Ask Todd: Predicting weather in East TN

10:42 PM, Apr 23, 2013   |    comments
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Terry Murray asks, "True or false? It is often said that with the Cumberland Plateau on the left and the Smokies on the right, that the Knoxville area is one of the hardest areas to predict the weather forecast. If true... why?"

Terry, the general answer is true. East Tennessee's geography can make it more difficult to predict weather around here.

If you take a look at a topographical map of our region, it shows off the different elevation levels of the Cumberland Plateau to our west and the Smoky Mountains to the south and east.

Whenever severe weather heads our way, typically the plateau takes the brunt of the storm. Because it's a higher elevation, it receives more inclement weather. It also helps break up the storm systems for the valley. But that also makes it more sporadic, disorganized, and random.

Turning to the Smokies, they typically don't have much of an impact on weather here in the valley because they're south and east of us. But the Smokies have their own climate above 5,000 feet called a "Canadian climate." That comes into play at Newfound Gap and higher.

For example, in late last February and early March, severe weather tore through Cumberland County. They caused significant damage in Rinnie. Two people died and an EF-2 tornado destroyed dozens of homes. Again, the plateau took the brunt of the damage and it broke up the storm. Most of the valley just saw heavy rain and wind.

Down in the Smokies, that Canadian climate is key when it comes to snowstorms. If you remember back in October, a snow storm collided with Hurricane Sandy and dumped more than two-and-a-half feet of snow in the Newfound Gap area. We saw zero flurries but lots of rain in Knoxville.

Most of that is because the Smokies are at a higher elevation, but also because much of the system moved to the east and south of us.

So, yes. Geography does play a role in weather forecasting, but it has more of an effect when it hits the Cumberland Plateau instead of the Smokies.

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