Friday, January 22, 2010

Snow search in Appalachia | Snow search starts with storm's end in Georgia

Purchase a print. My search for snow drove me north, where I saw the back edge of a storm that, ironically, brought some light wintry precipitation to Florida. These cloud shots were taken on the west side of Macon, Ga., as I took Interstate 95 north toward Atlanta.

Purchase a print | This was the first time that I've seen such a clearly defined back edge to a large-scale storm system that covered all of Florida. I've seen such sights - though rarely with bright blue sky, like in this case - with the front of a much smaller thunderstorm, but never with the end of a large storm.

Purchase a print | This was taken a little earlier than the photos above, and it shows the cloud deck moving to the south as I pointed my camera to the north. For this shot, I ran down a steep embankment on the side of the roadway, nearly killing myself.

Click for larger sizes. This post-sunrise panorama was put together using nine shots similar to the previous one. As the storm moves to the south, this image shows a road over the red Georgia dirt that typifies much of the state. The road was frequented by tractor-trailer trucks that parked behind some commercial buildings in this area near Macon.

Snow was on my mind. It has been for most of the winter. It was a part of my childhood that was so ingrained, so commonplace, that I felt life wasn't right without it.

Last year was my first without seeing a single flake. The year before, my first winter in Florida, I visited Denver for a few days, where I was lucky enough to see a couple of inches while attending a conference. Last year, I did not travel northward during the winter and therefore didn't see the snow fly.

With unseasonably cold conditions in Florida two weeks ago - we had a stretch of days with lows in the upper 20s - I figured there was no sense to being in this supposedly "warm" climate. If it's going to be cold, I expect to see snow. But the odds of that happening weren't good in Florida. So I headed north.

It was a spontaneous decision. Two furlough days extended my weekend to four days, so I had the time to do something. But I never figured out what to do until I left work Friday night. For some reason, I thought a whirlwind tour of Appalachia, where there surely would be snow, was in order.

I went home, packed hurriedly and left at 2 a.m. amid a light, cold rain.

I drove through the night, up Florida's Turnpike toward the Georgia line. And the whole time, I couldn't help but to think I was making the wrong decision. Forecasters were saying there was a slight - a very slight - chance that Central Florida could see that cold rain turn to snow or sleet in the morning. Such a bizarre sight in the Sunshine State would be worth staying home for. But alas, I determined that it just wouldn't happen. Or that's what I told myself.

The cold front moved southward as I sped north. Near Lake City, in North Florida, the temperature dipped below freezing, and my mobile radar - on my iPhone - said there was snow in the air above me. But nothing hit the ground. Again, I figured I was wise to search for snow up north.

In central Georgia, just northwest of Macon, after refilling my car with gas and after the sun rose, the back edge of the storm system came into view. I've seen clearly defined storm fronts move overhead, but this marked the first time that I saw such definition on the backside of a large-scale system.

But it wasn't clouds I was seeking. It was snow. That would finally come just south of Atlanta, with a light film on roofs, car tops and roadsides. Georgia's signature red clay was sprinkled with flakes. Wooden signs, a light covering of snow on their top edges, advertised "authentic Georgia peaches, next exit." But a dusting wouldn't cut it for a Maine expatriate.

This Florida family, riding in a motor home with the words "In Pursuit of Margaritaville" emblazoned on the back, appeared to be on a quest for snow, as they toss it into the air. They stopped in a small turnout area near Ellijay, in northern Georgia, where there was a little more than an inch of snow on the ground.

A thicker blanket of white stuff came with an increase in elevation. From Atlanta, I hit the Piedmont, the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in northern Georgia. I drove over the Appalachian Highway through towns like Ellijay, Blue Ridge and Mineral Bluff, all around or near Chattahoochee National Forest. When I finally stopped at a "scenic overlook" with a great view of ugly, bare trees, I ran into a family on the same mission to play in the snow.

But the conditions back home in Florida? Cold and sleety. Some areas even saw a faint accumulation. But it wasn't enough to make me want to turn around. My car kept climbing into the Appalachian Mountains, in search of deeper snow.

The clouds move over the treetops in Macon.

Purchase a print | The system moves over a Krystal fast-food restaurant in Macon. Krystal is the Southern equivalent of White Castle. They are somewhat sparse in Florida but apparently more prevalent in Georgia.

Purchase a print | A flag outside the Baymont Inn, shown earlier, is backdropped by the contrasting sky.

Purchase a print | I drove through the night, so when the sun rose, I finally caught a glimpse of this large system. Mind you, the sun didn't make the air much warmer; it was still in the 20s when I snapped this in southern Georgia. Brr.

A crescent moon emerges from behind the clouds as they move quickly to the south. After this, I continued northward in the comfort of my heated motor vehicle.

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