Well, it feels like a distant memory in a way, but we got an awesome snowstorm here in Asheville two Wednesdays ago (Feb. 12-13). I am finally writing a long overdue post on a great snowstorm. We ended up with almost 7 inches, which was Asheville’s biggest snow since January 10th, 2011! It was also about as much snow as Asheville has seen in the past three winters since then, combined. I hadn’t seen that much snow since February 2010, in the Snowmaggedons that dumped several feet of snow on Virginia and Maryland.
Since then, I have been in Asheville for almost two years now. After more dustings and 1/2 inch snows than I could bear to see (see northwest flow) over the past two winters, it was a really big relief to finally get “the big one,” the big snow. While we didn’t catch some of the very large accumulations that hit north of Charlotte, NC (over 12 inches), and near Roanoke, VA (around 24 inches), it was still a very nice week of snow.
Here’s the breakdown of the snow, which arrived over several days. On Monday, Feb. 10th, we had some heavy snow showers with the passage of a slow frontal system, which drifted south and east of the area. By afternoon, the snow was heavy enough that it accumulated rapidly, even though temperatures were just above freezing. We got around 1-1.5 inches of slushy wet snow by Monday evening.
Tuesday was cool but cloudy. Most of the snow from Monday melted, even though temperatures barely warmed above freezing. There was a small chance of flurries, but this never materialized. I went to bed early on Tuesday night because I was on the “on call” team on Wednesday for SEMPE (Sounding-based Experiment on Mixed Precipitation Events), our research project that launches weather balloons in winter storms. We planned to launch weather balloons starting at 4 am Wednesday morning, so I set my alarm for 2:30 am.
After being too excited to get much sleep, I got up at 2:30. (This was the earliest I have ever gotten up in the morning.) I walked over to the building where we were launching balloons. My teammate, Kurt, and I started preparing the weather balloon for launch. This process began with the setup of the sonde, the instrument that records temperature, humidity, and pressure. A base station tracks the sonde remotely via GPS, and calculates the winds. After the sonde was ready, we went out to fill up the latex weather balloon with helium. When full, it was about 3-4 feet in diameter. Then, we attached a parachute (for when the balloon pops and falls back to earth), and the sonde. Finally, around 4 am, we took the balloon out in the parking lot and released it under cloudy skies in the predawn darkness.
A few extra notes: Inside the sonde, there is a battery, pressure sensor, and other hardware. The only thing sticking out of the cardboard box filled with styrofoam is a metal probe with temperature and humidity sensors on it. The whole device is smaller than a paper carton of orange juice, about half that size.
After launch, we went back inside and tracked the balloon with our software program. As it ascended, we were able to plot the data on a graph called a sounding. The balloons took about 1.5 hours to reach their maximum height, at which point they popped due to the extremely low pressure high in the atmosphere. Some balloons got as high as 65,000 feet, or 12 miles, and ascended to a pressure of about 50 millibars (surface pressure in Asheville was about 945 millibars). We launched balloons every three hours until 4 pm. Another team of two students launched balloons from 7 pm Wednesday to 7 am Thursday. In between launches, we looked at forecasts and other various weather data for the incoming storm.
Here’s an image of a balloon launch. This was taken in November, for another class. I was a spectator. The balloon is at the top, followed by the orange parachute in the middle, with the sonde (a small, white cardboard box) at the bottom.
On Wednesday morning, the snow was slow to move into the Asheville area. We were expecting snow as early as dawn, but we didn’t even get flurries until 10 am. We had flurries through most of the midday hours, and a light dusting by the afternoon. However, the storm was underwhelming at that point, and we were starting to worry about the potential of a forecast bust. Most weather forecasts had called for more accumulating snow during the day on Wednesday.
By late afternoon, we carried on watching the weather and launching balloons. Around 4 pm, the snow finally started to increase in intensity. Temperatures were steady around 27 degrees. We finally got more than a dusting around sunset as heavier snow bands started to move in. Heavy snow developed around 7 pm and lasted until after midnight. After my shift ended at 4 pm, I stayed around to watch the later balloon launches and watch the snow fall. By 1 am, we had gotten over 6 inches of snow, most of which had fallen between 7 pm and 1 am!
This was the 10 pm launch, the last balloon launch that I saw before I left for the night. We had about 4 inches of snow at this point.
I left the launch site around 12:15 am on Wednesday night, about 22 hours after I got there. It was quite a marathon of a day, and I was pretty exhausted. But walking around in the magical snow got me excited again, and I walked around campus for a while in the powdery snow. Here are a few pictures. They’re a little blurry since it was dark, but I really enjoy the soft glow of lights in a snowstorm so I’ll show them anyway. Plus, the texture of 7 inches of powdery snow underfoot was hard to beat, along with the whirling of snowflakes as the storm lingered through the night.
The loop road around campus, near the bulldog statue (mid-center) and the Sherrill Center (out of the picture to the right).
A very snowy tree.
The back side of Ramsey Library, from the mini-quad.
Brown Hall (dining hall) from the steps leading up to Rhodes-Robinson and the main Quad.
Governor’s Hall from the loop road.
We had a few more snow showers on Thursday morning (as well as Friday morning), but no additional accumulation beyond a dusting. We ended up having three days off of school anyway, from Wednesday through Friday! The snow generally stuck around through the weekend, before a warm spell melted it away. It was a really fun week of snow! However, my sleep schedule got pretty far out of whack after staying awake for the majority of a 48 hour period from Tuesday through Wednesday night. It was worth it, though. Hopefully, we will see a good snowstorm again soon. After a few days in the 60s this past weekend, there’s a chance of snow showers on Wednesday, although I don’t think it will amount to more than a dusting at best.