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Top Weather Memories for 2008

Tony has his list of the top 2008 weather events. How do his recollections match yours?

2008: Year of Close Calls

As is my tradition, I am recounting my top 10 weather memories of the year on this New Year’s holiday weekend. I will be adding to the list thru Friday when I unveil the most memorable weather moment in 2009. Check out how my list compares to yours!

Then on Friday’s First at Five show with Bill and Carrie, I will put the words to pictures with a four minute video collage of the year that was.

Happy New Year to All!

10. Snow Comes Early.

New Years day 2008 started with temperatures in the 50s predawn before a gusty cold front slashed thru and temperatures fell into the 30s by sunrise. From there, readings fell into the 20s by evening with a skiff of snow. To snow lovers like me, this was a real treat as the new year was off to a very good start!

Late at night a frigid wind helped muster a steady accumulating snow and by mid-day on January 2nd, 4 fluffy inches of snow lay on the ground with the Christmas school break extended by a day!

9. Spring Storm Season Breaks Drought

The great drought of 2007 took a severe blow in fall ’07 and winter ’08 when rains and melting snows helped recharge the water table. By spring, frequent showers put the finishing touches on the end of the drought. Rodney Wallbrown, Mason County Ex agent told me, “this will help hay farmers to get off to a good start after a terrible hay season in 2007.”

Indeed, the first cut of hay in May would turn out to be a very healthy one. Little did we know a new drought would doom hay pastures by later in the ’08 growing season.

8. Year End Black Ice Woes

When we went to the polls on Election Day in early November, it felt like spring with temperatures in the 60s by midday and 70s for late afternoon voters. From Grant Park in Chicago (where President Elect Obama accepted his plaudits to the Roy Rogers esplanade where Ohio Governor Ted Strickland had spent some of his youth) this would be the last warm weather we would see before Thanksgiving.

The weather turned on a dime by mid month and a barrage of cold fronts and light rain, sleet and snowfalls soon followed suit.

Granted, my predictions of both a White Thanksgiving in the high country and White Christmas for most turned out to be off. But the prediction of frequent cold shots and light snows was sure on target.

The cold was so intense that a frozen ground acted like an ice rink seemingly every time it rained or snowed.

By year’s end, salt trucks had been called out on 10 days (normal is only 4-5 by late December) with a slew of black ice days making walking and driving hazardous.

7. Winter High Wind Storms

Most winters make their reputation on cold and snow, or lack there-of. But the winter of ’08 broke that mold as a series of violent high winds storms raked the region.

Perhaps those 4 AM January 1st winds that rattled the windows and brought down some Christmas decorations should have been taken as a sign of things to come.

Among the bigger wind storms to hit the region, an Ash Wednesday tempest rolled thru pre-dawn and partially ripped the roof off a West Huntington business.

But the March 19th storm stole the show. In the early evening of a warm spring-like day, a severe thunderstorm developed near the Yeager airport and generated a wind gust to 84 miles per hour. This wind set the record for the highest wind ever measured in Charleston.

When the parent cell of this storm moved north of town, it turned into a whirlwind and spawned a twister in the Young's Bottom region near Elkview. One eyewitness account stated, “the wind was swirling and hail was pelting down before the funnel was seen.”

6. Hurricane Season

From a local perspective, the Hurricane season may have seemed tame. After a late season drought took hold as we moved from summer into fall, we were once again in need of rain.

In the Atlantic, the season would become a hyper-active one with a slew of storms striking American soil.

Fay dangled off the Florida east coast for days, pummeling the central part of the Sunshine state with buckets of rain. When Fay made her pass northward, she brought our heaviest rains of the summer in late August, a temporary break from the developing late season drought.

Fay’s rains helped hay farmers salvage a second and final cut of hay, though the cut was below standard. It was a matter of too little (we had 1”-2” of rain) too late.

In September, Ike was the most powerful storm to hit Houston-Galveston in decades. Two days after landfall, Ike raced thru the Mississippi and Ohio Valleys with virtually no rain here. The sheer momentum generated by Ike’s motion produce winds of 50-60 miles per hour especially from Lewis Kentucky thru the Scioto Valley and Jackson-Vinton Ohio. Power outs were common in this region!

5. October Snows Signal Early Winter

A Halloween weekend snow is not a total stranger to our area. The last time it snowed in the Ashland-Ironton-Winfield-Dunbar area on or before Halloween was 1993. That winter was the harshest in my 21 years here at WSAZ with tons of snow and the coldest weather of the 20th century.

So when it turned cold here in time for the Herd's nationally televised game with Houston just 3 days before Hallows Eve, I looked to the mountains for an early season snowfall. Indeed, snow fell fast and furiously across the high chapparal and accumulated as much as 6 to 12 inches from Richwood (6") to Snowshoe and Canaan Valley (12').

It was no wonder I was thinking an early winter by Trick or Treat night this year.


4. Blue Haze Fogs Over Kanawha Valley

There are weather events that are so eerie that they defy logic. Somehow, so the thought goes, the weather gods conspire to foul up our climate.

Such was the case in late January when the Kanawha Valley lived up to its reputation as the chemical valley.

It was a very cold, very sunny but oddly very calm January Friday in Charleston. The cold felt OK since there was no wind to stir the air and create a wind chill. The late January sun, while a weakling, was still able to muster a faint warmth.

The oddity on this day, it was warmer at Richwood and Beckley and even Snowshoe than it was in Charleston under the identical weather conditions.

A chemical sippage from a local plant had allowed a flow of gas with chlorine as a by-product into the air. The amount of chlorine present was not harmful or toxic. As one young lady told us, "it smelled like we were at a pool. It smelled like summer".

The blue haze that formed was a result of the chlorine and I surmise the melting and sublimation of snow on the ground. The added vapor from these 2 processes is known to create a blue snow phenomenon after spring wet snows.

What happened, a winter inversion had taken hold with the normally coldest air not high up but instead down low. Under these thermal conditions, the air lacks its normal mixing capabilities. So instead of the wind dispersing the chlorine compound, the inversion prevented any wind from blowing. Instead of the air overturning in the vertical as normally happens (overturning refers to the process where air aloft is channeled down to the ground and air at the ground is sifted into the heavens on a sunny day), the air just sat there and stagnated like it does in a summer heat wave.

As the chlorine containing compound collected a higher concentration over time, it become more visibile (thicker haze or fog) and more easily smelled.

The next day, the winds blew and the inversion lifted as the blue haze dispersed as it normally does on a summer day.

Bet it will be back again when those same atmospheric conditions return!


3. New Drought, Old Worries

I saved this for my 3rd top memory of the year since I was astonished at how quickly drought conditions returned to our region. On average we get into a drought about once per decade and stay in drought for a year.

Mini droughts or dry spells occur seasonally much more frequently, but a full fledged agricultural and water table drought only occurs, on average, once a decade.

Since we braved a severe drought in 2007, and then fought out of it in the first half of 2008, I assumed we were another 5-10 years from another drought.

But by mid-July the water spiggots from the clouds turned off and with the exception of previously mentioned Tropical Storm Fay which produced a general 1"-2" of rain in late August, our area failed to see significant rain again for 3 months.

Of course, by November-December, rains had again become plentiful, making the Late Summer-Early Fall dry spell a mini drought at best.

2. HAIL STORMS RAKE REGION

In spring I am known to say "Hail Caesar, Ice will fall from the sky" over the airways. After all May and June are the hail months for our region. But this year, hail storms of mammoth proportion hopscotched thru the Tri-State area.

From Pomeroy and Middleport Ohio to Paintsville and Van Lear Kentucky to Frame and Clendenin WV, the story was the same; namely, hail covering the ground.

The video that Callie Cart brought back from Frame in Kanawha County was mind-boggling. That Sunday afternoon while I played softball at the WSAZ picnic, a baseball sized hail storm dented cars, felled trees (high winds accompanied the storms) and forced snowplows and shovels out of summer storage.

The culprit for the hail storms was an incredible cold spring in the heavens above. As the air warmed down here on earth, the atmosphere became highly unstable. The result was a series of thunderstorms that produced heavy rains, high winds and large hail!

1. Mother's Day Tornado

The second weekend in May is known as Mother's Day weekend. I commemorate this special time by wearing a white carnation on my lapel as a symbol of honor and love for my mother.

This year, Mother's Day featured severe weather. Sunday morning dawned windy and warm in our region with temperatures near 60. The southwesterlies were howling at 20-35 miles per hour as the sun rose amidst a bruised black and blue background.

Josh Fitpatrick beat me into the studio that morning sensing something big was up.

Showers and thunderstorms had spun up thru Western Kentucky and Tennessee and were pointed in our direction. The wind was adding plenty of energy for storm enhancement and the familiar counter-clockwise turning of the showers on radar suggested a possible tornado threat.

Around 9:30 that morning, a squall was crossing Carter County Kentucky at break-neck speed. In a flash, the skies darkened, the wind freshened and a small twister touched down in the Goose Creek section of Grahn.

I toured the damaged area that afternoon. "The wind unwrapped the covering of the greenhouse like it was a Christmas gift. It was like the Wizard of Oz", an eyewitness told me.

We stayed under a tornado watch the rest of the day, but the Grahn twister was the only confirmed tornado on Mothers Day 2008.

Given the twister occured on such a special day, I rate the Mother's Day tornado of 2008 as the year's most memorable weather event.

Happy New Year!

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