Last year around this time, many national and regional news outlets, including USA Today, the Asheville Citizen Times, and Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine, were reporting a staggering set of snowfall statistic coming out of Mount Mitchell State Park.
The stats, which were recorded by Mount Mitchell park rangers, stated that Mitchell, the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River, received a staggering 60 inches of snowfall during a weather event known as Winter Storm Jonas.
During the 24 hour period ending in Jan 24, 2016, the park was said to have received a total of 41 inches of snow accumulation. This would have bested a previous record of 36 inches set during a severe blizzard in the winter of 1993—an event that is still studied by undergrads working to become meteorologists.
The problem with the measurement? It grossly misrepresented the facts.
According to the North Carolina climate extremes committee, formed ten years ago for the express purpose of reviewing record-setting weather events, the actual amount of snow that accumulated on Mitchell a year ago yesterday was closer to 21 inches, nearly half the amount that was actually reported.
The discrepancies could have arisen from the difficult conditions that state park personnel, who are tasked with recording and reporting all weather that occurs on Mt. Mitchel, were facing during Winter Storm Jonas.
“We got hammered. It was brutal,” park superintendent Bryan Wilder told the Asheville Citizen Times shortly after the storm. “We had 4 or 5 inches an hour, and you really couldn’t tell if you were on the road or not.”
In addition to the white out conditions, a gauge typically used to record liquid precipitation—an instrument that climate experts say is vital when verifying snowfall totals—was rendered inoperable by heavy snow drifts.