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Location: Mars Hill, NC, United States

A small, highly personalized real estate firm specializing in mountain homes and land in greater Asheville.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Living Around Asheville: "The Lapse Rate"

Part 1 of a Series on Mountain Weather

Living and driving in the mountains means that one will encounter dramatic changes in elevation above sea level, and with it, comes notable differences in local weather.

Asheville itself sits at 2,288 feet above sea level. However, in the space of 20 miles or less, one can climb to more than twice that elevation. So, in 20 miles or less, the local weather can be remarkably different, but why? There are a number of different factors that answer that question. Today, we deal with one of those.

Let's go back to grammar school geography, and recall what exactly is the lapse rate. An official definition reads as follows:
The decrease of an atmospheric variable with height, the variable being temperature, unless otherwise specified.
Stated an easier way, as one travels to higher elevations, the temperature will drop. But does it drop fast enough to matter?

All things being equal, the average rate of change will be 3.56 degrees F per 1,000 feet change in elevation. Perhaps the impact on residents is beginning to reveal itself with some simple arithmetic?

Therefore, to change one's elevation by 2,000 feet, something that thousands of people do here every day, accounts for a difference in the local temperature of 7.12 degrees F, (2 X 3.56 degrees F).

Obviously, in the winter, when the Asheville TV station forecasts 36 degrees F, this will mean something in the area of 28.9 degrees F at 4,200, or more dramatically, 25.4 degrees F at 5,200 feet. In the summer, the effect is dreamily, the same.

In winter, the lapse rate can represent the difference between rain and snow. As we will examine in future parts of this series, when combined with other mountain phenomenon, it can sometimes mean the difference between sunshine and lots of white stuff, just part of the adventure that is mountain life, in any season. Stay tuned.

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