The Year of the Deep Snow
by Donna Rhodes
In the coming holiday celebration, when Christmas greeting cardinals, clasping holly branches, are capped in dollops of pristine snow, we are reminded of the beauty a carpet of white brings to the Plateau.
The legendary snowfall of December 3-5 1886 holds the Highlands record for the deepest snow in a single, continuous fall. James Rideout measured 32 inches at several locations on level ground. Of course this was long before the Weather Channel and its sophisticated measuring instruments, but Rideout’s calculations were corroborated by Professor Harbison, who observed that continuous fall measured three feet. The Highlander claimed the fall was a mere two feet, not three. Nevertheless it was the coldest weather on record that ushered in that three-day snow.
Highlands poet Mary Chapin Smith, who married John Jay Smith in the year of the deep snow, described the crystalline landscape in the following:
The white winged snow falls down most silently
And softly in large flakes, like many small
White birds that fly to earth; the snowbirds come
With fluttering wings, alighting on the tree,
The little tree that is their resting place,
Their fluffy feathers white like heaps of snow
Upon the limbs; they come in endless flight,
Blown through the air and dropping down to earth,
As swift and silent as falling snow.
There were other legendary Highlands snowfalls, though not as deep. In 1942, the fall measured a little over a foot, increasing to upwards of two feet in drifts. While it wasn’t as high as that of 1886, it was more crippling to a “modernized” Highlands, whose residents now depended upon automobiles and electricity. The Plateau came to a standstill, albeit a beautiful white one.
To learn more about the magnificent snow christenings of our mountaintop, read Ran Shaffner’s “Heart of the Blue Ridge” or visit highlandshistory.com.
If you are looking for a holiday gift for yourself or a history buff, order “Heart of the Blue Ridge” at highlandshistory.com or inquire about its purchase at a local bookstore.