises on whitewater creeks and headwater rivers of the Clinch and Powell river basins (e.g., Big Stony Creek and Little Stony Creek of the renowned Clinch River and South Fork of the Powell River).
South Fork of Powell River Gorge - Whiterwater Gushes
South Fork of Powell River Gorge

The second consecutive White Christmas 
in a row greeted the mountain landscape 
as light-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 and cold conditions ruled Christmas Eve day, with maximum temperatures in the 20s to around 30 degrees from Norton-Wise north to Clintwood. This occurred as mid-high altitude cloudiness lowered and thickened ahead of the developing winter storm.  Doppler indicated virga started reaching the summit level of the High Knob Massif during evening hours of Christmas Eve as the atmosphere saturated from the top downward.

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

What began as a moderately wet snow turned fluffy and snow showery in nature 
by afternoon hours of December 26, with large dendritic flakes and other crystal forms arising as gusty winds increased upsloping amid increasingly bitter air.
Massive Drifting In Wake Of Christmas Storm - December 17, 2014
Christmas Storm 2010 - High Knob Massif
Afternoon temperatures in 10s from Norton-Wise into the High Knob high country fell to single digits on Eagle Knob 
by 7:00 PM on December 26 as snowfall turned heavy to mark the most intense period of this prolonged December 25-27 winter storm event (9.0" of new snow fell 
in High Chaparral of the High Knob Massif from PM of December 26 into AM of December 27, 2010).

Northerly upslope flow with orographic forcing was key in excessive snowfall 
across the High Knob Massif.

27 December 2010 at 12:52 PM
Eagle Knob of High Knob Massif

Snowfall Totals for the Christmas Storm of 2010
Clintwood 1 W: 12.2"
City of Norton WP: 12.6"
Wise 1 SE: 13.4"
Nora 4 SSE on Long Ridge: 15.0"
High Chaparral of High Knob Massif: 18.5"
*Eagle Knob of High Knob Massif: 23.0"

Regional Totals:
Rogersville, TN: 2.0"
Bristol Airport, TN (TRI): 3.2"
Morristown, TN: 3.6"
Blacksburg: 4.0"
Wytheville: 4.0"
Banner Elk, NC: 5.5"
Boone 1 SE, NC: 7.0"
Richlands: 8.5"
Burkes Garden: 11.1"
Beech Mountain, NC: 17.0"
Mount LeConte, TN: 17.0" (M)
Snowshoe Mountain, WV: 19.0"
Mount Mitchell, NC: 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 25 December (PM) to 27 December (AM).

Mean snow depths reached around 10" in both Clintwood and 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, or greater ).

Most significantly, perhaps, the Christmas Holiday Storm of 2010 helped make December the snowiest on record across the local mountains ( in at least 50 years ).

December 2010 Snowfall Totals
Clintwood 1 W: 36.2" at 1560 feet
Nora 4 SSE: 46.3" at 2650 feet on Long Ridge
High Chaparral of High Knob Massif: 55.0" at 3300 feet
**Eagle Knob of High Knob Massif: 67.0" at 4178 feet

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

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.

Photographer Roddy Addington found only icicles hanging off cliffs in the High Knob Massif during a Christmas morning drive into the high country.

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.

Christmas was barely over when one of the most energetic systems of the entire month developed 26 December, with SE-S wind gusts of 40 to 60+ mph. Winds remained strong as cold air arrived on SW air flow trajectories, with gusts around 40 mph being observed in Wise, into afternoon 
of 27 December.

A transition from light rain to snow occurred in the High Knob Massif as temperatures tumbled below freezing.

Upslope snow increased through late evening into overnight of 28 December, with conditions becoming blizzard-like 
at times on Eagle Knob in wind driven, swirling snow.  Snow depths of 2-3"+ accumulated across the main crest zone 
of the massif, with 1-2" at mid-elevations, 
by morning hours of 28 December 2011.

Wet conditions arrived just in time for Christmas, with snow melting away from southern slopes and exposed crest lines of the High Knob Massif. Only colder, upper north slopes retained some snow into Christmas day.

Shortly after the big day, amid ROARING winds, rain changed to wet snow and the crest zone was again transformed into a magical Winter Wonderland during 
26-27 December in 2012.

The 25-27 December storm was a powerhouse with strong winds enhancing orographics to produce heavy rain that ended as upper elevation snow.

Superintendent Andrew Greear of the 
City of Norton Water Plant reported a storm precipitation total  of 1.61" and 2" of snow depth at the Norton Reservoirs, into AM hours of 27 December (2-3" of snow fell above the 3300 foot level of the lakes).

A storm total of 2.38" was measured 
by Superintendent Gary Hampton at 
Big Cherry Dam.

This boosted the 2012 precipitation 
tally to 66.66" in the City of Norton.


White Christmas Eve & Morning 
localized in the Virginia mountains.

Despite a lack of  December snowfall, compared to climatology, enough fell to produce a White Christmas Eve Day and Christmas Morning period across higher elevations of Wise and Dickenson counties as well as in the Burkes Garden area of Tazewell County & Mount Rogers-Whitetop of Washington-Grayson counties.

The heaviest snow in Virginia likely fell amid a well developed snowstreak from heads of Guest & Powell rivers southeast into the Wise Plateau, including the Hurricane-Dotson Creek communities.

Winter wonderland conditions were on display across highest elevations in the High Knob Massif which missed the snowstreak but still managed to accumulate upslope snow and rime.

It was a cold Christmas Holiday with temperatures dropping from 26 to 8 degrees in the City of Norton between 
the beginning of Christmas Eve day and Christmas Morning.  MIN temperatures dropped deeply into single digits amid 
the High Knob Massif.

Only highest elevations, mostly above 
3300 feet, had just enough snow for a 
White Christmas in 2014.

This included lofty peaks from the High Knob Massif and Snowshoe Mountain in eastern West Virginia to Mount Rogers-Whitetop, Roan, Beech, Mount Mitchell 
and Mount LeConte.
High Knob Massif - December 2014
No location, including these peaks, 
reported more than 1 inch of snow depth into Christmas AM of December 2014.

High elevation snow fell at the end of a wet system that produced 1.63" of precipitation at Big Cherry Dam during 23-25 December.  Other totals included 1.30" at Appalachia Lake Water Plant, 0.86" at Wise 1 SE, and 0.63" at Clintwood 1 W. 

The holiday period in 2015 was all about water, lots and lots of water, with 2.96" of rain in the City of Norton and 5.29" at Big Cherry Dam within the High Knob Massif during the 24-30 December period.

Strong SSE-SSW inflow.

Large run-off from upper elevations of the High Knob Massif resulted through the end of December 2015 (*).
Upper Falls of Little Stony Gorge - High Knob Massif - December 26, 2015

*This boosted the December 2015 precipitation total to 9.42" at Big Stone Gap Water Plant (in South Fork Gorge) and to 10.45" at Big Cherry Dam.

Whitewater, not snow, was again the featured attraction during the Christmas Holiday period in 2016 with a general 2.50" to 3.00"+ of precipitation during the 
24-30 December period.

Heavier amounts occurred in the lifting zone of the High Knob Massif, with 4.34" measured at the Big Stone Gap Water Plant.  More than 5.00" fell at upper elevations in Big Cherry Basin (*).

*This was part of a wet December with 10.53"
at Big Cherry Dam and 8.82" at Big Stone Gap Water Plant.  Following a relatively dry autumn, this raised the level of Big Cherry Lake nearly 10 vertical feet to overflow by 21-22 December 2016.

This Holiday period ended with 2" to 4" 
of snow during 29-30 December from Clintwood to Norton and the high 
country of the High Knob Massif.
Whitewater Roars In South Fork Gorge of High Knob Massif - December 28, 2016


An idyllic White Christmas developed along and north of the High Knob Massif as snow began falling during Christmas Eve, turning heavy into the overnight hours of Christmas Morning on northerly upslope flow.

Visibility was greatly reduced.
Intense Snow Falls On Christmas 2017 - University of Virginia's College At Wise
Accumulations of 1" to 3" were common into Christmas morning, with snow depths of 2-6"+ at upper elevations within the 
High Knob Massif.
Christmas Morning View
A cold period was observed prior to Christmas 2017, with single digits within 
colder sites prior to warming just before 
the holiday (snow coming just in the 
nick' of time!).
16 December 2017
Ice-Covered Wetland at High Knob Lake


A significant but limited extent of snow cover gave a white Christmas to mid-upper elevations, generally at or above 2800 feet, following a December 21 winter storm.

22 December 2018
Eagle Knob of High Knob Massif

A general 6" to 10"+ accumulated above 3000 feet in the High Knob Massif during December 21-22, falling on drifts which had not yet completely melted away from a major December 9-10 winter storm. 

9 December 2018
Eagle Knob of High Knob Massif

General 18-24", with 4-8 foot drifts, were observed at upper elevations in the High Knob Massif during December 9-10, with widespread power outages across Scott County on the windward side of the 
massif during this event.

Rimed High Country
Big Cherry Lake Basin

A brown mountain landscape dominated the central and southern Appalachians during Christmas 2019.

Frosty cold morning conditions, featuring 20s within mountain valleys (mid-40s at the summit level of the High Knob Massif under a strong morning temp inversion), gave way to afternoon temperatures in 50s and 60s.

Intense snow buried the high country with 10" to 18" of snowfall during Christmas Day.

25 December 2020
Eagle Knob of High Knob Massif

Frigid conditions accompanied the heavy snow with afternoon maximums reaching 
9 degrees on Eagle Knob, 14 degrees on the basin floor of Big Cherry Lake, 20 degrees at Wise 1 SE and 21 degrees at Clintwood 1 W.

Temperatures fell to 0 degrees (F) within Big Cherry Basin, 5 degrees at Wise 1 SE, 
6 degrees in Burkes Garden, 6 degrees in Clintwood, and 8 degrees in Big Stone Gap by morning hours of 26 December.


ROARing Wind!  Powerful SW winds and unseasonable warmth were the dominant features as a low-level jet roared along the southern Appalachian front range during Christmas Eve into Christmas morning.

Sustained SW winds topped 30 mph at mid-upper elevations, with gusts of 40-60 mph being common (*).

Christmas Eve-Christmas AM
Lonesome Pine Airport (LNP)

*No advisory or warning was issued.

Localized power outages lingered into
27 December in the High Knob Massif.

The contrast between holidays in 2020 
and 2021 was exemplified by the NWS Cooperative station in Clintwood.

From exactly the same temperature on 
mid-morning of Christmas Eve day, these two holidays followed radically divergent pathways (**).

**Not as extreme temperature-wise as differences observed between Christmas 1982 (warmest) and Christmas 1983 (coldest), but still impressive.


Bitterly cold air, courtesy of Polar Vortex stretching and cross-polar advection from Siberia into North America, spread across the mountain region just in time for the holiday during 23-24 December.

Air temperatures plunged to -6 below zero (F) in Wise, with wind chills between -20 to -30 degrees below zero.

Lonesome Pine Airport

Air temperatures plunged to around -15 below zero (F) at highest elevations in the High Knob Massif, with wind chills as frigid as -50 degrees below zero.

Christmas Day 2022_Eagle Knob Peak
Cody Blankenbecler Image © All Rights Reserved

Although moderating slightly, this set 
the stage for a bitter Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Christmas Day 2022_High Knob Lookout
Cody Blankenbecler Image © All Rights Reserved

Snowfall varied from 2" to 4" at upper elevations in the High Knob Massif to 1" 
or less across lower to middle elevations below 3000 feet.

End of current 
Christmas History.
Arctic Cold - Deep Snow & Rime - High Knob Massif
Arctic Cold - Deep Snow & Rime - High Knob Massif

During the past 30 years some 20 Christmases were white on upper north slopes in the High Knob Massif (67%), with the remainder of the area having less than 50% of Christmas morning's arrive under a cover of snow.

Lowest chances of having a White Christmas being amid valleys of the Clinch, Powell, and Holston rivers of the Great Valley lying south to southeast of the Cumberland Mountains in eastern Tennessee where chances generally 
run in the 5% to 10% range.

( 1" or more of Snow Depth )

*High Knob: 67%
Burkes Garden: 35%
Clintwood 1 W: 31%
Wise: 21%
Blacksburg NWSFO: 19%
Wytheville 1 S: 16%
Grundy: 15%
Abingdon 3 S: 12%
Trout Dale 3 SSE: 8%
Pennington Gap: 6%
Big Stone Gap: 4%
*North slopes of High Knob Lake Basin

Tri-Cities: 7%
Elizabethon: 6%
Kingsport: 5%
Morristown NWSFO: 5%
Gatlinburg 2 SW: 5%
Greenville: 5%
Rogersville 1 NE: 3%
Knoxville: 3%
*Mount LeConte & Roan Mtn would be the highest in Tennessee

North Carolina
Mount Mitchell: 41%
Grandfather Mountain: 24%
Boone 1 SE: 19%
Transou: 12%
Marshall: 10%
Lake Toxaway 2 SW: 9%
Asheville: 7%
Highlands: 7%
Celo 2 S: 6%

**Please note that this ArcGIS dataset greatly under-estimates the probability for highly orographic sites without published weather data (like the High Knob Massif).

Probabilities are based on the data period for each site, which is variable from one place to another.  Sites used above generally have 20 years or more of collected data. 

This ArcGIS map indicates a 31% probability of having a White Christmas in Clintwood, the 21% probability in Wise is deceptive and skewed by a 1700 hour ( 5 PM ) observation time during past decades ( the probability is higher for AM observation times like in Clintwood and most NWS sites ).

Climate Historian Ken Batty, of the Charleston, Wv., Forecast Office produces a nice Regional History Of Christmases Past.

The Jackson, Ky., NWS Forecast Office also does a very nice summary of Remembrances Of Christmas Days Past.

The Morristown, Tn., NWS Forecast Office offers a summary of Past Christmas Facts For The Great Valley from the Tri-Cities to Chattanooga.  During the 1937-2013 period only 10 Christmases officially had snowfall that was measurable in the Tri-Cities, recorded at or near Tri-City Airport 
(about 7%).

My Data Sources
The above would not be possible without many individuals who contribute weather observations from across this mountain area.  Collectively, they help form the bigger picture of our mountain climate.  To them I give appreciation, honor, and respect.

Clintwood observations were taken by Paul Buchanan & Wayne Browning, with the staff of the Norton Water Plant recording for the City of Norton.

City Of Norton Observations
Tommy Roberts
Andrew Greear
Gary Hampton
Steve Adams
Raymond Ricketts
Joe Carter
Bill Ballard
Wes Ward
Ed Dauphine
Caleb Ramsey
Scott Craft
Dakota Peters

Additional automated observations were courtesy of the AWS Weatherbug Station 
at Norton Elementary School, the AWOS system at Lonesome Pine Airport ( LNP ) in Wise and the Wise RAWS at the U.S. Forest Service.

Observations for the High Knob Massif 
are a composite from:

Steve Blankenbecler - Eagle Knob
Cody Blankenbecler - Eagle Knob
Joe & Darlene Fields - High Chaparral
Otis & Nancy Ward - Robinson Knob
James & Carol Bolling - Little Mountain
Cal Adams - Little Mountain
Jo & Johnny Combs - Flat Gap
Janet Couch - The Flatwoods
Gary Hampton & Staff - Big Cherry Dam
Gary Hampton & Staff - Big Stone Gap WP
Andrew Greear & Staff - Norton WP
Jack Pitts & Mark Quillin - Appalachia Lake
Jennifer & Tracy Garrison - Cracker Neck
Ida Holyfield - Skeens Ridge
Dr. Theresa Dunton - Powell Valley
Addison & Elizabeth Stallard - Powell Valley
Sharon Daniels - Powell Valley
Past observations from Eagle Knob 
of High Knob are courtesy of:

Carl Henderson
Terry Surface
Dennis Salyer
Marty Genusa
Walter Browning
Wayne Browning
The United States Forest Service, 
the AFWS Rain Gauge Network.

Other observations are courtesy of
 long-time observers such as:

Tracy Garrison & Brian Markham at the Town of Coeburn Filter Plant ( past years included Ernie Mullins, Larry Gilliam, Ronnie Steffey and Jerry ).

Mark Hollyfield at Big Stone Gap Wastewater Treatment Plant ( includes Jim Davis, Johnny Underwood, Larry Robbins, Steve, Glenn & staff ).

Gary Garrison, Rick Smith, Greg McKnight, Brian and all the staff at the Pennington Gap Water Plant.

Alvin Collins, Pat Harvel & staff of the Pennington Gap Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Wayne & Genevie Riner at Nora 4 SSE, and other local NWS Cooperative observers in Wise ( Roy L. Wells, Jr. ), Breaks Interstate Park ( Carl Mullins and Terry ), North Fork of Pound Dam ( Geneva Varner & staff ), and all staff of John W. Flannagan Dam.

Other much appreciated local weather observers include:

Roddy Addington
Bill Harris
Harold L. Jerrell
Richard Kretz
Chris Allgyer
Phil Shelton
Ida Holyfield
Anna Hess
Denver Garret
Rodney Parsons
John Varner
Willie Mullins

Many others also deserve credits and thanks, and if not listed you know who you are ( I have been blessed to know so many over the years ).

Additional regional observations were courtesy of the National Weather Service 
and NOAA.

Explanation Of Graphics

Graphics used in this Christmas History contain a great deal of information, and while I can not detail everything I do want to give you a brief explanation on how to 
use them for past Christmases.

1-19 December 2021

I will use December 2021 
as an example, with ridging, warmer and 
drier than average conditions across the mountain region being reflected above by an expanded atmosphere in the mean at 
the 500 MB level (about 18,000 feet).

The expansion of the atmosphere is ideally pictured as a vertical column extending from the surface to 18,000 feet (or the level of 500 MB at any given time).

1-19 December 2021

Wintry conditions from the northern Rockies, Canada into Alaska this month is reflected above by below average 500 MB heights that represent a vertical column of cold air that is dense and contracted (*).

*In other words, the distance between the surface and 500 MB in a cold air mass is less than in a warm air mass.  The atmosphere is contracted or depressed vertically within colder air.

21 December 2021
500 MB Height Anomalies

Height anomalies are a means to capture the longer-term trend and to view the major forcing features within the atmosphere.  

On any given day, however, as illustrated here they also represent the jet stream troughs and ridges (below).

21 December 2021
500 MB Heights And Winds

Inferring heights and wind flow above onto the previous height anomalies graphic requires some visualization, but the information is there.

Both the subtropical and polar jet streams are visible above.  Compare this with the previous graphic showing the anomalies and their lowest-highest height cores.

It should be noted (for all those snow lovers out there) that a potentially significant snow is just being missed above as a wave tracks too far south and east to impact the Appalachians with anything potent.  In other words, this could have been an impactful Miller A type storm 
just a few days prior to Christmas 2021. 

Additional graphics, sea level pressure, 925-850 MB wind fields, and air temperatures are shown for a few memorable storm events important to past Christmases.

Happy Holidays.