A stream bed in southern Roanoke County's Starkey Park has no water flowing through it on Monday, November 13. Moderate to extreme drought now encompasses most of the western two-thirds of Virginia. Photo by Kevin Myatt.
A stream bed in southern Roanoke County's Starkey Park has no water flowing through it on Monday, November 13. Moderate to extreme drought now encompasses most of the western two-thirds of Virginia. Photo by Kevin Myatt.

It needs to prove it can rain again before we start talking much about snow.

But it’s also the middle of November and we have the second annual Cardinal Weather snowfall prediction contest to get launched and finished before December starts. So, we’re doing that today, at the end of this column, if you want to scroll on down there and find out how you can enter.

Next week – unless there is some extraordinary Thanksgiving week weather event to focus on – I’ll give a broader winter outlook and put some of my own numbers to the same locations for which you will be guessing in the snowfall contest.

But in the short term, what we’re guessing most about is when it will rain – really rain – again.

On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor raised the drought rating to extreme over a portion of the Shenandoah Valley from just north of Lexington and Buena Vista northward through Staunton and Harrisonburg. The National Weather Service office in Blacksburg notes that the portion of the extreme drought area in northern Bath and northern Rockbridge counties is the first time within its forecast area – extending from there southward into northwest North Carolina and westward into southeast West Virginia – that an extreme drought rating has occurred since 2008.

The red color marks extreme drought in part of the Shenandoah Valley, with moderate to severe drought over most of the rest of the western two-thirds of Virginia in last week's U.S. Drought Monitor map. Courtesy of National Drought Mitigation Center.
The red color marks extreme drought in part of the Shenandoah Valley, with moderate to severe drought over most of the rest of the western two-thirds of Virginia in last week’s U.S. Drought Monitor map. Courtesy of National Drought Mitigation Center.

Most of the rest of the western two-thirds of Virginia is in moderate to severe drought, including almost all of the Cardinal News coverage area of Southwest and Southside Virginia excluding only a few areas bordering West Virginia (most prominently Buchanan County) that are only in the “abnormally dry” almost-drought category.

A new Drought Monitor map posts Thursday (click here) – it will likely show some increase in areal coverage or intensity of the drought, as only some areas near the West Virginia line got meaningful rainfall last week.

While many wildfires from last week around the state have been controlled or significantly contained, a new fire has erupted through the James River Face Wilderness in northern Bedford County, burning through 1,400 acres through Tuesday and resulting in the closure of a 10-mile section of the Appalachian Trail, the James River Foot Bridge parking lot, and several adjacent trails. 

This Friday may be very similar to last Friday, with a streaky wetting rather than a widespread soaking rain, as a cold front pushes through. It looks doubtful at this point that anywhere in our region will get as much as an inch, when 4 to 7 inches are required to relieve the drought (though it wouldn’t be good if all that came at once).

Frost paints the roadsides and fields near a stream in Highland County. Courtesy of Rain Hupman.
Frost paints the roadsides and fields near a stream in Highland County. Courtesy of Rain Hupman.

Cold fronts are a mixed blessing for the wildfires ongoing and likely developing across our region. They do provide cooler temperatures and at least briefly higher humidity values that help crews contain existing fires and make new ones a little harder to start, but gusting winds and dryness behind the fronts, followed by the recovering warmup, can help spread flames burning through dry underbrush and fallen leaves.

Next week has competing interests, as rain is still very much needed, but many people will be traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday and would prefer dry weather for travel safety. At this point, there are mixed signals on what may happen, but it is looking more likely that it will be a warm-to-cold kind of week with a surge of Arctic air southward toward the Thanksgiving/Black Friday weekend.

There is the possibility that a somewhat stronger storm system than we’ve seen with move across the southern half of the U.S. just ahead of the arrival of cold air. That could be quite the blessing for drought concerns, but not so much for traveling.

There is even some chance that cold air catches up with moisture and poses some chance of snow – probably more for the western and mountain areas of our region – during the Thanksgiving weekend.

Remember: November snow (or April snow) doesn’t count in the snowfall contest whose rules are listed below.

Altocumulus clouds fill the sky over a wintry scene in Grayson Highland State Park in January 2021. The second annual Cardinal Weather snowfall contest opens for entries today, running through November 27. Photo by Kevin Myatt.
Altocumulus clouds fill the sky over a wintry scene in Grayson Highland State Park in January 2021. The second annual Cardinal Weather snowfall contest opens for entries today, running through November 27. Photo by Kevin Myatt.

Snowfall contest

Welcome to the second Cardinal Weather snowfall prediction contest. This is really the 15th snowfall prediction contest for readers I have overseen, having done 13 of them at The Roanoke Times, (not quite annually, one year was skipped) before moving my weather column to Cardinal News last fall.

At the bottom are a list of 12 locations across the Southwest and Southside Virginia coverage area of Cardinal News and a couple barely outside Virginia but considered the major climate station for a nearby area of Southwest Virginia. These are selected to provide good geographic distribution, including the National Weather Service’s four major climate stations within the region (Blacksburg, Danville, Lynchburg and Roanoke) plus several of the weather service’s volunteer co-op stations that have proven to have reliable and consistent data in recent years.

Please read the instructions below carefully, they are a little different from the past, but the same general idea.

(1)   Email weather@cardinalnews.org with the subject line “Snowfall Contest.” (I don’t disqualify entries for different subject lines but it helps me sort them.)

(2)   Give me your name and general location (city, town or county). It is OK for multiple people, such as a family or school class, to enter on the same email. There is no age limit for entry.

(3)   Choose ANY THREE of the locations below and guess total snowfall from December 1 to March 31, rounded to the nearest inch. (If you send me a fraction or decimal, like 13.3 or 28 ¾,  I will round it for you, and halves round up.)

(4)   For ANY ONE of the three sites you choose, pick the date of the first 1-inch snowfall between December 1 and March 31. (If you don’t tell me which site you’re picking the date for, I will presume it is the first one listed. If you pick first date for all three, I’ll take the first one as the entry.)

(5)   The deadline for receiving entries is Sunday, November 27 at midnight – the end of Thanksgiving weekend.

Your contest score will be the total of the missed inches on the two closest of your three snowfall total choices and the missed days on your snowfall date choice. The lowest score wins.

So, for instance, if you pick Abingdon, Lexington and Danville for 20 inches each, and Abingdon gets 19, Lexington gets 18 and Danville gets 15, your score from the snowfall totals would be 3, the sum of the missed inches between the two closest picks. If you picked Dec. 25 for Abingdon’s first 1-inch snowfall but it fell on Dec. 20, that would be a miss of 5 days, and, added to your snowfall totals score, would be a total score of 8.

In the unlikely event there is a tie, the snowfall total for the third chosen site on each entry will break the tie. (I will accept entries that only pick for two sites, but you will forfeit this tiebreaker if you only pick two, plus miss the opportunity to have a mulligan if you badly miss at one site.) If there is a tie beyond that, the tiebreaker will be whoever had the widest mileage distance between the farthest apart of the stations they chose, so as to encourage folks to pick beyond their immediate region.

The prize again be a $25 gift card for the winner, but if I get at least 500 total entries, I’ll boost that to $50 for first place and $25 for second place. More importantly, your forecasting prowess will be trumpeted on the Internet across the region and, in fact, around the world here on Cardinal News.

Here are the sites to pick from. For a guide, I’ve posted the average, maximum and minimum seasonal totals for each site since 2000. Remember to pick three of them for total snowfall Dec. 1-March 31, and one of those three for the date of the first 1-inch snowfall.

Abingdon:  10 average, 26 maximum, 2 minimum
Appomattox: 11 average, 20 maximum (data likely missing on 2009-10 winter, likely similar to Lynchburg’s 35), 1 minimum
Blacksburg: 21 average, 54 maximum, 1 minimum
Bluefield, W.Va.: 33 average, 74 maximum, 2 minimum.
Danville: 9 average, 25 maximum, 1 minimum (0 in 2002-03 winter is obviously errant figure).
Lexington: 14 average, 35 maximum, 0 minimum.
Lynchburg: 12 average, 35 maximum, 0 minimum.
Martinsville: 8 average, 42 maximum, 0 minimum.
Roanoke: 14 average, 43 maximum, 0 minimum.
Tri-Cities Airport, Tenn.: 8 average, 25 maximum, 0 minimum.
Wytheville:  15 average, 49 maximum, 1 minimum.

Kevin Myatt has written about Southwest and Southside Virginia weather for the past two decades, previously...