By Paul T. Choate
Dec. 21, 2012. The forecasts said the weather was about to take a dramatic turn into more typical conditions for winter in the High Country and as of around lunchtime today the meteorologists appear to have been correct. Winter officially started at 6:12 a.m. and it definitely feels like it. Bitter cold — albeit seasonal — temperatures hit the area today along with snow showers and some very high wind gusts.
Many in the High Country likely awoke to “sideways snow” this morning. But it’s hard to tell exactly how much snow has fallen due to the wind. Based on forecast models from Ray’s Weather Center, one to three inches of snow will fall on much of the western portions of Watauga, Avery and Ashe counties. A dusting is expected in the eastern portions of those counties, with the snow extending as far east as the Piney Creek community in northwestern Alleghany County. Higher elevations along the North Carolina – Tennessee border could see anywhere from three to five inches of snow.
Temperatures come in stark contrast to the unseasonably warm December we experienced up until yesterday, with the thermometer in Boone dipping to the coldest this month thus far at 22.4 degrees around 10 a.m. Atop Grandfather mountain, temperatures are sitting in the teens at 16 degrees currently.
According to Ray’s Weather, based on data from 1929 to present, the average low in Boone for the month of December is 25.6 degrees. However, for the first 20 days of December 2012, the average low totaled 34.5 degrees — 8.9 degrees above an 83-year average.
Asked if this drastic temperature shift today was unusual, Phil Hysell, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Va., said, “Not necessarily because these temperatures are not that far below normal from what they should be this time of year.”
“It is all the result of a potent cold front that moved through the area last night. It dropped temperatures significantly,” Hysell said. “There is some moisture with this upper low pressure system right now and as it moves more westerly, it will begin to pull moisture off of the Great Lakes. That moisture will then translate into the snowfall you are already beginning to see this morning.”
The real story today is the wind. The High Country is currently under a high wind warning issued by the National Weather Service (NWS). Damaging wind speeds of 30 to 40 mph, with gusts up to 70 mph, could cause downed trees and power lines as well as some structural damage.
Boone is currently experiencing sustained wind speeds of 22 mph with gusts up to 34 mph. At 6:22 a.m., Ray’s Weather Center’s weather station atop the climbing tower at Footsloggers in downtown Boone recorded a startling 57 mph gust. At the Mile High Swinging Bridge weather station at Grandfather Mountain, a gust of 90 mph has been recorded within the last hour.
“High winds overnight and early morning led to outages for 1,061 members Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation,” said Renee Whitener, Blue Ridge Electric (BREMCO) director of public relations, in an email. “Blue Ridge linemen restored the majority of the outages last night and are currently on the scene to repair damage and restore the remaining 27 members in Watauga and Ashe counties. The majority of members affected are in Watauga County, where winds damaged 13 different areas of the electric system starting at 12:30 a.m. A total of 772 members were affected.”
As of 12:10 p.m., only BREMCO is reporting only five outages in Watauga County.
The winter weather has been good news for the area ski mountains though. Appalachian Ski Mountain began making snow last night and are looking to open the slopes at 9 a.m. tomorrow.
“It’s all been based on the weather, but we saw this opportunity and temperatures have been as good as possible,” said Drew Stanley, director of marketing with Appalachian Ski Mountain. He added that he expects they will be able to make snow all day today and overnight tonight and said he expects to have a solid base by tomorrow.
Sugar Mountain Resort currently has two lifts open with a snow base of four to 20 inches. They have received about 4 inches of snow so far from the winter storm. The temperature atop Sugar Mountain is currently 15.1 degrees.
Beech Mountain Resort reopened today and snowmaking is currently on. One lift is open and three trails are open. They have a six to 18 inch base currently and the temperature is sitting at 14 degrees.
Snow will continue to fall and the winds persist throughout the afternoon and evening hours. As for the temperatures, High Country residents can expect quite a bit of variation.
“We’re in for a roller coaster ride in terms of temperatures,” Hysell said. “They will be below normal for much of the weekend but then it will get well into the 40s again by Sunday. Another brief cold front may move in after that but then it will be back up into the 40s again by Monday or Tuesday.”
For more information on weather in the High Country, visit raysweather.com.