The Smathers of Haywood County
Garden Update - Lettuce Trial and A New Bed

Snow in May


Pap is the boy on the right of the photo in overalls - he's standing with his parents and his siblings

I've been thinking about a story Pap told me.

It was during the month of May and his mother and him were in the garden working. He said it was an unusually cold morning, but they thought the sun would soon warm things up as they worked. His mother built a little fire by the side of the garden where they could warm every once in a while.

As they continued to work it suddenly started snowing. It really came down hard with flakes as big as silver dollars and in just a little bit the ground was white with snow. Pap said in those days any time something unusual happened folks wondered if it was a sign that the end of time had come. As they stood and stared at the snow it quickly stopped and before he knew it the white ground had melted.

Pap's story was such an unusual one that I decided I'd try to google around and see if I could find any documentation about the May snow. I never thought to ask Pap how old he was or what year the snow came, so I was really going on a wild goose chase. The closest thing I found was a newspaper from 1948 that talked about the strange weather and the killing frosts that came to the mountains of North Carolina from May 8 through May 11 of the previous year, 1947. Pap would have been 9 years old. You can read the paper by going here and clicking on page 3 on the right side under thumbnails.

In the early 90s when I worked at Lake Logan in Haywood County NC I experienced a May snow. I was working the morning shift that day and had to be at work at 6:30 a.m. When it was good and daylight it started to snow and in no time flat there was well over 6 inches on the ground. It was a wet heavy snow and you could hear trees cracking from the weight all over the place. The Deer Hunter came to get me, but convinced me I could drive home following him and I did. Like the snow from Pap's story the 6 inches was gone by night fall. 


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I can't recall ever seeing snow in May, but that doesn't mean it hasn't. Just maybe I wasn't paying close enough attention. lol But the last few days here in SC has left me wondering if winter was returning early. Brrr....

I've enjoyed reading about these events.

In the 21 Apr 1983 addition of "Roaming the Mountains" John Parris relates a tale told by a kinsman of a heavy snow in the Balsam-Smokies area of WNC on 27 May 1895. Knee deep on the mountains and shoe top deep down in Addie and Parris Branch. Is says that all the spring crops and gardens that were up were killed as well as all the apples and peaches. Even some of the cattle were supposed to have died.
Addie is about half way between Balsam Gap and Sylva on old 19-23.

I've seen snow in late June up on Wiggins Creek. I remember one time we were hoeing corn that was up to my knees (Of course my knees were closer to the ground back then but I was big enough to hoe corn). Somebody said, "Is that ashes, has somebody let a fire get out?" I let a flake hit the back of my hand and it melted. Then more. It was snowing! It quit in a few minutes and never amounted to anything.
Most rain starts as ice crystals in the upper atmosphere that coalesce into snowflakes as they fall. In the spring and summer there is usually a layer of warmer air near the surface that melts the snow into raindrops. Since heat rises and cold settles, our mountain valleys can sometimes trap air that is cool enough to allow the snowflakes to make it to the ground before they melt.
Snow in any month isn't unheard of but snows that lay in May are unusual. Not the end of the world though!

Growing up near the southernmost tip of Texas, any snowfall was an oddity. The only snowfall I recall occurred while I was in High School: temperatures were right at freezing when someone in my biology class hollered it's snowing! As our teacher let us go outside to "experience snow" we heard the astonished call echoing through other classrooms down the hall way. Soon, the classrooms were emptied as the entire school flowed through the doors to enjoy the event. At that time, palm trees lined all the roads that bordered the school grounds and the narrow slice of shade provided by each tree sheltered a small mound of snow at the base of the trunk of each palm. One of the journalism students ran to get the school camera but by the time he returned, the first students out had grabbed a handful of icy white and thrown it at someone; thus, the "once in a lifetime" weather event could not be documented by photograph.

I grew up hearing the story of the time the big snow came in May. This was in southeastern Ky. Much later I worked with John, an old man who told me about a fellow who was born on the night that big snow came. I still didn't know the date but John told me where that fellow was buried. It turned out his grave was in the edge of the cemetery near the road and as one rode up the road they could look right at the full face of his headstone. If memory serves, the year was 1895.

Those late snows seem to always be very wet and heavy and are particularly hard on the white pines.

"Thunder in January, snow in May" was a saying my grandmother used.

Mom often told about a snow in May that was so deep she built an igloo and played in it. She was older than Pap, so it wouldn't have been the snow of '47.
It feels cold enough to snow today. The thermometer is reading 51, but it is surely wrong. We have had snow or snow flurries during Derby in recent years. Snow couldn't be much worse than the cold, heavy rain we are getting now and predicted through the weekend. The ladies will not be wearing sun dresses and hats at this years race.

I remember snow flurries and late frost I'n May, but don't remember any real snows in my part of E.KY. I'll problee remember one after this post.

Some of my most interesting information as a child was gained while eavesdropping on the grownups. As I matured I still hung on to every word from the old timers. This has served me well in study of genealogy because I sometimes searched and found information nobody else knew or cared about. Regarding events of nature a story comes to mind. The Northern lights apparently were vivid over a remote part of WV at one time. My great uncle told of everybody on that remote mountain believing the "end of time" had come. He would laugh and said everyone on that mountain was on their knees. With no television and very little education many were frightened by unusual events.

It is enjoyable to recall an event mentioned by our elders, and then we can actually go find information in old newspapers about the event. Unfortunately, it would be much like the search for a needle in a haystack to find that day long ago when the Northern Lights were so visible over southern WV. Events in early 1900's sometimes were only in oral history.

This was such a great story, Tipper. I can imagine how baffling this was for your dear Grandmother.

I've spent the last couple of hours trying to figure out how to cover my double 4 ft rows of sunflowers that are up about 6-8 inches now. Everything else I brought inside for a spell. Ever since I saw snow in Gallup, New Mexico early one June, snow here in May wouldn't surprise me a bit! If the weather never changed up on us we would be bored, haha!
Love from the riverbank in Marshall~

Snow's can be strange here in the mountains. I remember a snow in May sometime in the 1990's. I lived in Black Mountain and was snowed in for three or four days. I couldn't get to work I couldn't get in or out of my driveway. That snow was somewhere around 10 inches, unusual for so early in the year.
The weather will do what it wants to do, when it wants to do it!

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