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The Old Dominion is on the scoreboard for its first snowfall of the 2023-24 “winter,” though only in some of the highest elevations around the commonwealth’s most sky-poking summit, 5,730-foot Mount Rogers.
Areas near and above a mile in elevation at Grayson Highlands State Park, Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and nearby Whitetop Mountain in Grayson and Smyth counties, within Cardinal News’ Southwest and Southside Virginia coverage area, experienced periods of mostly light to moderate snow on Monday that were sufficient to cover the grass and vegetation in some spots. Virginia Tech meteorology student Mark Skaggs was present to document the autumn winter wonderland with photos and video.
The snow was caused by upslope northwest flow behind a cold front – a frequent producer of snow showers and sometimes heavier snow squalls blowing over the mountains – combined with added lift from an upper-level disturbance caught in that flow.
Snow was seen as low as 3,500 feet in parts of western North Carolina, where some of the highest elevations above 6,000 feet along and just east of the North Carolina-Tennessee line received 1-4 inches of accumulation and a portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway was closed.
Mid-October snow is a bit early but not terribly extraordinary at these elevations, and by itself is not a cause to expect an especially severe or early arriving winter. Some of these same locations experienced a sleet/snow mix on the backside of the remnants of Hurricane Ian at the start of October last year, and we saw what a non-winter followed that.
Of course, it’s also not a reason by itself to expect another mild or nearly snowless winter, and the atmospheric pattern producing it may be a continuation of frequent northern latitude blocking high pressure that kept our region’s summer heat in check and, if it keeps recurring, may lead to frequent cold shots in the weeks and months ahead.
After a couple of somewhat warmer days, our recent autumn chill will be reinforced by a cold front moving through in the latter part of this week. There will be showers on Friday, with windy and cooler conditions, but mostly dry, for the weekend.
The “mostly” is thrown in there because those northwest winds may lift enough moisture over the mountains for a few light showers to sprinkle in spots near the mountains. At some higher elevations, those showers could again contain snowflakes rather than raindrops. At lower elevations, it will be chilly, but mostly in the 40s and 50s.
We are almost at that time of year when nearly every cold front brings at least some snowflakes to the mountains, with elevations dropping for where to expect those as we move deeper through fall and toward winter on the calendar.
Eclipse mostly eclipsed
Being a less than 50 percent solar eclipse locally and with such a grim weather forecast for visibility on Saturday, I didn’t think to remind people of it a week ago in this space. (An eclipse is an astronomical event, not meteorological, but I will try to note the more significant of those in this column.)
There were some scattered breaks in the clouds across Southwest and Southside Virginia, or at least a few moments when they thinned enough that an obscured sight of the partly bitten disc of the sun was visible. (Not that you should have been looking directly at it.)
I was blessed with a brief opportunity to get a few quick shots of it, partly obscured by clouds, from a strip mall parking lot in southwest Roanoke County while out running family errands. A few others around had some quality moments with it as well, while others reported being constantly and entirely socked in.
This eclipse was “annular” in the core of its path across the western U.S., which means that the moon was too far away to block the sun completely, and a thin “ring of fire” was left around the black disc of the moon.
Last weekend’s eclipse is a forerunner of a much more dramatic solar eclipse that will occur on April 8 of the coming year. That eclipse will be total, with over 4 minutes of darkness at its center line, in about a 150-mile-wide path from Texas (crossing the path of Saturday’s annular eclipse) northeastward across Arkansas, the Ohio Valley and the western fringe of New England before exiting the U.S. across Maine.
For the Cardinal News coverage area of Southwest and Southside Virginia, that one will be an 85-91% eclipse, slightly less solar coverage than the August 21, 2017 eclipse. The totality path of the April eclipse crosses the southeastward-angled 2017 totality path over Cape Girardeau, Missouri; Paducah, Kentucky (near where I witnessed it); and Carbondale, Illinois.
People are often surprised how dark it isn’t in the high-percentage fringes of where it actually does go dark, as even a sliver of sun is bright enough to keep things pretty well lit, though there are weird effects like odd sky colors and spooky crescents cast through the leaves onto the ground.
That eclipse will not go without notice in this space as we approach time for it. Now would be a good time to consider viewing arrangements, such as ordering eclipse glasses if watching it locally and making plans if traveling to totality.
Hopefully we’ll be on the second day behind a cold front with a fully swept out sky along the entire totality path and across our region also.
Cardinal Weather celebrates first year
Last week, this weather column passed the one-year milestone as a part of Cardinal News, and promptly, the Cardinal Weather newsletter crossed another threshold: 3,000 subscribers.
The Cardinal Weather newsletter arrives in your inbox each Wednesday evening with a short summary of and link to the newest weather column, links to several recent weather columns and a “Photo of the Week” sent in or posted on social media by you, our readers. You can sign up for the Cardinal Weather newsletter, or any of the four others offered by Cardinal News: the Daily and Weekly newsletters with links to all the great stories on Cardinal News, the West of the Capitol political newsletter by Cardinal News executive editor Dwayne Yancey, and the Weekend newsletter of regional events.
My weather column link appears on the Thursday morning Daily newsletter and, because of your support, often appears among the week’s Top 10 most-read items on the Weekly newsletter that goes out each Saturday morning, several times as the top-read item of the week.
(Also, occasionally there are stories about developing or recently occurring weather between the regular weather columns, and these will be linked to the Daily newsletters, as well as posting on the Cardinal News website at cardinalnews.org.)
I am looking forward to a second year of Cardinal Weather and thankful for everyone who made the first year a success.
Look for the second Cardinal Weather snowfall prediction contest in the next few weeks.
Journalist Kevin Myatt has been writing about weather for 20 years. His weekly column, appearing on Wednesdays, is sponsored by Oakey’s, a family-run, locally-owned funeral home with locations throughout the Roanoke Valley.