January 2022 with its snow and cold temperatures was a shock to Yadkin Valley residents. All the snow had most of us in the area looking for snow shovels or mittens. Depending on where you live it has been two, or three years since your last significant snow. In this throwback year, some have seen four snows in January 2022.
In spite of four January snows, I heard of no millponds freezing over. Our area in North Carolina’s Piedmont used to be dotted with grist mills which usually required a millpond to run. My ancestors, including my Uncle Joe Styers once ran a mill at the Yadkin Valley site pictured above.
All this cold weather feels unusual because winters are changing in North Carolina. I was in elementary school in Lewisville just west of Winston-Salem during the locally famous March of 1960 cold snap. It snowed for three straight Wednesdays. Since so many roads were dirt back then, we hardly went school that month. Even during what still is the coldest March on record, I don’t remember any ponds freezing over. I was a dedicated fisherman even at the age of eleven, and I paid attention to the condition of ponds.
Frozen ponds are part of North Carolina’s history even here in foothills. My stories of iced-over waters came from my mother. She was born in 1910 on a millpond in Yadkin County where her dad, Walter Styers, had a water-powered gristmill that ground grain between two big millstones. His millpond was just a little over five miles further north from the site above on a tributary of North Deep Creek. Their homestead and pond were just off Union Cross Church Road. Mother’s vivid stories of men driving wagons onto the frozen mill pond and sawing out blocks of ice have stayed with me. The blocks of ice she remembered were hauled back to the shore and stored in a sawdust filled underground ice house. According to mother they enjoyed iced lemonade and homemade ice cream from their treasure trove of stored mill pond ice.
The recent cold got me wondering if I could look back at state climate records and find something to lend scientific credibility to mother’s stories. I checked the NC State Climate Records, and I found the winters when my mother was young were much colder. All in that era were colder, but two winters, 1912-13 and 1913-14, when she was a toddler were strikingly colder. The two winters had 107 and 106 days respectively when the low temperature was below freezing according to Winston-Salem records which are the closest ones that go back that far. To put that in perspective, the same station only had 39 days with lows below freezing in 2019-20, and back in 2013-14 there were only 11 days with lows below freezing.
Another interesting piece of data is that in the winter of 2013-14, the first day with a low temperature below 32F was October 22. The last day was an amazing May 5.
While the records are far from complete, logic indicates that there was a great drop in the number of days with lows below freezing by the time we get to the fifties when I was in grade school. It looks like it is quite possible that my mother did see or at least was reminded by oral history that men did take teams on the ice and cut ice from her dad’s millpond.
If you are wondering about the winter 1960 with all its March snows, it was a little old-fashioned with 90 days with lows below freezing. It makes you wonder if our grandchildren will some day be talking about snow on the ground like we are talking about iced-over ponds.