By BILL JONES
Southern Greene County residents have been familiar with the strong winds that frequent the Camp Creek community for generations.
Now, the National Atmospheric and Oceanographic Administration has joined forces with Camp Creek Elementary School to learn more about a wind phenomenon called "mountain waves" that is thought to cause the high winds.
On Tuesday morning, as the wind gusted to an estimated 35-mph outside the school, NOAA officials from Oak Ridge and National Weather Service meteorologists from the Weather Service office in Morristown joined Camp Creek students and Principal Jane Bell in cutting a ribbon to officially open the new NOAA weather station near the school's football field.
Principal Bell said the strong winds often affect school operations, forcing teachers and other staff members to hold students' hands to keep smaller children from being blown down while exiting or boarding school buses and their parents' vehicles.
She said wind-speed data from the new NOAA weather equipment at the school can be accessed via the Internet by teachers to help them anticipate when the high winds are likely to strike.
"We've known about the damaging winds at Camp Creek for many years and we've researched them," said George Matthews, the Weather Service meteorologist in charge of the Morristown office. "We've even seen some wind measurements from the school's weather station, but now with this research-grade equipment we'll be able to document events and dig a little deeper into the research.
Matthews said Tuesday was deliberately chosen for the ribbon-cutting ceremony at Camp Creek Elementary because Weather Service personnel in Morristown expected gusty winds to prevail at Camp Creek on Tuesday.
During the ceremony, those taking part were buffeted by wind gusts that made standing on the school's football field difficult at times.
The winds also had heaped a massive pile of leaves in front of one of the school's exit doors.
"We really appreciate our research partners from the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration's Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division in Oak Ridge for supplying the equipment and for Principal Jane Bell and Camp Creek Elementary for allowing us to locate the equipment in this optimal location with an unobstructed path from the mountains.
"Hopefully this research will grow with more weather towers to see the exact expanse of these winds, but this is a great and meaningful milestone," Matthews said.
Randy White, a NOAA staffer from Oak Ridge, said the new weather monitoring equipment had been installed in mid-November.
He noted that instruments, which are housed on a metal tower behind the school's football fieldhouse include two different types of wind-speed measuring devices.
Matthews said Tuesday marked the first time new equipment had been used to measure the mountain wave winds in action.
Mountain Waves Explained
"The strong to damaging winds in the Camp Creek area are produced from something called mountain waves," said David Gaffin, a Morristown-based Weather Service senior forecaster and principal researcher on mountain waves. "Mountain waves are a meteorological phenomena that produce strong winds (sometimes up to 100 mph) in the foothills of mountain ranges worldwide.
"In the Camp Creek area, mountain waves are formed when strong southeast or south winds develop over the mountains in an air mass that forces these winds as they flow out of the mountains to 'crash' into the valley. These mountain waves can occur several times each year, but mainly between November and March. These mountain waves can also create strong turbulence, which adversely affects aviation."
During an interview at the school, Gaffin said he wonders if winds accelerating along the French Broad River valley on the North Carolina side of the mountains might be contributing to the Mountain Wave phenomena that creates high winds in Camp Creek.
He noted that the very steep mountainside above Camp Creek Elementary School may also contribute to the high winds that occasionally sweep down on the community, damaging homes, barns and other structures.
He noted that he wants to compare wind data from the new weather observation site at Camp Creek Elementary School to see if wind speeds in Camp Creek sometimes surpass those when similar phenomena take place along the Rocky Mountains near Bolder, Colorado.