Jesse Ferrell

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1992: Freak May Snowstorm in North Carolina

May 7, 2013; 11:18 AM ET

UPDATE 5/8/2013: In discussing this event with NCDC Climatologist Grant Goodge (who I worked for there while in college), II believe the claims of 57, 60 or 61 inches are in question. He did an investigation of the event and believes the only reliable observation is 36 inches, though (hypothetically) amounts could have been as high as 50 inches at the top of the mountain:

"The 61-inch Mt. Pisgah report was made by an engineering employee of WLOS Channel 13, ABC affiliate for Western North Carolina. He was situated in a building about 100 feet below the summit of Mt. Pisgah (Elev 5722'). I do believe it was possible they had 48- 50 inches, but not 61 inches as reported in some news reports. The coldest temps occurred during the latter half of the event (22 at Mt Mitchell and 29 at my station at 4320') as well as some moderately strong NE winds (53 mph on the 7th and 40 mph on the 8th at my site [Flattop Mountain, NC]) which would likely have drifted to the NW side of the Mount Pisgah peak where the observer was located (see attached aerial photo).

"I dug back into my written notes on my NOAA coop form and found a comment of "blowing snow" also on the 7th. I also checked into the hourly meltwater amounts reported during the last 12 hours of the storm and found only .25 to .40 inches which would not support a snow depth increase of a foot or more."

"I did an investigation of this event [see below] since the engineer at the WLOS transmitter site reported 61 inches when the existing record was 60 inches set in April 1987 at Newfound Gap. My neighbor, who had a gift for placing himself in a location prior to a record event, drove up to the Pisgah Inn the day before the storm began. He measured a max depth of about 36 inches as I recall (that is his car in the black and white photo)."

"Even though the WLOS site is about 700 feet higher the temp profile and meltwater equivalent did not support another 24+ inches. The storm was winding down when the WLOS engineer/observer reported a large increase in accumulation and depth. The color photo is of our west yard. At 4320' we only recorded a storm total of about 12" over the 3 day period with a max depth of about 7" as I recall."

"NOTES: Aerial photo view* is SW, the location of the engineer was in the building below and to the right of the base of the tower. The Pisgah View Inn was just out of view in the upper right of the photo. The Mount Mitchell weather observation site is not at the peak of the Mtn at 6684', rather the measurements were made at a saddle back site about 2 miles SSW of the peak at the NC Ranger Station (Elev 6240'). Their ob time was 3 pm in those days. They reported a total snowfall of 30" and max depth of 24," on the 8th and 9th of May. "

*This aerial shot of Mount Pisgah shows the location of the 60-inch observation (and thank goodness for this, because Google Maps flattens the large WLOS-TV antenna):

Grant's complete report on the event can be read by clicking below:

UPDATE 5/7/2013: SERCC posted a note about the snowfall from this storm at Caesars Head, South Carolina. Also: as the Internet matures, more older content is coming online, including two newspaper articles about this storm, from the Associated Press:

- STORM DUMPS SNOW IN N.C. MOUNTAINS; CHURNS COASTAL WATERS - May 8, 1992

"Nearly 50 inches of snow had fallen atop Mount Pisgah since Wednesday before the precipitation turned to rain today, the National Weather Service said. Twenty miles away in Asheville, 2,000 feet lower, the storm brought only rain. Slippery roads and downed power lines stalled at least two buses, in one case trapping a busload of Pisgah High School students between downed lines in front and a tree that crashed behind it. Snow also fell Thursday at higher elevations of northern Georgia."

"Along the coast, wind-driven sand blanketed a stretch of N.C. 12 between Salvo and Oregon Inlet in Dare County, and a heavy-surf advisory docked boats all along the Outer Banks. Winds also disrupted coastal area ferry service."

- Stranded Tourists Finally Leave Snowbound N.C. Mountain Inn - May 10, 1992

"The National Weather Service said snow continued to fall Friday at upper and lower elevations of mountain areas in the Appalachians in western North Carolina. Meteorologist Jan Price said he had received a report of 57.5 inches on Mt. Pisgah. Children built snowmen and adults skied on closed sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Canton, near Asheville, reported light snow early Friday, as did Waynesville. Almost 5 inches of snow fell on Cashiers in Jackson County, bringing the total for that area to 10 inches. Officials on Mt. Mitchell, the tallest peak east of the Rockies at 6,684 feet, reported 22 inches of snow."

ORIGINAL BLOG 2009-05-07 11:18:35: Elliot Abrams was kind enough to point out to me this morning that today is the 17-year anniversary of the freak snow at Mount Pisgah, North Carolina.

While I was taking my Freshman Year exams at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, a "cut-off" low pressure system in the upper atmosphere (meaning that it was spinning by itself while other systems moved around it like a leaf caught in a creek's circulation) setup over western North Carolina. It poured rain for days at Asheville and few peaks were cold enough to turn the rain to snow. One was Mount Pisgah, which measured 57" (nearly 5 feet!) I remember seeing pictures from a fellow NCDC employee (Grant Goodge) of people nearly up to their necks in snow.

I downloaded the weather maps from this event from the Daily Weather Map archive; above is the surface weather map, below is the upper-level chart and surface chart for that day and also the 24-hour highs and lows. Note the aforementioned "cut-off" low on the upper-level image, and note that temperatures were unusually chilly across the Carolinas and mid-Atlantic, but only Mount Pisgah could stay cold enough to get all snow.

There are few references to this storm on the web; one of the only ones is at WRAL, where Bill Leslie said:

"     Perhaps the most unusual snowstorm occurred in the spring. In a freak storm on May 7, 1992, Mt. Pisgah just down the Blue Ridge Parkway from Asheville received a whopping 57 inches of snow. I've camped up there and people still talk about that incredible day."

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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Jesse Ferrell
Jesse Ferrell's WeatherMatrix blog covers extreme weather worldwide with a concentration on weather photos and Social Media.