A1 A1
2019 Sets New Weather Records

The high temperature on Christmas Day was about 15 degrees above normal.

A fall drought, intensified by a scorching heat wave, established eight new single-day temperature record highs in September.

This June stands as the second wettest in that month’s recorded history.

The flooding that came in February – a weather event the region still hasn’t fully financially recovered from – damaged numerous roads and punished farmers. Across Greene County and East Tennessee, these events were part of an occasionally extreme 2019.


Greene County is set to end 2019 around 1.5 feet above the yearly average for precipitation. About 60 inches of rain and snow have fallen in the county over the last 12 months, records from the University of Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center at Greeneville and the National Weather Service show. The norm in Greene County is about 42 inches.

The year started on a rainy note. The UT Center recorded almost 17 inches of precipitation from Jan. 1 through the end of March. For that same period, the historical average is about 10 inches.

February was especially wet. Then, the county received more than 8 inches of rain, twice the normal amount.

Soaring temperatures and limited precipitation near summer’s end replaced winter and spring rain, triggering a flash drought in late August. The U.S. Drought Monitor listed almost all of Greene County in a severe drought, a category that usually means crop and pasture losses, plus water shortages on farmland.

The UT Center notched only 0.24 inches of rain in September. For perspective, the month’s average is over 3 inches. A rainy October helped end the drought.


Record-setting weather no doubt prompts some to wonder: is extreme weather happening more regularly in eastern Tennessee? The answer is complicated, meteorologists have argued.

In an era when politicians weaponize weather forecasts – in some instances disparaging the scientists who write about climate change, and in other cases, defending them – area forecasters have made plain the complexity of linking specific instances of severe weather to human-caused variations in the climate.

The task is even more difficult in southern Appalachia, where weather records go back less than 100 years at the Tri-Cities airport, the nearest National Weather Service climate site.

“It’s hard to imagine scientists talking about the climate warming when we in East Tennessee don’t really experience those significantly warmer temperatures,” Anthony Cavalluci, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Morristown, told the newspaper earlier this year. “However, when the eastern U.S. is experiencing a record cold blast, I encourage you to look at the western U.S. where record heat will surge into Alaska and western Canada.”

As forecasters in East Tennessee analyze more data, the public will likely see a more complete climate picture. What forecasters at the National Weather Service define as “normal” is based on records logged and averaged from 1981 through 2010. The new set of “normals” will come from 1991 through 2020. Then, forecasters might find that regional temperatures have warmed in the region, according to Cavalluci. That new data will also help put in perspective some of the area’s more recent unusual weather.

“Extreme weather is certainly happening here,” the National Weather Service’s Elyse Hagner said in 2016. “It’s just difficult to track and say with certainty the trajectory of it because our records only go back to the 1930s here. And that, in the meteorological sense, isn’t that far.”


As for the rest of winter, and what to expect early in 2020, long-range forecasts have been frustratingly less than straightforward. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s official forecast for Greene County is a slight chance for above-average temperatures and an equal chance for normal precipitation.

Rain and snow seem likely through the first two weeks of the New Year, but temperature highs through Jan. 10 are poised to stay in the mid-to-upper 40s, making serious snow accumulation unlikely.

In Greeneville, forecasters predict sunshine and temperatures peaking near 50 on New Year’s Eve and Jan. 1.

Helton Family Visit USS Greeneville

When Greenevillians visit Hawaii, a first-hand look inside the town’s namesake fast-attack nuclear submarine might be a particular highlight of the trip.

Debra Helton said when she and her family — husband Jim and children Noah, Ashton and Seth — went to Hawaii for vacation with her brother-in-law and his family, the USS Greeneville was docked at Pearl Harbor for maintenance and the family were allowed on board.

“As we toured the submarine we got to witness just how well trained and dedicated that the sailors that man these submarines are,” Helton said.

Helton said the crew members were “very friendly, welcoming and professional” and that she and her family enjoyed meeting them.

“It’s just amazing what they actually do on the ship, and everyone has a special part,” Helton said. “Everyone was very nice and told us a little bit about what they were doing.”

Helton said what surprised her most was seeing just how small the interior of the submarine is and that the crew all share one washer and dryer.

The Heltons’ older son Seth, who joined his family for the trip, is in the Navy, so Helton said she had been on board other ships in the past, but not a submarine like the USS Greeneville.

Helton said Seth, a graduate of West Greene High School, was on his first deployment this time last year.

“On the ships you can at least have two people walking down the hallway and they can pass each other, but on the submarine it’s one way,” Helton said. “I would be claustrophobic.”

Helton said while the trip was a joint vacation, it was a good thing only the Greeneville Heltons went on board the submarine, as it was so small and cramped they wouldn’t have been able to move around if anyone else had joined them.

Security onboard is tight, so the Heltons were not allowed to bring their phones with them, but they were still able to have a photo taken with the USS Greeneville sign after their tour.

Executive Officer Justin Ogburn was their tour guide, and the family were also greeted at the airport by U.S. Navy Chief of the Boat Jonathan Render, his wife Stephanie and Ombudsman Kaitie Anderson.

“It is amazing and impressive that these sailors live and work in such a small and confined space,” Helton said.

The family brought gifts for the crew, including a game of Greeneville-themed Monopoly.

“They were all thrilled,” she said.

Greeneville and Greene County have maintained a strong relationship with the submarine and crew both before and after its commissioning in 1996.

In 1989, the community convinced the U.S. Navy to name a fast-attack nuclear sub after Greeneville, following petition campaigns that collected more than 20,000 names, a major letter-writing campaign and even a visit by 12 community leaders to Washington, D.C.

Over the years, sailors from the USS Greeneville have visited the town to talk with school groups, participate in community projects, lead the Greeneville parades and host a reunion for past and current crew members and their families.

USS Greeneville Inc., a nonprofit organization, serves as the link between the community and the submarine. The organization will soon begin preparing for the 25th anniversary of the USS Greeneville’s commissioning, to be celebrated in summer of 2021.

President of the organization and friend of the Helton family Dale Long helped set up the tour for the family.

“They seemed excited, and after the visit they were very impressed with the crew and the boat,” Long said. “If anyone is visiting Hawaii, please contact me to possibly arrange a visit to the boat.”

Helton said USS Greeneville Captain Terry Nemec’s wife Sheila was also instrumental in organizing their tour.

The Heltons also enjoyed beaches, hiking, and visiting other sites, including the USS Wisconsin, but the family especially enjoyed seeing the USS Greeneville.

“We had a really good time,” Helton said. “The citizens of Greeneville should be proud to have their name on this awesome naval asset.”

Tennessee Gun Law To Change In 2020

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee will soon begin offering a new concealed carry-only handgun permit that doesn’t require an applicant to demonstrate the ability to fire a weapon.

Under the new handgun law, a permit to carry a concealed handgun could be obtained after online training of at least 90 minutes. The current handgun carry permits, to be known as “enhanced handgun carry permits,” would still remain an option. Those permits require eight hours of in-person training with live firing required — a testing procedure that critics say is time-consuming and burdensome.

The National Rifle Association’s legislative arm backed the new measure. But the Tennessee Firearm Association opposed it, contending that other states may refuse to acknowledge Tennessee’s existing handgun carry permits or only the new ones. The group also said adding the permit could get in the way of its goal of permitless carry.

While the bill was being debated during the 2019 legislative session, Democratic lawmakers criticized the bill for its lax rules and testing requirements.

At one point, Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro, a Democrat from Nashville, said he was able to skip an online training course’s videos and finish while the legislative committee he was in advanced the bill. The Tennessee chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a nationwide organization working to curb gun violence, also opposed the bill.

In late November, the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security began accepting applications from vendors seeking to offer online concealed-carry classes. Applications must include proof of handgun instructor certification.

The new concealed-carry only permit application would be $65, instead of the enhanced handgun carry permit’s $100 fee. However, that $65 fee does not include the cost of the online course.

As of Friday, the Department of Safety and Homeland Security had approved just two vendors to offer online courses: Clarksville Guns and Archery Tennessee Carry Permit Online School and Tier One Tactics. Both courses cost just under $40.

Only one vendor has been denied approval due to their course being too short, a spokeswoman with the agency confirmed.

Concealed-carry only permit holders cannot carry their weapon on any state college or university campus.

The new law goes into effect Jan. 1. Most new laws are implemented at the beginning of a fiscal year, which kicks off on July 1, but a handful are also scheduled for later if the state needs more time to prepare for the changes.

Other new laws taking effect in Tennessee will:

— Require state employee insurance to cover proton therapy, an alternative treatment for certain cancers. Proton therapy is a highly advanced form of radiation treatment, which uses protons rather than X-rays to treat cancer. Officials say the advantage of proton therapy is that it can be better controlled and deliver higher doses of radiation to tumors with fewer side effects.

— Require any prescription for an opioid to be issued electronically. This law was approved by the Tennessee Legislature in 2018, but the state allowed more time for providers and pharmacies to comply.