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We missed out on a white Christmas this year, but it may be for the best
Rudi Kiefer

A white Christmas, snow covering the hills and rooftops of Hall County, icicles hanging from tree limbs over half-frozen creeks, wasn’t in the cards this season. Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky got some, but the states farther east didn’t.

For Georgia, it was an ordinary stalled-front situation. A band of clouds started in the Gulf, 100 miles offshore from Houston and New Orleans. In fast animation radar, the rain pattern looked like a chimney in the ocean putting out smoke, sending a fan of rain streaming across North Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.

This would have been one of two ingredients that bring snow to Hall and neighboring counties. Moisture is needed, and in our case the source is the Gulf of Mexico. But the seawater is still warm. At Galveston Channel, Texas, it was a fraction short of 70 degrees last week. At Port Mansfield farther west, 73 degrees. Water temperature. Not exactly blizzard weather. 

The other ingredient for white winter in North Georgia, as important as the moisture component, is low air temperature. Having the stalled front and all that rain followed up by a strong cold push from the northwest could produce some snow. But along with the crescent of rain from the Gulf came mild temperatures, and even the frigid Canadian air couldn’t freeze everything deeply enough for a major winter storm. 

It works much better in opposite order. Snow is likely around here when we get a strong cold front first. It can produce a lot of rain too, but most importantly, it’s powerful enough to push the mild, humid air out of here. This happened on Friday, December 24, 2010. The following day started with temperatures in the mid- 30’s. During the afternoon, it dropped toward the freezing mark, and at 4 p.m., snowflakes began to fall from the sky. 

It produced a postcard-pretty landscape around my house. Most of those “home in the snow” cards seem to favor Cape Cod style houses, so that part too was a good fit. Acoustically, not so much. Over on the fast Ga. 356 highway, sirens wailed as cars crashed on the road’s infamous cross-overs. 

The most dangerous element of winter storms in Georgia are slippery roads, followed by traffic accidents. Maybe we won’t get any substantial snow this winter. But if lives are saved by a lack of icy surfaces, it’s worth the sacrifice of scenery.


Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor emeritus of physical science at Brenau University. His column appears weekends and at gainesvilletimes.com.

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