21st Century Weather Headlines

The century is ten years old this weekend, so Tony looks back on the top 10 weather events of the new millenium.

Top Weather Events of Decade

Here we are 10 years into the still young 21st century so I thought it appropriate to list the top 10 weather events of the decade. Except for Katrina, I am focusing on events that impacted our region.

I will be adding onto the list from home this weekend, so check back as I tally the tumultuous ten. Enjoy the trip down memory lane, and let’s hope the next 10 years will not be as severe.

10. White Christmas 2010

I start off with an easy one. Just last week, only the second White Christmas of the decade graced our presence. What made December 2010 so memorable, was not the intensity of the snow (barely below 10 degrees on a few nights), nor the depth of the biggest snow (6” for most).

Instead it was the consistency of both that won my heart. It began snowing on the first Saturday of the month, and save for a brief interlude, it pretty much snowed or at least flurried on most days.

When the month had ended, Charleston had measured more snow (18.4”) than all other Decembers except for two (1995 & 1935) while Huntington (13.1”) made it into the top 6 snowiest.

9. Pre-Christmas Snowstorm of 2009

By Thanksgiving 2009, it had been 6 years since a hard winter had chilled us to the bone. Sure February 2007 had given us the cold shoulder. In addition, January of 2008 had gotten us off the snow-less schneid (Keith says this is a Yiddish word used in sports circles) but for fellow snow lovers, there had been nothing to sink our teeth into.

Then after a cold and snowy early December, along comes a juicy southern storm to wet our snow appetites. Hitting on the Friday night before Christmas, wet snow pummeled the Coalfields and Southern Mountains first before arriving in the I-64 corridor.

Evening rush hour came to a screeching halt from Tamarack south to Beckley and Bluefield as snow fell at the rate of 2 to 3 inches per hour. As cars snarled in the pelting snow, plows were unable to make their highway runs. Hundreds were left stranded on the WV turnpike as 18”-24” of snow fell in 12 hours.

In the Kentucky and West Virginia Coalfields, ten inches of sopping wet snow cut power to tens of thousands. I recall making the trip to Boone County that Saturday to report on the damage. As we drove thru Danville and Madison, lights were flickering for some, but off for many.

8. Summer Heat Wave, 2007

As I grow older, I seem to enjoy the heat of summer more than the cold of winter. But the summer of 2007 went over and above the call of duty.

Fifty-four times the high crested at or above 90 as the dog days of summer lived up to their scorching reputation. Since heat and drought go hand in hand, farmers watched helplessly as crops failed in the stifling steam.

As I traveled the dusty trails on the county fair circuit, it was a powerful sight to see the corn shriveled in the fields and the great balls of fire orangey sunsets that illuminated the western skyline.

The heat hit its mercurial peak on the afternoon of August 16th when the hottest day in fifty years saw the temperature crest at a stifling 104 degrees.

Remarkably the heat lasted into fall and as late as Columbus Day 90 degrees baked the region. High school football games were rescheduled an hour later in September to give the evening twilight a better chance to cool stadiums down.

It was truly a summer to remember for intense heat back in 2007.

7. Hurricanes Flood Ohio Valley, Summer 2004

While hurricanes do not sustain themselves long enough to strike our region with full fledged force, they ocassionally pass through our region as tropical depressions with lots of rain.

So it was that first Frances then Ivan passed back to back through the heart of our region in the late summer of 2004. The storms crossed a mere 10 days apart.

Both storms mustered flooding rains in the 3 to 6 inch range in the Kanawha Valley and 5 to 10 inches in the Ohio and Big Sandy Valleys sending the mighty Ohio into flood.

In West Portsmouth, an expected bumper crop of soybeans rotted in the wet fields of the sudden quagmire left behind. The stench of rotting soybeans filled the Scioto Valley air for 2 weeks after the passage of Ivan in 2004.

4-6. Appalachian Flash Floods, 2004-09-10

When I first came to Huntington 23 years ago I had to learn the querks of forecasting in Appalachia. Tim Curran, engineer with the Army Corp, gave me sage advice. "Remember the geology of the hills. Rain waters flow downstream and downhill". That was an eloquent way of saying that the steep hills and mountains of Appalachia are prime havens for flooding.

So it is that the 2000s have witnessed violent flash flooding especially in the Coalfields of Southern WV and Eastern Kentucky.

In early June of 2004, a frightening Friday night of thunderstorms parked in Mingo County along the Pigeon Creek watershed. Towns from Red Jacket to Varney were swamped by the 5 to 10 inch deluge. Two hundred homes were destroyed.

Now fast forward to May 2009. Another Friday night of violent flash flooding thru the Coalfields. This time the target zone was bigger, as Floyd and Pike Ky and Mingo and Logan WV bore the brunt of a relentless night of heavy rains.

Gilbert WV was ground zero for the inundation as the Gilbert Creek and Guyandotte River overwhelmed the city. In Wharncliffe, WV fire fighters kept town dwellers calm as heavy rains pelted down and flooded the city in the pitch darkness of night.

In Belfry Kentucky and historic Matewan WV, the Tug River rose out of its banks in a matter of a few hours. Joe Kinzer from Coal Country Radio kept me abreast of the rise on the Tug. "Fastest I have ever seen it rise", Joe told me as the flood gates were raised to protect Matewan.

With no flood wall to protect it, Belfry was swallowed up by the muddy waters of the Tug.

First light on Saturday showed the breadth of the damage with road washouts, mudslides and water logged homes. Remarkably, there were no fatalities.

In 2010, the litany of flash floods reads like a who's who. Olive Hill (twice), John's Creek (Pike Ky), Logan and Sissonville to name a few. I choose Olive Hill as the lead flood story since it was hit twice in 3 months.

Derby Day weekend saw a wave of torrential rains start along the Cumberland River in Nashville and work its way into the Bluegrass. I spent that Sunday night in Olive Hill where the Tygarts Creek is no stranger to flooding.

Think of the Tygarts as an affable stream where kayakers and canoeists play in the heat of summer as they paddle past class one rapids.

But on that fateful Sunday night, the Tygarts turned into a roaring torrent as if overflowed into Olive Hill. The next day I reported from a ravaged Main street. As I walked back to the creek bed, I marveled at how the water had dropped 30 feet vertically since my Sunday night flood visit.

The worst flood in almost a century had ruined parts of the downtown business district.

Remarkably, a second flood rolled thru Olive Hill and the Tygarts watershed in July renewing the devastation.

3. 2010 Tornado Outbreak

One reason I enjoy living in Appalachia is the diversity of weather afforded by the 4 seasons. Hey I wouldn't be a weatherman if I did not like the changing climate. From winter snowstorms to summer heat waves and from spring greenery to fall foliage, the local climate offers something for everyone.

I also like the relative shelter we are afforded from tornadoes as the hills protect us from the life threatening conditions that affect the nearby eastern Midwest from Cincinnati to Louisville to Indianapolis.

That all changed on September 16, 2010 when a family of tornadoes hopscotched thru Athens, Meigs, Wood and Wirt Counties.

I spent Friday the 17th reporting from Athens High in The Plains, Ohio. The damage produced by the tornadic winds was amazing. At the football field, huge sections of bleachers were toppled over and metal goal posts were bent like pretzels. And get this, large pieces of wood were hurled like projectiles and smashed thru the metal fence that surrounded the field.

Winds in the 100 to 150 mile per hour range had devastated this part of the Ohio Valley.

That fateful night, minutes before the twister struck, a girls soccer game was on-going when the funnel swooped down on the field. It could be considered miraculous, truly, that nobody lost their lives in The Plains.

In nearby Reedsville, Meigs County Randy Yohe brought back pictures and personal stories that were jaw dropping. Whole mobile homes were splintered and people were glad to just be alive.

Across the Ohio River, the twister that tore through Belleville, Wood County WV claimed one man's life.

I have lived here for more than 23 years, but no event was as unique and scary as the tornado outbreak of 2010.

2. President's Weekend Ice Storm 2003

The winter of 2003 proved to be a "throw-back" to the great winters of yester-year. Harsh sub-zero cold, frequent snows and even a rare night of snow rollers (piles of snow blown into bailes) left their mark on the region.

Still, by President's day weekend in February, the winter still needed one defining storm to cement its lot in history. That event turned out to be the greatest ice storm in 100 years through Southern Ohio, Northern Kentucky and much of Central WV.

To the north, an all out snowstorm buried towns like Athens, Marietta, Parkersburg, Clarksburg and Elkins. Two feet of snow with strong winds made for blizzard conditions.

In the Southeast Kentucky Coalfields, heavy rains produced flooding.

But the zone in between the flooding and the snow turned out to be ground zero for the truly historic event. From Vanceburg and Olive Hill to Grayson and Sandy Hook in Kentucky, and from Portsmouth to Jackson, Pomeroy and Gallipolis in Ohio and from Point Pleasant, Ripley, Spencer,Charleston to Clay in WV, a crippling ice storm cut power to hundreds of thousands.

In this zone, rain froze on exposed objects while icicles grew to 2 inches in length. At ground level, sleet accumulated to a depth of 3 inches in Charleston, Winfield and Chapmanville as snowplows cleared roads of the icy slop.

Many people lost power, some for as long as 3 weeks.

The heavy rains in the Coalfields sent rivers up with the Kanawha reaching its 30' flood stage for the first time in many years. The Ohio would breech flood stage on President's day itself in the Point Pleasant to Portsmouth stretch.

A blizzard to the north, flooding to the south aside, the hardship caused by the ice, in some circles the worst in 100 years, makes this event the top weather event of the decade for our region.

1. Katrina

Hurricanes have been part of the weather lore across North America since before Columbus sailed the oceans and 7 seas of the world. Legendary storms to strike the USA include Camille, Andrew and Hugo to name a few.

But the bar was raised in late August of 2005 when Katrina pummeled the Gulf Coast and inundated New Orleans.

We all watched in horror and amazement as Katrina barreled into the Mississippi Delta region. Formerly a force 5 storm, Kat had mercifully weakened to a cat 3 tempest as she struck land with her lethal arsenal of torrential rains, pounding sea surge and destructive winds.

The scary thing about Katrina, she did not offer a worst case scenario for New Orleans!
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