King Weekend Spurs Weather Memories
It’s the Martin Luther King Holiday, the next to last long winter weekend for skiers. Now while the weather will be wintry across the Ohio, Big Sandy and Kanawha Valleys, it will be nothing close to the siege of wild winter weather we endured back in January 1994. More on that later on!
First things first as our 1 day-2 night light snowfall will come to an end by Saturday sunrise. Here in Huntington, the ground has finally been covered with a coating of snow. Sure it snowed virtually non-stop the past 24 hours, but it took a snow squall around 5 pm for enough snow to collect on the ground. The dry powdery demo I performed at 6 showed the light and fluffy texture of the snow as I whisked the half inch of accumulation away with a push broom.
Snowfall totals came in around 1 inch tops for many in the Kanawha Valley and less than 1 inch here in Collis P’s hometown. Meanwhile more than a half a foot has fallen at Snowshoe, Canaan, Timberlake and Winterplace. With snow making on-going all weekend long, packed powder surfaces await down hillers in the mountains.
While it will likely flurry all day long at the mountain summits on Saturday, most of us will enjoy a break in the flakes with even a few glimmers of sun peaking bashfully through the clouds.
By Saturday night a fast moving clipper will be flying though Southern Kentucky armed with a swath of light snow and flurries. Figure flurries along I-64 and a coating of new snow in the Coalfields of Eastern Kentucky and Southern West Virginia. My pick for snow honors on Saturday night will be the Breaks Interstate Park on the Kentucky-Virginia border with 1”-2” in the tall peaks that guard the Russell Fork.
Sunday will turn brighter though temperatures will struggle to best 32. By The King Holiday on Monday, skies will turn dirty again as clouds stream in from the south. Temperatures will jump will into the 40s while hanging in the 30s in the mountains for skiers, so ski early for the best conditions.
Now by way of recap, I have worked here at WSAZ for a quarter of a century. I have watched hurricane remnants flood the Ohio River, tracked tornadoes from City Park in Gallipolis to Kanawha City in Charleston. We have endured heat waves and searing 100 degree days together and shivered through many an arctic night. But 18 years ago this weekend, the single most enduring weather event of my stay occurred.
The set up came on the Friday before the King weekend when a 6”-10” snowstorm closed us down for a day. The deep snow helped sponsor a Saturday morning near 10 below. Little did most know what was about to happen.
You see that Friday night an incredibly cold Siberian air mass had siphoned out of Eurasia and was situated in the Northwest Territories of Canada near the Great Bear and Slave Lakes. Then on Sunday a storm system gathered moisture and headed our way from the Mississippi Valley.
As the moisture arrived that Sunday afternoon it began snowing and raining. Trouble was the temperature was in the 20s, so freezing rain fell. Roads became slick even before the true onslaught arrived.
I spent that afternoon here at WSAZ watching the weather unfold with an eye on Joe Montana and the KC Chiefs. You see back then WSAZ-NBC was the network of the AFC, American Football Conference, and Montana and the Chiefs played in the AFC playoffs that afternoon. I don’t recall who they played or whether they won, but I do recall breaking in at halftime to alert our viewers of a “great snowfall and arctic cold wave which will culminate in the coldest weather of the 20th century”.
Sunday night into Monday morning, snow fell "24-30" on a level in Southern Ohio from Portsmouth to Pomeroy. Kurt Jefferson was our Southern Ohio beat reporter and I still recall his 'show and tell" snow dance at a mailbox that had been buried in the overnight snow blitz. Randy Yohe reported in Johnson County Kentucky how military Humvees were rushed into action to support people, some with life threatening medical conditions, who were truly buried and isolated in rural hollows.
Trouble was unlike many snowstorms, a cold wave followed this huge dump of snow. That Monday night the temperature settled into the teens then funny thing happened on Tuesday. Despite the return of sunshine, the temperature continued to drop, and by the 6 clock news on Tuesday night, the mercury had dropped to 10 degrees in Charleston and to zero in Athens Ohio.
You see, our climate had taken on a true tundra look and feel with 2 feet of fresh snow on the ground and now that Siberian air mass moving in directly overhead. In effect, we were about to experience a true North Pole night. We were ice and snow locked!
At 11pm, I was sent outside by my cruel producer to brave what was about to become the coldest night of the 20th century. The temperature was already near 10 below (-10) and the sting on my face was like none I had ever felt before. I slurred my speech badly as the deep polar chill played havoc with my mouth. I know the word "dangerous" is overused in the weatherman's lexicon, but not on this night. If you lost utiiities that night, you were truly in a life threatening situation.
The next morning dawned with a magnificent arctic sunrise. The Ohio and Kanawha Rivers breathed arctic sea smoke from their ice choked surfaces. Rime ice coated trees along waterways in a glassy and fitting salute to this arctic clime.
I awakend early, suited up in my best imitation on an Eskimo, and ventured out as if to dare Mother Nature to thrill me. And thrill me she did as for the first time in my life the air was so cold (-20 degrees!) that it stole my breath away.
Reports of -40 temperatures were indeed credible near Getaway, Ohio and Letitia,Ky and Leon WV. After all, we were living in a sort of arctic twilight zone 18 years ago on the Martin Luther King weekend.
If you have memories of the great snow and cold of the King weekend send them along and we can reminisce together this weekend!