Where's winter? Sunday sets record at 71 degrees in Chattanooga

Where's winter? Sunday sets record at 71 degrees in Chattanooga

December 23rd, 2013 by Jeff LaFave in Local Regional News

Cars drive through rain runoff on Signal Mountain Boulevard on Sunday. The Chattanooga airport measured high of 71 degrees, a record high temperature for Dec. 22, but drier air and more seasonal temperatures will arrive in time for Christmas.

Photo by C. B. Schmelter/Times Free Press.

Oh, the weather outside is frightful - but not in the way you might expect in the days leading up to Christmas.

The greater Hamilton County area saw plenty of rain, thunderstorms and unseasonably warm temperatures over the weekend rather than seasonal chills and visions of sugarplum fairies. Sunday's high of 71 degrees at the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport set an all-time Chattanooga high for Dec. 22.

But the local area was spared the worst of the giant storm that spawned a fatal tornado in Arkansas, set off warning sirens in Nashville and lashed Huntsville, Ala., with wind damage.

The overnight weather system Saturday soaked East Brainerd with 4.47 inches of rain by 10 a.m. Sunday, according to the National Weather Service office in Morristown, Tenn. The least amount of rain in the area was recorded on Signal Mountain at 0.90 inches. But runoff from the rock cliffs lining the upper stretch of Signal Mountain Boulevard still made for hazardous driving. The airport recorded 1.9 inches of rain by Sunday morning.

"Red" flood warnings -- meaning more than 3 cm of rain had fallen within one hour -- were issued for Hamilton County, as well as Dade and Whitfield counties in North Georgia, on Sunday evening. The National Weather Service said Lookout Creek in Hamilton and Dade counties was at 11 1/5 feet, with flood stage at 12 feet.

But dispatchers for Hamilton County towns and for Fort Oglethorpe's police department all said they'd received no flood-related calls as of Sunday evening.

Six of the Tennessee Valley Authority's main regional dams -- Chickamauga, Nickajack, Watts Bar, Guntersville, Pickwick and Kentucky -- were spilling water to control excess flow, a spokesman said.

"Naturally, the numbers get bigger as you go further downstream due to cumulative water flow, but in no cases is it straining our ability to keep the rivers where they need to be," said TVA spokesman Jim Hopson.

Hamilton County was northwest of the weather service's flash-flood watch zone Sunday, which stretched from the Gulf Coast northeast through Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia.

The Associated Press reported two tornadoes touched down in Arkansas, killing one woman in the community of Hughes. Two people were killed in Mississippi.

North Alabama suffered a barrage of power outages, flash floods and wind damage across the northern part of the state. Wind reached gusts of 37 mph at Huntsville International Airport and peaked at 48 mph in Monte Sano, according to Huntsville TV station WHNT. Motorists were advised to be wary of downed power lines and dangerous driving conditions.

The good news -- for both Hamilton County and other southeast states -- is that the weather should calm down and be far more jolly as Christmas comes.

Nick Austin, a meteorologist at WRCB Channel 3, expects the weather will "cool down and dry out" during Christmas week.

A cold front was expected to flow into the Tennessee Valley on Sunday night, with rain only in the forecast through this afternoon. The holiday weather on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is projected to be fair but seasonably chilly, with lows in the 20s.

"If we're lucky, we'll get to 40 degrees," Austin said.

At the very least, the dip in temperature may cause Chattanooga's citizens to really settle into the holiday spirit.

"It's going to feel a lot more like winter, that's for sure," Austin said.

Contact staff writer Jeff LaFave at jlafave@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow him on Twitter at @presslafave.