It is December, you have pulled out the bibs and ski jackets, taken your skis or board in for annual maintenance and are probably wondering,“When will Ober Gatlinburg open the slopes?” If you have been watching our webcams, you have noticed layers of snow come and go over the past month. Below the webcams you have also noticed that the temperature at our Downtown Tramway Mall was much lower than the temperature at our Mountaintop Park. How is this possible with the elevation difference? Inversion.
Wait, what is Inversion? In simple terms, this is when large pockets of cold/heavy air settles in valleys, hollers and other low-lying areas. Thus, pushing the warmer air that is normally there up into higher elevations. This results in lower temperatures in the valleys and higher temperatures on our Mountain. In most cases, this pushes temperatures well above snowmaking requirements (normally under 28-degrees). Over the last few weeks, we have seen as much as 24-degree inversions. (One night it was 37-degrees Downtown and 61-degrees on the Mountain…one of the most extreme any of us have experienced.)
Meghan Gulledge, WVLT
Meghan Gulledge, from WVLT describes the inversions in the Smoky Mountains in her blog post Friday Night Blog: Inversion Lesson:
“The daytime heating warms the slopes of the mountains. Once the sun has set, the air on the slopes rapidly cools and sinks to the valley. Meanwhile, the valley floor is busy releasing heat from its daytime heating. That heat rises over the cool air coming down the mountain and traps it in the valley while the warm air continues to rise into the elevations…Generally, a nighttime inversion like this will persist until the sun rises the next morning and sufficiently heats the air in the valley to where a thermal gradient no longer exists.”
Smoky Mountain Living reminds us of how beautiful this phenomenon can be to witness. Their article, Floating Above the Clouds, describes the beauty of seeing this pocket of air trap the clouds in the lower valleys of the Smoky Mountains:
“Although the distance from Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Nags Head at the Outer Banks is nearly 500 miles, there are times, during a weather event known as thermal inversion, you can almost imagine the two coming together, creating not the flow of water over a sandy beach, but an ocean of white clouds undulating, flowing, and breaking through the valleys and around the peaks of the ancient Blue Ridge.
Thermal—or temperature—inversion is a meteorological phenomenon in which the usual atmospheric relation of air masses is reversed. While this happens throughout the world, the Southern Appalachians provide some of the most favorable geographic and atmospheric conditions for thermal inversion. Its many ridge lines and deep valleys act as pockets holding the misty seas for those fortunate enough to see them.”
We take great pride in our snowmaking capabilities and being Tennessee’s only ski area. Looking past the difficulties of inversion and an unseasonably warm December, we do hope to ramp up our snow production soon. Our team of experts are working around the clock to take full advantage of any weather suitable for snow production. However, until we are back on the slopes, we will continue to enjoy our morning Aerial Tram ride through this beautiful layer of clouds nestled between our properties.
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