December 18th-19th, 2009 Category 3 Snowstorm Summary

A classic scenario for a major snow storm over the Mid-Atlantic states (including Southwest VA, Northwest NC, and Southeast WV) came together for one of the biggest snow storms in our region in the last 10 to 20 years. In fact, when you consider the entire region covered by the Blacksburg NWS office, this was the most significant snow storm since January 6-7, 1996 (almost 14 years ago!). It was also the most significant snowfall ever for many locations during the month of December, and coming one week before Christmas will likely result in a "white Christmas" for many folks.

This is a brief review of the evolution of the storm as it tracked through the Mid-Atlantic region, the snowfall totals over our area, and how this event ranks with some of the other big snow storms to have hit the region over the last couple of decades. Near the bottom of this page is a map of the final snowfall totals and a listing of many of the individual reports, but first, here is a quick summary of how this storm compares with past big snow events:

Roanoke - 17.8": The highest snow event total for the month of December, and is the 4th highest all time. The last time this much snow fell in one storm was 25", January 6-7, 1996 (the record).

Blacksburg - 14.4": Also the highest snow event for the month of December, and the 5th highest snow event total. The most since 21.4" fell January 28-29, 1998. Over 33" fell during the January 1996 event.

Lynchburg: 12.5" is the 6th highest snow event total, and the most since 21.5" fell during the January 1996 event.

Bluefield: 15" is the highest snow event since 17" fell on January 28-29, 1998.

Some local areas may actually have come close to their totals from the enormous January 1996 storm. A snowfall map from that event is also shown at the bottom of this page. Other historic major winter storms to have hit the area include March 10-13, 1993; February 10-12, 1983; and December 25-27, 1969.

This snowstorm ranks as a Category 3 on the Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale (NESIS.

Meteorology Overview

The December 2009 storm system first developed in the Gulf of Mexico and tracked northeastward right up the southeast U.S. coastline to Cape Hatteras, and then eventually just to the east of Long Island and Cape Cod, where the storm brought blizzard conditions some of the major Northeast U.S. cities. The loop below shows the track of the low pressure center and the radar composite from the morning of Dec 17 through the morning of Dec 20. This is a "textbook" scenario for heavy snow for our area, with a deepening low passing to our southeast drawing in both Gulf and Atlantic moisture, with fairly deep, cold air in place from an arctic high pressure centered over New England and the Mid-Atlantic area. This is considered a "Miller A" coastal cyclogenesis storm, and is far and away the most common pattern for bringing our region significant snowfall. (More information about these kinds of winter storms)

 

Surface Fronts Loop

 

 

A loop of the storm's evolution as seen in infra-red satellite imagery is shown below. The "comma head" region, usually where the most significant precipitation occurs, can be seen tracking across western NC, western VA, and most of WV, and then into northern VA, eastern PA and across the New York City and Boston areas.

Satellite Loop

 

Forecasts for the storm several days in advance were tricky as computer model guidance showed a significant spread in solutions, with many of them forecasting the storm to pass well to the south of the area. About 48 hours in advance, they started coming together with the heart of the heavy precipitation expected to aim right up the Blue Ridge. A Winter Storm Watch was issued for our entire area by early Thursday morning Dec Dece 17, followed by a Winter Storm Warning that same afternoon, which was 18 to 26 hours before the snow began, depending on your location.

Despite the fact that some of the most significant upward lift and heavy bands of snow actually ended up west of our area in central West Virginia, our forecasts of 12 to 21 inches worked out quite well for most locations. One exception was Southside VA and north-central NC where this slightly more westerly track brought in warmer air and resulted in a longer period of sleet, resulting in final snow/sleet totals a little under what was forecast.

Nevertheless, the impact from this major winter storm was significant, with stranded motorists on Interstates and Highways, pockets of power outages where the snow was a little heavier and wetter and brought trees down on power lines, thousands of traffic accidents, and some drifts of snow as deep as 4 feet or more in parts of West Virginia.

The image below, and the list of snow reports beneath it, shows the final snowfall totals from this event across the 40-county region covered by the Blacksburg/Roanoke NWS.

 

Snowfall Totals Map

Storm Totals Text

THE FOLLOWING ARE A MIX OF OFFICIAL AND UNOFFICIAL SNOW TOTAL 
OBSERVATIONS TAKEN BETWEEN LATE FRIDAY NIGHT AND SATURDAY AFTERNOON 
FOR THE MAJOR WINTER STORM THAT HAS BEEN AFFECTING OUR REGION. 
ADDITIONAL SNOW HAS FALLEN IN PARTS OF WEST VIRGINIA FROM NORTHWEST 
FLOW...WHICH HAS NOT BEEN INCLUDED IN THIS REPORT. APPRECIATION IS 
EXTENDED TO HIGHWAY DEPARTMENTS...COOPERATIVE OBSERVERS...SKYWARN 
SPOTTERS...THE GENERAL PUBLIC AND MEDIA FOR THESE REPORTS.  THIS 
SUMMARY IS ALSO AVAILABLE ON OUR HOME PAGE AT WEATHER.GOV/BLACKSBURG

********************STORM TOTAL SNOWFALL********************

LOCATION          STORM TOTAL    TIME/DATE    COMMENTS
                     SNOWFALL       OF
                     (INCHES)   MEASUREMENT


NORTH CAROLINA

...ALLEGHANY COUNTY...
   SPARTA                14.2   744 AM 12/19   3.5 SSW
   ENNICE                12.0  1045 PM 12/18  

...ASHE COUNTY...
   WARRENSVILLE          17.0   755 AM 12/19  
   BINA                  16.0   739 AM 12/19  
   TODD                  15.0   952 PM 12/18  
   TODD                  15.0   700 AM 12/19  
   FLEETWOOD             14.0   800 PM 12/18  
   CRUMPLER              13.5  1000 PM 12/18  
   GLENDALE SPRINGS      13.5  1000 PM 12/18  
   BALDWIN               13.0   926 AM 12/19  
   WEST JEFFERSON        13.0  1000 AM 12/19  
   LANSING               12.0  1000 PM 12/18    

...CASWELL COUNTY...
   YANCEYVILLE            5.0   815 AM 12/19   SIMILAR ACROSS COUNTY

...ROCKINGHAM COUNTY...
   MAYODAN                7.0   942 PM 12/18  
   REIDSVILLE             7.0  1006 PM 12/18  
   BETHANY                4.8  1011 PM 12/18   5 S

...STOKES COUNTY...
   KING                   6.5   815 AM 12/19  
   PINE HALL              6.0   931 PM 12/18  

...SURRY COUNTY...
   STATE ROAD            14.0  1025 AM 12/19  
   DOBSON                11.0  1214 PM 12/19   LIGHT GLAZE ON TOP

...WATAUGA COUNTY...
   BOONE                 16.0   912 PM 12/18  
   RUTHERWOOD            16.0   600 AM 12/19   DEEP GAP    
   HOWARDS KNOB          15.0  1251 PM 12/19  
   VILAS                 11.5  1115 PM 12/18    

...WILKES COUNTY...
   WILBAR                15.0   715 AM 12/19   5 NE ALONG PARKWAY
   WILKESBORO            14.5  1016 AM 12/19   6 MI NW
   FERGUSON              13.0   730 AM 12/19  
   HAYS                  12.5   900 AM 12/19    

...YADKIN COUNTY...
   JONESVILLE             9.5   812 AM 12/19  

VIRGINIA

...ALLEGHANY COUNTY...
   CLIFTON FORGE         20.0   809 AM 12/19  
   POTTS CREEK           14.2   410 AM 12/19  

...AMHERST COUNTY...
   AMHERST               18.0   548 PM 12/19   3.5 MI WEST OF AMHERST
   SWEET BRIAR STATION   18.0   400 PM 12/19  
   AMHERST               17.0   430 PM 12/19  
   MONROE                14.2   400 PM 12/19  
   PEDLAR MILLS          14.2   444 PM 12/19  

...APPOMATTOX COUNTY...
   STONEWALL             12.8   708 AM 12/19  

...BATH COUNTY...
   HOT SPRINGS           27.0   400 PM 12/19  
   MILLBORO              22.0   100 PM 12/19    

...BEDFORD COUNTY...
   FOREST                18.5   615 PM 12/19  
   THAXTON               15.0  1100 AM 12/19  
   BIG ISLAND            13.0   630 AM 12/19  

...BOTETOURT COUNTY...
   BUCHANAN              15.5   933 AM 12/19  
   FINCASTLE             15.0   415 PM 12/19  
   TROUTVILLE            14.5   800 AM 12/19   READ MTN ELEM SCHOOL

...BUCKINGHAM COUNTY...
   MOUNT RUSH            14.0   552 AM 12/19  
   GOLD HILL             12.5  1052 AM 12/19  

...CAMPBELL COUNTY...
   ALTAVISTA             10.5   206 PM 12/19  

...CARROLL COUNTY...
   HILLSVILLE            11.5  1015 AM 12/19

...CHARLOTTE COUNTY...
   CHARLOTTE COURTHOUSE   7.0   500 PM 12/19  6 TO 8 ACROSS COUNTY
   KEYSVILLE              4.0  1057 AM 12/19

...CITY OF BEDFORD...
   BEDFORD               14.0  1110 AM 12/19

...CITY OF COVINGTON...
   COVINGTON             22.6   217 PM 12/19  

...CITY OF DANVILLE...
   DANVILLE               7.5   850 AM 12/19  

...CITY OF GALAX...
   GALAX                 13.0   630 AM 12/19   CEDAR POINT AREA

...CITY OF LEXINGTON...
   LEXINGTON             22.0  1241 PM 12/19   2.5 MI SW    

...CITY OF LYNCHBURG...
   LYNCHBURG             12.5   220 PM 12/19   WSET OFFICIAL TOTAL

...CITY OF MARTINSVILLE...
   MARTINSVILLE           8.0   930 AM 12/19  

...CITY OF RADFORD...
   RADFORD               15.0   805 AM 12/19  

...CITY OF ROANOKE...
   ROANOKE               17.8   500 PM 12/19   WDBJ OFFICIAL TOTAL   

...CRAIG COUNTY...
   NEW CASTLE            17.0   845 AM 12/19  

...FLOYD COUNTY...
   ALUM RIDGE            26.0   105 PM 12/19   
   FLOYD                 18.5   921 AM 12/19   
   COPPER HILL           14.5   704 AM 12/19   MP 148 BLUE RIDGE PKWY
   WILLIS                13.0   630 AM 12/19  
   UNION                 11.9   250 PM 12/19   COCORAHS

...FRANKLIN COUNTY...
   WIRTZ                 14.0   102 PM 12/19  
   CALLAWAY              13.0  1100 AM 12/19  

...GILES COUNTY...
   PEARISBURG            12.0   803 AM 12/19  
   EGGLESTON             11.0   400 AM 12/19   4S

...GRAYSON COUNTY...
   BAYWOOD               11.0   847 PM 12/18  
   FRIES                 11.0  1030 PM 12/18   5 W  

...HENRY COUNTY...
   STONES STORE          10.0  1249 AM 12/19   NEAR BULL MOUNTAIN

...MONTGOMERY COUNTY...
   ELLISTON              25.0   333 PM 12/19  
   SHAWSVILLE            24.0   900 AM 12/19   LIGHTNING OVERNIGHT
   LAUREL RIDGE          16.5   925 AM 12/19  
   PILOT                 16.5   132 PM 12/19  
   CHRISTIANSBURG        16.3   800 AM 12/19  
   BLACKSBURG            14.4  1000 AM 12/19   NWS OFFICIAL TOTAL    
   PILOT                 12.5  1247 AM 12/19  

...PATRICK COUNTY...
   ARARAT                 9.0   107 PM 12/19  

...PITTSYLVANIA COUNTY...
   HURT                  10.0   930 AM 12/19  
   CALLANDS               9.0   215 PM 12/19  

...PULASKI COUNTY...
   FAIRLAWN              14.5   921 AM 12/19    

...ROANOKE COUNTY...
   CAVE SPRING           20.0   705 AM 12/19  
   BENT MOUNTAIN         16.8   830 AM 12/19   2 MI NE

...ROCKBRIDGE COUNTY...
   BROWNSBURG            28.0  1050 AM 12/19
   EAST LEXINGTON        21.0   513 PM 12/19   1 SW LEXINGTON        
   ROCKBRIDGE BATHS      18.0  1122 AM 12/19

...SMYTH COUNTY...
   MARION                12.0   1200 PM 12/19
   SALTVILLE             10.0    700 AM 12/19

...TAZEWELL COUNTY...
   BLUEFIELD             13.0   905 PM 12/18  
   TAZEWELL              12.0   540 AM 12/19   

...WYTHE COUNTY...
   MAX MEADOWS           16.0   650 AM 12/19  
   WYTHEVILLE            12.0   730 AM 12/19  

WEST VIRGINIA

...GREENBRIER COUNTY...
   QUINWOOD              31.0   500 PM 12/19   DEPT OF HWYS
   RAINELLE              26.0   510 PM 12/19  
   FRIARS HILL           25.0   845 AM 12/19  
   CRAWLEY               22.0   415 PM 12/19  
   WILLIAMSBURG          22.0   800 AM 12/19  
   FRANKFORD             18.5   600 AM 12/19  
   LEWISBURG             18.0   140 PM 12/19   0.5" NEW IN LAST 2 HRS

...MERCER COUNTY...
   PRINCETON             25.5   315 PM 12/19  
   ROCK                  24.0   103 PM 12/19  
   GLENWOOD              17.0   203 PM 12/19  
   MATOAKA               17.0   608 AM 12/19  
   PRINCETON             17.0  1100 AM 12/19  
   ATHENS                16.0   850 AM 12/19  
   KEGLEY                15.0   546 PM 12/19  
   SPANISHBURG           14.0   520 AM 12/19   REPORT FROM CAMP CREEK
   WOLFE                 12.0  1120 AM 12/19  

...MONROE COUNTY...  
   UNION                 12.5   600 AM 12/19  

...SUMMERS COUNTY...
   JUMPING BRANCH        24.0   100 PM 12/19   NEAR NIMITZ
   SANDSTONE             20.0   913 AM 12/19   NEAR KEENY MTN
   HINTON                17.0   620 AM 12/19  

$$



For comparison with the last major snow storm to blast the region, here is the snowfall map from the January 6-7, 1996 event, which was also a "Miller A" coastal cyclogenesis storm:

Snowfall Amounts from January 8th, 1996