Climate of Grayson County, Virginia
The climate of the Upper New River Valley significantly contributed to the delay in settlement of the valley. Moravian Bishop Gottlieb Augustus Spanenberg, one of the first white men to extensively explore the valley, noted in his diary many of his observations. A key reason that he did not bring his planned colony to the Upper New River Valley was climatic, the other was the lack of a level enough tract for the 100,000 acres he was looking for.
Spanenberg noted that the winter was fiercely cold, and this was a man raised in Central Europe and knew cold. It was so cold, according to the good Bishop, that water froze beside the fire. Instead of the New River his colony settled at what is now Forsythe County, North Carolina. His Moravians founded the thriving Salem settlement, now incorporated into Winston-Salem.
Other more scientific measurements seem to indicate that the winter of 1752-3 was an anomaly, however the measurements reveal that the area does suffer more than the surrounding country from winter cold and wind. The average temperature averages at least 10 degrees lower than the Piedmont, less than 50 miles to the east. The Valley also averages 5 degrees cooler than the nearby valleys that run northeast-southwest through Virginia and into Tennessee. Mountain tops and ridges away from the larger streams often are even colder in winter or cooler in summer. The last frost in spring is early enough to allow most crops to mature before the first frost of the fall.
Tradition indicates that the winter of 1883 was exceptionally cold, probably as a result of the Krakatoa volcanic eruption in the South Pacific. In the year that followed this catastrophe half a world away there was frost every month of the year, in fact 1883 was known as the year without a summer, but the effects were felt far and wide, not just in the New River Valley. Crops this year failed and some of the families of the valley suffered, having to consume their seed stocks, causing great hardship in a time in which there was virtually no money to buy replacement supplies.
Arthur Fletcher noted, that there were very big snows in 1838, 1886, 1888 and 1959. He further noted, "The big snow of 1886 was deep enough to cover all fences and was on the ground so long that Ashe County’s deer population, along with other game was almost completely destroyed." Modern records indicate that the region receives an average annual snow fall of about 25 inches. This snow fall is vital to replenishing the water table or the Valley.
Despite the problems with temperature, the region enjoys some advantages the piedmont sections do not – abundant rainfall in spring, summer and autumn and snowfall in winter. This precipitation has let the valley avoid the ravages of summer droughts suffered in the piedmont. There are of course exceptions to these generalizations, one being the drought of 1862, which was a severe burden on the infant Confederate States of America, which needed abundant crops that year to supply the armies in the field.
Rain and snow have caused most of the still talked about natural disasters which permeate the folk-lore of the valley. The valley’s great floods of 1833, 1916, 1940 and 1990 were the results of hurricanes on the Atlantic coast which came inland. Other spring seasons have had heavy rainfalls, enough so to cause flash-floods, some of which have taken the lives of valley residents. Flash floods have taken more lives than any other type natural disaster in the area. Another key advantage to life in the Upper New River Valley is the shelter the mountains provide. The region is relatively free from high winds and there has never been a tornado in the Upper New River Valley in its recorded history.
According to Fletcher, this valley "…is sunny. The total amount of sunshine varies from about 53 percent of the total possible in winter to about 70 percent in the fall. The average for the year is close to 61 percent…. the fair day average is 165, partly cloudy, 100 and cloudy 100."