In the wake of Asheville’s second coldest December in history and last week’s snowy onslaught, famed WNC forecaster Ray Russell finally owned up and admitted defeat: In a “death notice” posted to the Ray’s Weather Center Facebook page, Russell acknowledged that his long-range “Fearless Forecast” had been way off.
His website has built a reputation for having the most accurate local weather predictions, but this year it had wrongly called for a drier, milder winter than normal. Russell blamed “a stubbornly negative North Atlantic Oscillation” for the discrepancy, explaining that it had created a “trough in the Eastern U.S. allowing cold air to drive deep into the Southeast.”
Just a few weeks ago, Russell had told Xpress that he thought the Atlantic trough would break up, paving the way for “a radical change in temperatures” due to a pocket of cooler-than-average water in the Pacific Ocean (see “Slip-sliding Away”). He pointed out that this phenomenon, known as La Niña, historically results in warmer winters throughout the Southeast. And he cited La Niña again in his updated Jan. 13 long-range forecast, maintaining that “the second half of winter will be milder than the first part has been.”
We’ll have to wait and see if that pans out. Meanwhile, last week’s snowy surge garnered a wealth of media coverage, with the Asheville Citizen-Times publishing a series of cover stories that looked at the various ways the storm caused problems. According to “Asheville Slowly Shakes Off Storm,” the slick roads resulted in about 70 accidents throughout the 17 westernmost counties. In “Winter Maintains its Frigid Fingers on a Gasping Asheville,” the paper reported that the Asheville City Schools system was pushing back exams and planning to survey parents on the best way to make up the 7 school days they’ve already lost this year. And in “Garbage Delays Questioned in Asheville,” the paper reported that “Asheville city officials canceled garbage and recycling collection to 29,000 customers,” citing dangerous road conditions. Some residents questioned the decision, however, noting that the U.S. Postal Service continued to deliver mail and most Buncombe County residents continued to get curbside trash service despite the slick roads.
In addition to our own reports of how the conditions effected city services, Xpress explored the fun side of the winter storm. Our series of online posts included videos and photos of snowboarding, skiing, sledding and other outdoor adventures. In “Powder Day: Scenes from Wolf Ridge,” we gave viewers a look at the epic conditions at local ski areas, some of which received over 25 inches of snow throughout the week (Beech Mountain Resort in Avery County has already gotten over 100 inches this season, surpassing its yearly average of 80 inches). In “Cross Country Skiing In Beaverdam,” we documented an afternoon spent cross country skiing in the beautiful Beaverdam neighborhood in north Asheville. And in “Snow Brings Great Sledding Conditions to Asheville Parks,” Xpress captured a few images of this terrified reporter as he launched about 10 feet in the air on a sled in West Asheville Park.
Xpress also used Twitter to aggregate citizen reports using the hashtag, “#avlsnomg.” The live feed served as an outlet for anyone on Twitter to share their perspectives on the storm, and offered readers a fascinating source of real-time information on everything from road conditions and business closures to where the best sledding hills were.
Western North Carolina certainly wasn’t snowed in alone. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as of Jan. 11, there was snow in 49 states, covering 69.4 percent of the contiguous U.S. Even Hawaii didn’t escape winter’s grasp; Florida was the only snow-free state.