History Of Christmas Holidays
( 54 Years )
The following documents weather history of Christmases spanning 54 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.
Christmas morning dawned to a 9″ snow depth in Clintwood, down from 12″ on December 24. 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 University Of Virginia’s College At Wise ( formerly Clinch Valley College, with the weather station elevation being 2560 feet ).
Stormy Holiday. A total of 1.11″ of rain fell in Clintwood during the December 24-26 period, to include a rare thunderstorm on the morning after Christmas ( MAX temperature of 66 degrees officially observed in Wise on December 24, 1964 ).
Bare in the lower elevations on Christmas morning with a trace of snow on the ground December 26, 1965. A trace of snow was also observed in Wise, with falling temperatures 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 7″ in Wise. A MIN of 2 degrees was also recorded at Wise 1 SE.
A trace of Christmas morning snow depth in Clintwood was followed by a major winter storm during December 27-30 ( e.g., 9.2″ of snow were measured in Wise just during the 24-hours ending at 5:00 PM on December 28, 1967 ).
A 1″ snow depth on December 24 melted to a trace on southern exposures in the town of Clintwood by Christmas morning. A cold Christmas Day followed with a MAX temp of 26 degrees in Wise.
A trace of Christmas morning snow depth in Clintwood gave way to major winter storm conditions, with 8″ of mean depth by the next day in both Clintwood & Wise. A snow depth of 10″ was reported in Lee County by weather observer Denver Garrett.
A bare ground on Christmas morning gave way to 1.2″ of snowfall by the morning of December 26, 1970 in 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 of 1971.
A rainfall total of 0.29″ in Clintwood into Christmas morning,
with rain changing to snow on December 26 ( 1.0″ of snow was officially measured in Wise during December 26-27 in 1972 ).
Several inches of snow depth prior to the holiday melted to a only 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 December 26, 1973.
Rainy again with a total of 0.45″ measured in Clintwood into Christmas morning in 1974. 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 with 1.31″ of total precipitation measured in Wise during the December 25-27 period, ending with 1.3″ of snowfall.
A snow depth of 1″ at Clintwood 1 W on Christmas morning, located 1 mile west of town at 1560 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 afternoon ). Part of a snowy period that produced 6.0″ of total snowfall in Wise during the December 25-27 period in 1976.
[ The year of 1976 marked the beginning of my personal and later official snowfall measurements ( as I got old enough to do the JOB! ) ].
A rainfall total of 0.49″ into Christmas morn in Clintwood, with evening snow developing ( 1″ on the ground at Clintwood 1 W and in Wise by the AM of December 26 ). Turning bitter cold with temps dropping from 31 degrees at Wise 1 SE at 5:00 PM Christmas day to 4 degrees by the morning of December 26, 1977.
Only a trace of snow depth at Clintwood 1 W on Christmas morn.
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 on Christmas day ( 3.6″ of total snowfall ). This followed a 61 degree Christmas Eve MAX temperature in Wise on December 24, 1979.
Christmas Holiday snowfall totals of 1.1″ at Clintwood 1 W and 1.6″ at Wise 1 SE were observed during December 25-26 in 1980.
Christmas morning found 1.0″ of snowfall at Clintwood 1 W, with 1.3″ reported at Wise 1 SE. A cold day with 28 degrees in Wise at its 5:00 PM observation time on December 25, 1981.
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 ( e.g., 75 degrees recorded in the town of Pennington Gap ) and higher elevations cooler.
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. Unofficial MINS as bitter as -25 degrees below were reported in the area ( i.e., lowest temperatures for Christmas ).
A rain total of 0.70″ was measured into Christmas morning in the City of Norton ( at Norton Water Plant ), with 0.49″ in Clintwood. Only a few snow flurries were observed.
Heavy snow developed 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 ). Snow depths were deeper, temps and wind chills much lower, across mid-upper elevations above 2500-3000 feet.
A rainfall total of 1.42″ was measured at Norton WP during the Christmas Holiday with 1.18″ in Clintwood ( mostly fell during Christmas Eve Day, with foggy conditions during 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 on Christmas day in 1987 ).
*The mid to late 1980’s marked the beginning of weather observations in the High Knob Massif.
Powerful afternoon thunderstorms prompted a rare, late season tornado watch for the area during December 24 ( Franklin, Tn., was devastated by a twister ). Rainfall totals reached 1.40″ at Norton Water Plant and 0.71″ at Clintwood 1 W during Christmas Eve. Dry and much cooler conditions dominated Christmas day.
Arctic cold & snow. 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. A mean 4″ snow depth was observed at Wise 1 SE on Christmas day, with deeper depths amid the High Knob Massif.
NWS Cooperative Stations in Clintwood and Wise were the only official sites in Virginia to report at least 1″ of snow depth during Christmas ( included northern slopes in the City of Norton, with deeper depths along the High Knob Massif ).
Snow flurries fell on Christmas Eve with none on the ground amid the lower elevations at Clintwood 1 W on Christmas. A 21 degree MIN temperature recorded in Wise on Christmas morning.
Heavy snow developed Christmas afternoon with up to 6″+ accumulating in mid-upper elevations of 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 ).
Snow developed during Christmas day with intense afternoon snow squalls. A snow depth of 6″ was measured at Clintwood 1 W by early hours of December 26. Air temperatures plunged to -3 below zero atop Eagle Knob of the High Knob Massif, amid snow depths of up to 12″+ in 1993.
A Christmas morning snow depth of 1″ atop the High Knob Massif, with no snow in the valleys ( MIN of 23 degrees in Clintwood on Christmas, with 18 degrees on morning of December 26, 1994 ).
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 depths of 6″ to 8″ were reported across the great High Knob Massif ( MIN of 9 degrees in Wise on the morning of December 24, 1995 ).
A cold wave prior to the Christmas holiday with minimum temps of 3 degrees in Norton and 5 degrees in Wise on morning of Dec 21. A warming trend brought rain, not snow, with totals varying from 0.58″ in Clintwood up to 1.01″ in the City of Norton into December 24 of 1996. Only a few Christmas morning snow flurries.
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 snow depths of 12″ in Norton and 18″ to 36″ across the High Knob high country by December 31 in 1997.
An ice storm during December 23-24 with 1″ of packed ice-sleet remaining on the ground at Clintwood 1 W on Christmas morning ( MIN of 10 degrees above zero ). Heavy snow 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 Dec 31.
Snow fell during December 24-25 with Christmas morning depths of 3″ at Clintwood 1 W and 7″ atop the High Knob Massif. MIN temps reached 3 degrees in Norton and 5 degrees in Wise.
Trace of snow on the ground Christmas morning at Clintwood 1 W, with patchy 1″ depths on northern slopes ( 22/6 degree extremes ). A morning snow depth of 2″ at City of Norton Water Plant, with 4″-6″ across the High Knob Massif. A 3 degree Christmas morning MIN at Norton Elementary School ( Norton ES AWS ) amid the Norton Valley of southern Wise County.
Bare ground across the entire Appalachian Mountain range, south of the Pennsylvania border, on Christmas morning. Christmas min of 11 degrees on Eagle Knob of High Knob ( 8 degrees AM Dec 26 ).
Trace on the ground at 7 AM at Clintwood 1 W. Snow accumulated 1″ to 6″ during the day. A morning snow depth of 1″ at Norton WP prior to new snowfall, with deeper morning depths amid the High Knob high country above the city ( 4″ depth at Norton Water Plant by later on Christmas day in 2002 ).
Trace on ground at 7 AM at Clintwood 1 W, with 1″ of accumulation by 9 AM. A snow depth of 5″ at City of Norton WP at 9 AM ( 4-5″ at 7 AM, down from a maximum mean depth of 14″ on the morning of December 21 ). Christmas morning depths were much deeper on the northern slopes of the High Knob Massif, above the City of Norton, where max depths had reached 20″ or more on Dec 21.
Bare ground across much of mountain area, with lingering snow covering only upper northern slopes of the High Knob Massif. Local snow depths of up to 9″ were measured on December 30 across northern slopes in the head of High Knob Lake Basin, after 44-hours of above freezing temps had been recorded on Eagle Knob since Christmas ( suggesting Christmas morning depths were a foot or more on northern slopes of lofty High Knob Lake Basin ). Christmas morning temps reached 6 degrees in the City of Norton, with 10 degrees at Clintwood 1 W, prior to late month warming.
Christmas Eve found a solid blanket of snow covering only the upper elevations of the High Knob Massif, with a generally bare landscape below 3000 feet. A cold rain, with areas of sleet-freezing rain, overspread the mountains during the evening. Roadways, like Alternate 58 between Norton and Castlewood, became extremely hazardous with numerous traffic accidents and 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 across upper elevations ( above 3000 feet ) in 2005.
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 Dec 24-26 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 the northern slopes ) ].
Bare ground was again featured across the entire Appalachian range south of the Pennsylvania border during December 24-25.
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 a pronounced dry slot to generate partly to mostly sunny skies for a while during the mid-morning to early afternoon period, with temperatures soaring into the 55 to 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 after 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 during 2006.
Bare ground was again featured, for the second consecutive Christmas, across the entire Appalachian range to the south of the Pennsylvania border during December 24-25 ( the 3rd Christmas holiday this decade to be completely bare of snow south of the Pennsylvania border, even highest summits ). Despite 1″ or more of snow on the ground up through the morning of December 20, amid the High Knob Massif, warming temperatures and a couple rain events washed all snow from even coldest, northern 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 1 W.
*A fitting conclusion for this driest year on record ( 45.00″ to 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 nice White Christmas would finally return to decorate the mountain landscape, as bitter cold, arctic air poured into the southern Appalachians during December 21. Wind chill factors dipped to -12 F below zero in Wise early on December 22, with air temps from -6 below zero on High Knob to 7 above in Clintwood. However, the bitter cold left as fast as it arrived with strong SSE-SSW winds ROARing across mountain ridges-plateaus by later on December 23 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 a 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. That included even the most favored, and typically snow laden northern slope locations like the lofty High Knob Lake Basin, Mount Rogers, Mount LeConte, Tn., and Snowshoe Mountain in northeastern West Virginia. Amazing!
White Christmas IN THE DARK!
A major pre-holiday snowstorm crippled and buried the mountain area during December 18-19, 2009 to generate a MEGA-disaster event ( 96% of Dickenson County lost electricity ). The morning of December 19 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.
This high density, WET snowfall 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 December 26 ). Water gushed out of the snow laden High Knob high country during Christmas, with strong rises on whitewater creeks & 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 ).
The second consecutive White Christmas in a row greeted the mountain landscape as light to occasionally 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, cold conditions had ruled Christmas Eve day with maximums in the 20s to around 30 degrees from Norton-Wise north to Clintwood as mid-high altitude cloudiness lowered and thickened ahead of the developing storm. Doppler indicated virga began 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 snow 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 the afternoon hours of December 26, with large dendritic flakes and other crystal forms arising as gusty winds increased upsloping amid increasingly bitter air.
Afternoon temperatures in the 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 ).
Snowfall Totals for the Christmas Holiday Storm of 2010
Clintwood 1 W: 12.2″
City of Norton WP: 12.6″
Nora 4 SSE on Long Ridge: 15.0″
High Chaparral of High Knob Massif: 18.5″
*Eagle Knob of High Knob Massif: 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 Dec 25 ( PM ) to Dec 27 ( 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 2010 the snowiest December 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 ).
A 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 highcountry on December 25 in 2011.
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 into December 26, with SE-S wind gusts of 40 to 60+ mph. Winds remained strong as cold air arrived on SW air flow trajectories into afternoon hours of December 27, with gusts around 40 mph being observed in Wise.
A transition from light rain to snow occurred amid the High Knob Massif as temperatures tumbled below freezing. Upslope snowfall increased through late evening hours into the overnight of December 28, with conditions becoming blizzard-like at times on Eagle Knob in wind driven, swirling snow. Snow depths of 2″ to 3″+ had accumulated across the main crest zone of the massif, with 1-2″ common at middle elevations, by morning hours of December 28, 2011.
Wet conditions arrived just in time for the Christmas Holiday, 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 December 26-27 in 2012.
The December 25-27 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 December 27 ( locally 2″ to 3″ of snow fell above the 3300 foot level of the lakes ).
This boosted the 2012 precipitation tally to 66.66″ in the City of Norton.
A White Christmas Eve and Morning was localized in the Virginia mountains. Despite the 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 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 & 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 peaks from the High Knob Massif and Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia to Mount Rogers-Whitetop, Roan, Beech, Mount Mitchell and Mount LeConte.
No location, even these peaks, reported more than 1 inch of snow depth into Christmas Morning of December 2014.
The holiday period in 2015 was all about water, lots of water, with 2.96″ of rain in the City of Norton and 5.29″ at Big Cherry Dam within the High Knob high country during the December 24-30 period.
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 December 24-30 period. This period; however, did end with 2″ to 4″ of snow during December 29-30 from Clintwood to Norton and the High Knob Massif.
End of current Christmas History.
During the past 28 years some 18 Christmases were white amid upper north slopes in the High Knob Massif ( 64% ), 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.
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 measurable snowfall amid the Tri-Cities…recorded at or near Tri-City Airport ( about 7% ).