Jefferson experiences record low temperatures

By Wil Petty Staff Writer

January 9, 2014

The town of Jefferson broke a 95-year-old temperature record for Jan. 7, according to data released by Ray’s Weather, based in Boone.

Data showed the town reaching a low of -6 degrees on Tuesday morning. The previous record for the town, recorded in 1919, was 4 degrees.

The unusual weather was partially brought on by a stronger than normal polar vortex.

“The polar vortex is something that is always there,” said Ray Russell, founder of Ray’s Weather. “What happened is (the vortex) is slightly stronger than normal and it is further south than normal.”

The polar vortex has two centers, one in Northeastern Canada and one over Siberia. The vortex trapped air in Siberia, which then swept across the North American continent into the Eastern United States.

While the record for Jan. 7 was broken, the subzero temperature did not crack the top 10 in the town’s all-time coldest days since the data has been recorded. In Jefferson, the record was -20 degrees on Dec. 30, 1917.

The most recent of the dates to crack the Top 10 in Jefferson was Jan. 11, 1988 when the temperature hit -13.

“It goes to show these events can occur,” Russell said. “Will they happen more often? I think once in 20 years is a pretty accurate description. Then again, it could happen next year.”

Jefferson was not alone in breaking the record for the day. Mt. Airy and Morganton broke records previously held in 1912, while North Wilkesboro broke a record previously held in 1969.

“It was a record for the date for almost every station,” Russell said. “If you had moved it a day earlier it wouldn’t have been a record for many of them.”

How accurate are the readings from the early 1900s?

“The data is accurate,” he said. “It is the most accurate data we have as far as the record of temperatures go. It’s been collected at various locations and is scrutinized by people who look at the data.”

Effects on local power

The extreme weather also affected power throughout Ashe County.

From midnight on Monday, Jan. 6 through 5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 7, Blue Ridge Electric had 164 members in Ashe County affected by power outages. Of those, 50 were concentrated in the Jefferson Landing area while others were scattered throughout the county.

BREMCO lineman started responding to the outages in Ashe County when the first report came in at 1:41 a.m. Monday.

“When an outage occurs, system operators dispatch line technicians and other personnel… as needed,” said Renee Whitener, director of public relations for BREMCO. “The cooperative has extensive outage response and crisis emergency restoration plans it follows and updates regularly to ensure members have the most reliable electricity possible, and that lineman in the public stay safe during restoration efforts.”

Throughout BREMCO’s service region 978 members were affected. The highest concentration was in Watauga County, were 520 members were affected.

Ashe County school closings

Ashe school children were spared from having to brave the effects of the polar vortex as the public schools closed on Jan. 6, 7 and 8, due to the severe forecast and dangerously cold temperatures.

The Ashe County Public School system announced that Jan. 9, the 85th instructional day, would be used as a review day for high school exams.

According to information provided by the school system, decisions on school closings are made by Superintendent Dr. Todd Holden and the school’s Inclement Weather Team “which consists of sixteen staff members, the Ashe County Department of Transportation (DOT), the Ashe County Sheriff’s Department and other local agencies.”

The new high school testing dates in light of the school closures will be Jan. 10 and Jan. 13-16. Friday, Jan. 17 will be a required teacher work day.

Phyllis Yates, Associate Superintendent of Business and Operations for the Ashe County Public Schools, said that Jan. 20 is being considered as make-up day, but no decision has been made yet.

Christina Day contributed to this report.