So You're Curious About Caving?

Laurel Abernathy, Kelli Lewis, Blue Spring Cave, White County, Tennessee

You're curious about caving? It's easy to understand why! Maybe you've seen photographs of caves and you're curious to see these places with your own eyes. Maybe you heard about a friend's excellent adventure through a local cave system and how challenging and rewarding it was for them. Maybe you're looking for the next extreme sport to master or maybe you're interested in learning about history, or a science that's practiced in caves. Whatever your reason, there's a great group of folks who are here to help you on the next leg of your adventure.

Ashley Williams, Secret Cave, Putnam County, Tennessee 1 The National Speleological Society (NSS) is the organization I belong to that is about caves and caving. There are local chapters called grottos. I am a member of a few of these across Tennessee, but the first grotto I belonged to, and the one where I focus most of my energy is the Upper Cumberland Grotto. We are based out of Cookeville, Tennessee.

Grottos duties are to intercept would-be cavers and help introduce them to the world of caving. There are different rules for safety and conservation down there, and you're not born knowing them, so we try to handle that education. We develop landowner relations, we do community outreach and education, we do cleanups, we like to eat food and drink beer, but most importantly we go caving.

Depending on where you live you may or may not be nearby to caves or a grotto, which is usually based out of a city. You can check at Caves.org. look for the link that says "find a caving club near you". Or you can look at this handy map I made which shows the nearest grotto to where you live (note that it's not always accurate to say that a grotto is located somewhere).

Regardless of your proximity to my club, let me extend a formal invitation to come join us at an Upper Cumberland Grotto meeting sometime. We alternate meetings between business and socials. At business meetings we have presentations and usually a handful of us go out for beer and food afterwards. We meet at a restaurant, or maybe the bowling alley, and we hang out and have fun. This is where a lot of caving trips get organized. If you have any questions you're welcome to reach out to me, or the grotto officials that you locate through the above links. We always love to hear from new cavers.

The NSS produces brochures which cover information about the caving community, responsible caving, and more. This is a great place to get started learning about caving.

Below are some selected readings about caving. These are generally written with a novice caver in mind, so don't expect to be overwhelmed.

Dirt Cave Cleanup, Jackson County, Tennessee

Gear for Caving in Tennessee

Why We Don't Share Cave Locations

Vandalism, Dirt Cave, Jackson County, Tennessee 1
Anne Elmore doing a Change-over, Halloween Grotto Party at Jay Green's House, Putnam Co, Cookeville, TN

The Role of Grottos in the Caving Community

The Role of Grottos in the Outside Community

Cleanup, Pilot Knob Cave, Jackson County, Tennessee


Tornadoes of the Upper Cumberland

Possible tornado, Ken McDonald, Putnam County, Tennessee

With tornadoes touchdowns in my neighborhood this last week, I am reminded of this very nice dataset regarding tornadoes. I thought that a focused regional analysis may be appreciated. Below you can see tracks of tornadoes from 1950 - 2017 that are displayed by EF rank (tornado intensity). The tracks are approximations based on a start and end point, which is why they all appear perfectly strait. Note that the path of most of the points is from south-west to north-east. This follows the prevailing winds of the region.

Tornadoes of the Upper Cumberland: 1950 - 2017

Many of the following charts I show will have some minor errors in them that result from data smoothing. Please take these with a grain of salt. The first three charts show temporal trends in tornado behavior in the UC.

Yearly Tornado Activity

From this chart one can see that there have been more lately, but it is hard to draw long term conclusions from this data. The data tapers towards our current date as a result of the smoothing process. Other considerations towards the apparent rise is recent tornadic activity may be accounted for by sampling bias. Increasing population make the likelihood of observing a tornado, as well as a report being made about a tornado is more likely to be done in a more interconnected communication oriented society.

Daily Tornado Activity Throughout the Year (by Julian day)

The most distinct peak occurs around Julian day 90, which approximately is the end of March and beginning of April.

Hourly Tornado Activity

Peak tornado hour is shown to be 4pm by this data.

Length of Tornado Tracks in Miles

Width of Tornado Swath in Yards

Histogram of EF Scales

Software: ArcMap 10.7, Excel, Orange


2020/02/06 - Rock Island State Park Flooding

February 6th, 2020 the Upper Cumberland received a lot of rain. So much so, that it was worth a few minutes to whip up a map to help visualize how much. White and Cumberland Counties got the lion's share with 4.30 and 4.21 inches of rain on average across each county, respectively. A more detailed breakdown of the rain is below, along with some dramatic images and videos taken mostly at Rock Island State Park in Warren and White Counties.

Using lidar to estimate normal and flood stage conditions witnessed yesterday, I suspect the water was nearly 30' above its normal stage. Normal stage is approximately 651' FASL, and the cliff edges being nearly inundated are at 681' FASL.
Upper Cumberland Precipitation 02/06/2020

Hydroelectric plant, Caney Fork River, Rock Island State Park, White County, Tennessee 1

Caney Fork River, Rock Island State Park, Warren County, Tennessee 1

Twin Falls, Caney Fork River, Rock Island State Park, Warren County, Tennessee

All Flickr Photo and Videos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/chucksutherland/albums/72157713005510572