As if one of the worst pandemics in modern history wasn’t enough, the eastern half of the United States just finished dealing with the effects of a strong polar vortex.
This wide expanse of cyclone-like cold usually hangs out at the North Pole but it brought new record lows and snow across the eastern U.S. and as far south as western North Carolina when it strayed last week.
Lows of 14 degrees were recorded early Saturday and Sunday mornings atop 6,683-foot Mount Mitchell in Yancey County.
Without going into the details, suffice it to say that a strong case has been made for connecting the recent polar vortex-related weather to global warming, like many other weather extremes.
The low of 32 early Sunday morning in North Wilkesboro nearly tied the record low of 31 set on May 10, 1997. The low of 38 early Saturday morning fell well short of North Wilkesboro’s record low of 34 degrees set on May 9, 1989. The low temperature of 35 here early Tuesday morning was topped by a low of 33 on May 12, 1977.
Although no record lows were set in North Wilkesboro, this recent “blackberry winter” from May 6-13 included five days with low temperatures in the 30s. Blackberry winter is the Southern term for a cold spell in late spring when the blackberry bushes are blooming.
A more extreme period of cold weather in May occurred in 2002, when low temperatures from May 19-23 were, in order, 33, 33, 34, 35 and 39 degrees, according to William Schmitz.
According to North Wilkesboro weather data going back to the 1920s, the record for the coldest day in this month locally was set on May 2, 1963, when it got down to 28 degrees.
The average May temperature in North Wilkesboro is 61 degrees, but the average this month so far (through May 13) is 42.
Highs in the low 80s (and lows around 60) through Sunday will feel balmy compared to what it’s been. It’s supposed to be only slightly cooler through Wednesday.
April 2020 was unusual because of the amount of rain we received. It went down in the books as North Carolina’s 17th wettest since 1895. This continues a trend, considering the state’s 15th wettest April was last year, April 2018 was the 16th wettest and April 2017 was the third wettest.
The National Centers for Environmental Information reported a statewide average precipitation of 5.15 inches last month, which was 1.61 inches above the average from 1901-2000.
The highest rainfall totals, as usual, came in the mountains from a series of moisture-laden cold fronts that moved in from the west and southwest. The wettest site in the state, Highlands, recorded 12.73 inches this past April, while Boone had its wettest April since 1982 with 11.70 inches.
In Mount Airy, it was the wettest April out of 120 years of observations with 8.84 inches of precipitation. North Wilkesboro reported 8.15 inches of rain. Charlotte had 7.10 inches and its sixth wettest April on record.
By the way, 2018 was the wettest year on record in North Carolina and 2019 was the state’s warmest year.
In addition to being the highest elevation east of the Mississippi, Mount Mitchell is beyond comparison when it comes to North Carolina weather records: most precipitation in a single year, just shy of 140 inches in 2018; lowest temperature, minus 34 on Jan. 21, 1985; and most snow in a 24-hour period, 36 inches on March 13, 1993.