Snowstorm Synopsis – by Greg Dobson

Wow!  What a storm this has been.  It is now Monday and some parts of the Southern Appalachian Mountains are still receiving snow.  In fact, many of these places have seen on and off snowfall for over 60 hours.  That hasn’t occurred in quite sometime.  However, I imagine that on Saturday many of you were thinking what a busted forecast this had been.  Well, to some degree, you were right.  You could say that there were actually two parts to this storm and the first part really didn’t pan out like many forecasters had predicted.  If the storm had ended completely Saturday afternoon, most areas of the High Country would have only received 2-4 inches of new snow and areas in other parts of the Southern Appalachian region would have received only a few inches as well, except maybe a few high elevation locations.  This first part of the storm ended up staying a little farther west than predicted and also allowed for some warmer air to filter in to some parts of the region, but overall, just didn’t have quite the moisture content. 

However, Saturday evening, things changed dramatically and we owe it in part at least, to the tightly wound, classic New England Nor’easter, which actually caused wrap-around moisture to funnel back around as far south and west as the Southern Appalachian region.  In addition, a cold upper low-pressure system moved in from the northwest.  All of this led to part two of our storm.  This is referred to as a Northwest snowfall event.  This type of system actually provides the snow that skiers love, that dry powder type.  You may have noticed that on Saturday morning the snow was more wet and heavy.  This is typical when snowstorms affect us from the Gulf of Mexico .  The water content is much higher and usually makes for sloppier ski conditions.  Many Northwest snowfall events affect this region and already have this season.  You know them; they are the ones were the westward facing slopes along the TN/NC border and West Virginia pick up a majority of the snow.  However, sometimes they are so powerful that they affect areas farther east in the mountains as well and in this case, even as far south as Atlanta, .  This particular storm will go down as one of the most powerful Northwest snowfall events to affect the Southern Appalachian region.  The last major event was just before Christmas back in 2003.     

What about snowfall totals you ask?  Well, by now most of you are probably familiar with all the snow that the Northeast received from this Nor’easter.  Very impressive snowfall totals have been reported from D.C all the way to Maine .  New York City alone picked up 26.9 inches breaking their previous storm total record.  As usual, however, our part of the region gets left out of the National news and what many of you may not be aware of are the impressive snowfall totals that parts of the Southern Appalachians received.  For instance, Mt. LeConte, which is one of the major peaks on the Tennessee side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and sits at an elevation of 6593’, actually received 36” of snow since the storm began Friday night, 10” more than New York City.  Most all areas above 4500 to 5000 feet received well over 12” of snow, including Beech, Cataloochee, Snowshoe, and Mt. Mitchell .  However, these totals varied greatly. There are many, many topographic, geographic, and synoptic factors that cause these variations and I will have to save them for another time.  For now here are some other notable snowfall totals from around the Southern Appalachian region, but keep in mind, if the snow continues today, these totals could increase slightly:

North Carolina :
Beech Mountain – 15”
Cataloochee – 18”
Hawksnest – 16”
Wolf Laurel – 12”
Mt. Mitchell – 13”
Oconaluftee – 16”

Tennessee :
Ober Gatlinburg – 12”
Gatlinburg – 7”
Mt. LeConte – 36” (all-time record is 60”)

Virginia :
Massunutten – 12”
Wintergreen – 12”
Mt. Rodgers – 9”
Whitetop – 12”

West Virginia :
Canaan Valley – 14”
Snowshoe – 19”
Winterplace – 14”

For more OFFICIAL snowfall reports from across the region, check out these links to area National Weather Service forecast offices report pages:

North Carolina :  http://www.srh.noaa.gov/productview.php?pil=GSPRTPGSP

Tennessee :  http://www.srh.noaa.gov/productview.php?pil=PNSMRX

Virginia :  http://www.srh.noaa.gov/data/RNK/RVARNK

West Virginia : http://www.weather.gov/view/productview.php?pil=RLXHYDRLX&version=0

Don’t forget, with as much natural snow that has fallen, there will be plenty of non-downhill skiing opportunities, such as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, maybe even some snowmobiling where permitted.