By Heidi Sonen & Roscoe Shaw
“The weather has gone crazy!” Heidi and I hear that all the time and after the derecho this summer and now Hurricane Sandy, it’s tempting to start believing it. But the weather has always been crazy. That’s what keeps us employed.
When I glance back through my 100-plus-year database of weather records for Albemarle County, I’m always amazed at the crazy stuff that has happened, yet how similar the weather is now to when Claudius Crozet was dining at Crozet Pizza.
Scientific studies have confirmed that neither the frequency nor severity of extreme weather has significantly increased. What has increased is the reporting. I doubt old Claudius snapped pictures with his phone and tweeted them while watching 24/7 storm coverage on his iPad.
Actually, this has been the calmest and nicest year of weather I can remember here. That is, if you conveniently ignore the two huge weather events. The derecho hit on June 29 but was followed by several months of mild, tranquil weather. Then Sandy arrived exactly four months later on October 29.
Sandy was one of the strangest storms we’ve ever seen. As hurricanes go, she was pretty weak, which is normal for late October. However, as she moved up the Gulf Stream, Sandy merged with a downstream propagation of baroclinic instability. That’s meteorological mumbo-jumbo for the perfect conditions for an east coast snowstorm. Late October is too late in the year for a hurricane and too early for a snowstorm but somehow we got both at the same time. Sandy turned into a full-fledged snowicane. Or was it Hurrisnow?
As unusual as this combination is, Sandy was well understood from the beginning and remarkably well forecasted. Almost all east coast storms riding the Gulf Stream continue to the north and east. However, all our best computer models were consistent in saying that Sandy would take a sudden and bizarre turn to the west and slam New Jersey. The computer models were right and the excellent forecast was a huge advantage at tackling the storm.
For Crozet, the wind gusted about 50 mph for 18 hours and nearly five inches of rain fell. The northwest winds brought cold air that dropped the snow level as low as 800 feet, right down into town. Snow was sticking just above Mint Springs Park, the Parkway was covered and Wintergreen picked up seven inches.
Snow only falls about two or three times in a lifetime in October in Crozet, but it has happened two years in a row. We had wet slop last year on the 29th and about six inches on the mountains. The most amazing October snow here, however, was the three inches that fell on October 9, 1979.
The high temperature of 41 on October 30 was the coldest here in October since Halloween 1896 when the high was 32.
Rainfall Totals for October
Many of the rain totals presented here seem too low from Hurricane Sandy. We measure with an old-fashioned manual gauge and had nearly five inches at our house and 6.77” for the month. The automated electronic gauges that we rely on for other sites may have had trouble capturing the sideways nature of Sandy’s rain.
- Normal = 3.96”
- Crozet 6.77”
- Univ. of Va. 6.01”
- Greenwood 4.37”
- Charlottesville Airport 4.37”
- White Hall 3.71”
- Rockfish 3.45”
- Waynesboro 2.38”