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Now that 2023 has dawned mildly, we can catch our collective breath and take a quick look back at the top 10 weather events of 2022 in Cardinal News’ coverage area encompassing Southwest and Southside Virginia.
With the new year, a heartfelt “thanks” is in order from me to everyone who has followed my weather reports here on Cardinal News. Every click on a link to my weekly weather column via the Cardinal News webpage, the Cardinal Weather newsletter, the daily or weekly Cardinal News emailed newsletters or any social media is greatly appreciated.
In just three months, the Cardinal Weather newsletter has gained more than 1,000 sign-ups. It comes to your inbox each Wednesday evening with a link to the just-posted weekly weather column and a photo of the week submitted by readers or social media followers. (A special thanks to Oakey’s Funeral Service for currently sponsoring the Cardinal Weather newsletter!)
I am looking forward to covering our changing weather scene and perhaps finding some unique angles on weather and climate specific to Southwest and Southside Virginia, and featuring different parts of our geographically diverse region, in the next year at Cardinal News.
On to the top 10 list.
Top 10 lists are largely subjective exercises coalescing around some objective facts. Yours would probably be different, especially if based solely on the weather you personally experienced or that affected your activities in 2022.
My criteria are based on how impactful, extreme, unusual and widespread a weather event is relative to the entire region. Few weather events check all four boxes (think 2012 derecho for one that did) so then it is often a matter of weighing whether a local but extreme event ranks above or below a widespread but significant one.
1. Flash flooding, Buchanan and Tazewell counties, July 12.
By far, the most destructive weather episode of 2022 in Cardinal News territory, and the one that precipitated the most government response in its aftermath, was flash flooding in and near the Oakwood, Whitewood and Pilgrim’s Knob communities in eastern Buchanan County and nearby parts of western Tazewell County on July 12. A post-storm assessment found 33 properties were destroyed and over 100 more damaged. Thunderstorms trained over the same area ahead of a slow-moving cold front, dumping up to 6 inches falling in two or three hours, pouring down steep hillsides into narrow creek drainages. Despite striking at night, there were no fatalities. The flooding followed 11 months after a similar flash-flooding event at Hurley in another part of Buchanan County, killing one, and only two weeks before eastern Kentucky suffered rampant flash flooding in similar terrain that killed 43. Some of that Kentucky event also affected Southwest Virginia, though not to the extreme of the July 12 event in the Dismal River valley. President Joe Biden declared a major disaster in the two counties in late September, and just last month, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has called for $11 million in state funding for flood relief for each of the past two years in Buchanan County.
Previous Cardinal News coverage:
* Heavy flooding in Buchanan County: At least 44 people are missing
* Report: All residents now accounted for after flooding in Buchanan County
* Flood damage in Buchanan County called ‘apocalyptic’
* Two weeks after Buchanan County flood, ‘the hardest part is getting ready to happen
* A flood took their homes. Three months later, some in the community are frustrated by the pace of recovery.
2. Christmas weekend high winds and extreme cold.
This is freshest in our minds, so there is a risk of recency bias, but the overall impact on our region — especially for thousands who lost electricity — and extreme nature of temperatures during the biggest holiday season will make this a memorable event for years to come. More than 150,000 Virginians lost power as winds gusted above 50 mph behind an Arctic cold front on Dec. 23, with the majority of those outages concentrated in our region of coverage, especially localities in and near the Roanoke and New River valleys and along the Blue Ridge where some gusts neared 60 mph. Temperatures fell below zero at many locations along and west of the Blue Ridge — -19 at Grayson Highlands State Park, -15 at Bald Knob above Mountain Lake in Giles County and -14 at Copper Hill in Floyd County being the coldest recorded readings — and were in the single digits just about everywhere else in Southwest and Southside Virginia, the coldest Christmas Eve since the 1980s for several sites. Our region’s frigid holiday was a tiny segment of a national mosaic of extreme cold and, in some areas near the Great Lakes, blizzard conditions that took more than 50 lives.
Previous Cardinal News coverage:
* Dec. 23-26 updates on power outages and extreme cold
* North Pole set to crash into Virginia on Friday morning, set up shop for Christmas weekend
* Mercifully mild weather follows Christmas weekend Arctic blast … but this too shall pass (includes extensive recap of Christmas weekend record cold)
3. January 3 winter storm.
From the perspective of headlines in national news, this might have been biggest weather story of 2022 for Virginia as a whole, with U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine among hundreds stranded overnight on Interstate 95. The state has revamped its plans for snow removal and messaging to motorists in the aftermath. But most of the worst part of the storm was outside Cardinal News territory. In our region, two Amtrak trains were stranded north of Lynchburg for up to 24 hours by snow-damaged tree debris. At least 260,000 utility customers lost power in Virginia, including many in the Piedmont and Southside areas that Cardinal News covers, as tree limbs were weighted down by heavy wet snow onto power lines and transformers. Within our zone of coverage, it was a remarkably sudden rain-to-snow flip after weeks of unseasonably warm weather, dumping amounts mostly from 2 to 7 inches, with a pocket of up to 11 inches in Buckingham County. It was the largest snowfall since December 2018 at Lynchburg and Danville with close to 5 inches at both sites. Thunder and lightning occurred with some of the heavier snowfall. (My storm recap published in The Roanoke Times on Jan. 4, 2022, linked here.)
4. January 16 winter storm.
The argument can easily be made for meteorological and geographical reasons that the Jan. 16 winter storm should have gotten the higher ranking than Jan. 3 because it had a much wider swath of 6-inch-plus snowfall within the region we cover – the largest since the widespread foot-plus storm on Dec. 9, 2018. Perhaps because there was several days’ warning about the storm, it hit on a Sunday rather than the first Monday after the holiday break, and the snow wasn’t quite as wet and tree-bending as the Jan. 3 storm, there didn’t seem to be as much overall immediate impact in regard to power outages and travel tie-ups, though there were areawide closings and cancellations. Topped by a layer of sleet an inch or two deep for many, and glaze ice in parts of Southside, it certainly wasn’t easy to shovel, and a cold weather pattern with a couple of extra lighter ice and snow episodes kept it hanging around until early February in locations in and near the mountains. Most of our region got 3 to 9 inches, though there was slightly less in parts of Southside. With close to 8 inches at both sites, it was the largest snowfall since December 2018 at Roanoke and Blacksburg. Which was worse or more memorable between Jan. 3 and Jan. 16 depends on where you are within Southwest and Southside Virginia, and the specific impacts on your life and planned activities. (My storm recap, published in The Roanoke Times on Jan. 18, 2022, linked here.)
5. Hurricane Ian remnants, Sept. 30-Oct. 2.
Ian was nothing close to the Category 4 terror it was crossing the Florida peninsula from the southwest, but at the peak of its remnant circulation affecting Virginia, about 100,000 utility customers lost power, many of them in our region’s Southside and Piedmont counties where 40-50 mph wind gusts from the east damaged trees braced for more typical westerly winds. A falling tree caused a traffic fatality in Campbell County. Ian dumped 1-4 inches of rain on most of our region, with some locally heavier amounts near the Blue Ridge, enhanced by upslope flow. Much of the state was relatively dry and the rain was rarely torrential, so there was no significant flooding. An unseasonably cold air mass preceding and circulating into Ian, quickly converting it to an extratropical storm after a second South Carolina landfall, even allowed some sleet and snow to fall on the system’s rim at the highest elevations of the state a mile up near Mount Rogers. Ian’s much-weakened remnant circulation dawdled around the state, truly a ghost of its former self, for a couple of drizzly days before being absorbed into a new coastal storm that swatted Tidewater and the Eastern Shore with some high waves. (Ian was also a notable weather event because a preview of its impact was my debut on Cardinal News.)
6. Bedford County tornado, May 27. Confirmed tornadoes were few across our region in 2022, but a serious one heavily damaged or destroyed three homes and more lightly damaged a dozen other homes and more than 30 total structures in eastern Bedford County in late May as warm, sticky air surged ahead of a vigorous cold front. A National Weather Service survey rated the tornado EF-2 on the 0 to 5 Enhanced Fujita Scale (0 for weak twisters that barely lift shingles off homes to 5 for monsters that completely sweep well-constructed homes off their foundations) with 135 mph maximum winds. The tornado affected the Norwood community west of Lynchburg and moved north-northeast across U.S. 221 then northeast to just west of the Ivy Hill Golf Course and then north to the western slopes of Fleming Mountain, a 6-mile-long track that was up to 330 yards wide. A Bedford man captured video of the tornado that is posted on The Roanoke Times website. A home was also damaged by an EF-1 tornado in Charlotte County during the same outbreak that spun off additional tornadoes just across the border in North Carolina.
7. Hurricane Nicole remnants, Nov. 11.
It was a soggy Veterans Day in our region as the remnant circulation of Hurricane Nicole, that had made landfall over eastern Florida, zipped through, dumping 1 to 4 inches of rain for most, with a 5-inch report from Rockbridge County. East of the storm center’s track, there was enough atmospheric shear (winds changing direction and/or speed with height) for a series of tornado warnings based on radar detection of tight rotation, including one that sent Roanokers at work and school into shelter. Outside of a video sent to one TV station showing some light debris lofted in Henry County, there didn’t appear to be any substantial tornado impacts in our region. As many tropical systems do in late fall, Nicole’s circulation rotated in much colder air for the following weekend.
8. ‘Phantom derecho,’ June 17.
Gusty winds in and near a line of thunderstorms and trailing cold front knocked more the 60,000 utility customers without power across the region. Most of the wind gusts recorded and reported were not quite severe level (58 mph), closer to 50 mph, so technically it could not qualify as a “derecho” even though it caused lots of tree damage and power outages over a large distance across our region. That’s why I dubbed it the “phantom derecho,” 12 days before the 10th anniversary of the major derecho that affected the region in 2012.
9. Carroll County tornado, March 23.
An EF-2 tornado with peak winds estimated at 122 mph damaged two homes between Gladesboro and Laurel Fork in Carroll County. A two-story home had its roof removed and was shifted on its foundation, according to a National Weather Service survey. A modular home was also de-roofed. The tornado was on the ground for two minutes, traveling two miles with a path 125 yards wide. It formed from thunderstorms that developed along a warm front separating temperatures in the 60s to lower 70s from those in the upper 40s to lower 50s.
10. (tie) Late May heat, early October chill.
Besides the bitter cold of Christmas weekend, a couple of the more notable temperature extremes happened in May and October, on opposite sides of the ledger. May saw an unusual early spike of summerlike heat, with highs of 96 at Roanoke and 94 at Lynchburg on May 20 the hottest temperatures for that month since 1941. On the flip side of the coin, cold weather came a little early in 2022, with Oct. 9 lows of 30 at Blacksburg, 35 at Roanoke and 37 at Danville the coldest so early in the season in nearly 20 years. Danville’s low of 28 on Oct. 19 tied a record low for the date going all the way back to 1917. The first half of October was the coolest in a quarter-century, on average, at Blacksburg and Danville. The early chill helped get fall colors rolling toward their earliest peak in several seasons.
Other notable weather events: Jan. 7, Jan. 29, Feb. 14 and March 12 light snow events, mostly west of the Blue Ridge; May 6 hailstorm in Wytheville area; Aug. 25 cloudburst rain in northern Roanoke/southern Botetourt counties; Blue Ridge Parkway landslide north of Roanoke during rainy period in early December; intermittent periods of minor drought mostly in Southside.
There is nothing really big on the immediate horizon for weather in our region, as we await to see whether Arctic air reloads and flows back over the eastern U.S. later this month. In the next week or so, expect normal to slightly above normal temperatures, lots of 40s and 50s highs and 30s lows, with perhaps 60s on the warmest days and 20s on a couple of colder mornings. A couple of weak to moderate precipitation-bearing systems may move through from the west. It is not out of question that enough cold air may be involved for at least some marginal chance of wintry precipitation with a system or two, but no large winter storms are expected at least through Jan. 10 and quite likely through mid-month.
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.