- Associated Press - Sunday, January 15, 2017

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - It’s the record that wasn’t: A state weather committee, meeting for the first time since it was formed more than 10 years ago, has determined that 41 inches of snow didn’t fall on Mount Mitchell almost a year ago.

Instead, experts reviewed the evidence and revised the total to 21 inches for the 24-hour period ending at 7 a.m. on Jan. 23, 2016, leaving the 1993 record of 36 inches intact.

The 41-inch measurement “was so far off from what everything else that it didn’t look reasonable,” said Ryan Boyles, who was the state climatologist when the State Climate Extremes Committee reviewed the record. He now works for the U.S. Geological Survey based at N.C. State University in Raleigh.

State climate extreme committees were formed in 2006 at the behest of the Asheville-based National Centers for Environmental Information to review statewide record weather events such as high and low temperatures, precipitation and 24-hour snowfall. A national committee that reviews record national weather events was formed in 1996.

Mount Mitchell rises 6,684 feet, making it the highest point east of the Mississippi, and has a climate more similar to that of Canada than the rest of North Carolina . State park rangers are responsible for recording the weather there year-round, Boyles said.

Typically, the liquid precipitation report from Mount Mitchell would be used to verify the snowfall total. But that gauge was snowed under so the committee looked at nearby weather stations where the ratio of snow to liquid was 9-to-1 or 10-to-1 with 1.55 inches of liquid precipitation reported in Fletcher.

If Mount Mitchell had had 1.5 inches of liquid, that would give a 26-to-1 ratio with 41 inches of snow - well outside the bounds of the nearby stations, according to the report on the state climatologist’s website .

That ratio “is absolutely unheard of,” said Corey Davis, an applied climatologist who wrote the layman-friendly report for the state climatologist website. “That was the smoking gun in this event. That much snow in this event was almost impossible, meteorologically speaking.”

The committee also reviewed reports of snowfall and liquid precipitation further north, such as in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., where the storm was more intense, before deciding unanimously to ditch the record report.

Eventually, the committee reviewed more liquid precipitation totals and agreed to give Mount Mitchell a 13-to-1 ratio, settling on 21 inches as the snowfall total.

Several years ago, the state climate extremes committee reviewed 250 records and revised 104 of them, according to a report in published in 2013 by the American Meteorological Society.

“There was some good-natured grumbling that somebody would lose a record or gain a record,” when the report was sent to local weather offices for review, said Karsten Shein, a physical scientist at NCEI and an author of the report about the review and revisions . “But there was no real dissension.”

In just one or two cases, local officials found paperwork that changed the outcome, he said.

At Mount Mitchell, the rangers who measure the snowfall measure in the same place for each event, said Boyles, who can only surmise the snow drifted more there than it had previously.

Mount Mitchell, however, still has the record for 24-hour snowfall, with the 36 inches that fell in 24 hours during the “Storm of the Century” in March 1993.

“That’s still the storm that a lot of undergrads study because it was such an intense storm to not be associated with a tropical event,” Boyles said.

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Follow Martha Waggoner on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc

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