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Frost on the pumpkin may have arrived even faster than you could get the decorative pumpkin set up on your front porch. And now October is looking pretty chill off and on perhaps right up to Halloween.
Might it even turn flaky for some? We’ll get back to that.
Many locations in Southwest and Southside Virginia experienced their first freeze and/or frost on Sunday morning, with an encore for several spots on Monday morning.
And though it has warmed up some this week, it appears we are not done with October chilliness, as new pushes of cold air are lined up to drop in from Canada, starting this weekend, behind a cold front that may kick up some showers and thunderstorms as it passes Thursday, with a stronger punch likely next week.
For the official weather data stations at Roanoke, Blacksburg and Danville, Sunday morning brought the coldest temperatures so early in the season in 19 years. (Nineteen years figures prominently, and coincidentally, into the last section of this inaugural weather column in Cardinal News, where I introduce/re-introduce myself and what I will be writing about in this space each Wednesday evening.)
Blacksburg dropped to 30, Roanoke to 35 and Danville to 37 on Sunday morning, three of the four National Weather Service major climate stations within Cardinal News territory, which was the coldest it had been by Oct. 9 at any of those locations since 2003.
The fourth, Lynchburg, dropped to 36, plenty cold but it was only the coldest so early in the season since 2014 there.
Frost, incidentally, can form at least in patches with air temperatures in the mid 30s, as colder air reaching the freezing mark sinks to ground level, transforming water vapor in the air into ice crystals that form on some objects and surfaces.
This was a far cry from early October three years ago, when Roanoke and Danville hit 98, Lynchburg 97 and Blacksburg 94 on Oct. 3, the hottest October temperatures in our region since two months before Pearl Harbor.
Ironically, the chill we have been experiencing in October is partly related to how heat waves set up over the summer and early fall.
The core of summer heat was under high pressure over the central U.S back in June and July. The mean position of the “heat dome” high pressure system tended to drift west, not east, with time, with the hottest weather centered over the western U.S. in recent weeks.
As a result of the clockwise rotation around western high pressure, cold air masses from the Canadian tundra are being propelled southeastward toward the eastern U.S.
Another factor in early autumn coolness that may be somewhat surprising, but actually is seasonably unremarkable, is hurricanes.
Hurricane Fiona took a path far off the East Coast, tracking from the Dominican Republic to Nova Scotia, but its counterclockwise pull helped give an extra tug on cool air in Canada pulling it southward. (There was snow in some of Fiona’s outskirts in northern Quebec.)
Hurricane Ian washed out before being a similar factor, but its remnants fused with a trough of low pressure dipping southward, and that kept us in chilly, damp weather for three days to start the month.
Tropical systems play a regular role in making autumn happen, as they transfer heat from lower latitudes to higher latitudes, dislodging cooler air masses southward in the process.
So what’s this about snow?
A stronger push of cold air is due to dive in next week, as blocking high pressure develops over Greenland to keep the air mass from moving eastward quickly.
It is quite possible that stiff northwest winds blowing up the Appalachian slopes, squeezing out what moisture there is, will trigger snow showers in the mountains of western Virginia, especially west of I-81 and I-77, around Tuesday or Wednesday.
Upslope snow showers are a common occurrence with cold frontal passages usually later in fall through early spring. It’s still nearly a week out and there are uncertainties with the exact trajectory of winds that would carry Great Lakes moisture over the mountains, but just know for now that snow has at least entered the chat room before many people have even picked out their Halloween costumes.
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Weather stats of the week
Each week I will plan to highlight at least one interesting weather (or climate) statistic from Southwest and/or Southside Virginia.
Let’s do two this week.
- On Monday, Anchorage, Alaska, recorded its first freeze of the season, with a low dropping to 31. Remarkably, Blacksburg and several locations along and west of the Blue Ridge had their first freeze a day before Anchorage did.
- Burkes Garden in Tazewell County dropped to 22 degrees on Sunday morning, apparently the coldest temperature in Cardinal News territory. It has only been colder on Oct. 9 three times previously at Burkes Garden, going back to 1898. Burkes Garden is often the coldest place in Virginia on clear, calm nights because it is in a “temperature sink” in which cold air drains downward but can’t readily escape due to the enclosed crater-like valley nature of the geography.
When the main subject matter of this column isn’t about current or soon-arriving weather, as it is today, I will also include a short section similar to this briefly summarizing expected weather in the near term.
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Cardinal Weather takes flight
Welcome to my “new” weekly weather column in Cardinal News.
Many readers in the Roanoke and New River valleys are familiar with my weather coverage and will see this regular Wednesday evening column for Cardinal News as a continuation – a 2.0 version, if you will – of my 19 years writing about weather in The Roanoke Times, though now covering a larger region.
Others may be coming back to it. The Roanoke Times once had a deeper reach into the I-77 corridor and beyond, and into Southside around Martinsville, so some of the first several years of my weather writing carried farther as well. There may be someone who read my work years ago who will again.
Some of you may be coming back simply because my work is no longer behind a paywall, as Cardinal News operates on an entirely different nonprofit, philanthropy-based model than do corporate-owned newspapers.
But for many Cardinal readers, I will be an entirely new voice in what can seem like a veritable Tower of Babel on a subject that isn’t always just friendly banter. Yet I strive to be a voice of reason, balance, even joy, while doing my part to inform and educate about our atmosphere.
This column will be about weather and not much else. It will focus on regional weather, affecting Southwest and Southside Virginia, with reference to other parts of the commonwealth, Mid-Atlantic and Appalachia at times, sometimes events elsewhere in the nation or world, but always with context relative to our region.
I’ll write about recent weather, ongoing weather, expected weather, historic weather. I’ll discuss global and hemispheric patterns that affect our regional weather, and local geographic quirks that make your weather different than your friend’s down the road or over the mountain.
Weather isn’t climate but in aggregate inevitably takes us there, and at times, we’ll look at how climate is changing in our region and state. That includes ways that would be expected under the banner of global climate change – but sometimes, perhaps, quirky data that can seem locally at odds with larger trends.
I am about nuance and context, not broad brush strokes.
I do no politics or policy. Period.
I have never laid claim to the title of meteorologist, as my formal studies and most of my career have been devoted to journalism. But meteorologists have often welcomed me to their table or in their online discussions like a peer.
I am a weather journalist, columnist, writer, reporter, communicator, whatever word you want to use, with nearly two decades of chronicling and analyzing our regional weather in a format that has been far more popular than I could possibly have imagined.
I am a lifelong weather geek.
What I write here is not a replacement for the National Weather Service or your favorite TV or Internet meteorologist. I will include some of their insights, perhaps even focus a column now and then on interesting or important people in the meteorological endeavor, from time to time.
I don’t do day-to-day detail forecasting, but prefer to look at larger trends and interesting facts with a focus on weather changes and events. I do more frequent, timely updates, as I can, on my Twitter feed, @kevinmyattwx.
I may appear on Cardinal News sometimes other than the Thursday columns when we are about to have or have just had a remarkable weather event in our region.
So let’s spread our new Cardinal wings and see where the winds and the whims of weather take us.
Journalist Kevin Myatt has been writing about weather for 19 years. His weekly column is sponsored by Oakey’s, a family-run, locally-owned funeral home with locations throughout the Roanoke Valley.