Category: Weather History
On the morning of January 26, 1940, Alabama and the Deep South were in the deep freeze and had been for over a week. Headlines on the Birmingham Age-Herald were dominated by the cold and additional snow that had fallen the day before.
But there were also disturbing news from Europe, where the Nazis were threatening to attack Romania for their oil. The British were planning defense against Nazi air raids. Closer to home, a serious coal shortage was leading to negotiations between the governor and miners for increased production through suspension of work rules.
The forecast for the 26th was for partly cloudy and not as cold conditions. But Friday the 26th would be just as cold as the day before, when the high was 20F. And lows by Saturday morning the 27th would again be 1F.
At 7 a.m., Birmingham Weather Bureau Chief E.C. Horton measured the temperature on the thermometer in his observation shelter at 1.2F. There was still a total of seven inches of snow on the ground. The airport reading, the official location now, was –5F, but the max/min thermometer showed a minimum reading of -6F.
Across North Alabama, temperatures were below zero, including -6F in Florence and -2F in Huntsville.
Horton saw no relief in sight, and called for lows to drop to below zero over northern sections the coming night, with overnight lows for the coming night between 6F and 22F.
The cold had been unprecedented in its duration. It had arrived on the night of January 18th as temperatures plummeted from 34F that afternoon to 2F the following morning. The mercury would not go above freezing until the afternoon of the 21st, and then only to a high of 37F.
The next day would see a high of 42F, but snow would fall much of the night of the 22nd and day of the 23rd, until .5 inches had fallen and a total of 10 inches was on the ground. The thermometer would not recover for the next week. Between the 23rd and 28th, the warmest it would get in Birmingham was 34F.
By the 26th, Skaters were actually able to skate on the frozen surface of the Black Warrior River west of Birmingham, where ice was six inches thick near the banks. A total of nineteen inches of snow was on the ground at Berry in Fayette County, a record that still stands.
An unheard of event!
On the morning of January 25, 1940, the headlines on the Birmingham Age-Herald screamed that more cold was in store for the state. And it had already been very cold.
Since an arctic cold wave invaded the state on the night of the 18th, overnight lows had been in the teens or single digits every morning except for the morning of the 23rd when the low was 24F. The average temperature of 21.3 for the seven day period ending January 25, 1940 still stands as the ninth coldest seven day period in Birmingham history.
The 1940 cold wave still holds most of the cold wave records in Magic City history, including seven of the ten coldest seven day periods, the three coldest ten day periods as well as seven of the top ten coldest ten day periods and the top nine coldest fourteen day periods as well.
On the morning of the 25th, another trace of snow had been added to the mantle of white that blanketed the city. The morning low was 8F and the mercuty once again barely made it to 20F at the Weather Bureau Office atop the hill overlooking downtown in Fountain Heights. There would be three days between the 18th and 31st that the mercury would only reach 20F. By the morning of the 26th, the mercury would register 1F, the coldest of the protracted cold spell.
A powerful cold front moved through on Saturday, January 9, 1982, sending temperatures plummeting. The high on Saturday was 49F, but it was down to 27F by midnight and the mercury was in a free fall like I had never seen. It was bitterly cold all day on Sunday, with the mercury slowly inching through the teens along with a powerful north wind and a few snow flurries. But even more interesting things were on the way. The NOAA Weather Radio that morning gave the standard two day forecast with a three day extended outlook. It called for rain or snow Tuesday night. That is all that a snow fan needed to hear, and with temperatures expected to drop to near zero, the prospects of some wintry precipitation had to be promising.
The morning low on Monday was 2F. The 500 mb chart told the story. A huge vortex was over Quebec, and a cross polar flow was delivering cold air straight into the Southeast. The mercury struggled back up to 27F on Monday, but with the high close by Monday night, winds went dead calm and the mercury plunged to –1F at the Airport during the evening hours. But in response to developing low pressure in the Gulf, cloud cover increased, and by midnight, it was back up to a balmy 13F.
Morning forecasts on Tuesday, January 12th had called for a winter storm watch for occasional sleet and freezing rain that would arrive by sundown. By mid-morning, as freezing rain and sleet across South Alabama was spreading rapidly north, the watch was changed to a winter storm warning. The snow arrived about 8 hours earlier than anticipated in the Birmingham area and quickly changed over to a mix of freezing rain and sleet that turned roads in skating rinks. Thousands of motorists had to abandon their vehicles on roads and hike home or spend the night in shelters. One suburban shopping mall became a huge shelter. So many wrecks occurred that the Birmingham Police Department could not answer the calls for accident investigation.
As temperatures hovered near the freezing mark through the night, freezing rain created a thick coating on all exposed objects. Trees snapped, pulling down power lines and putting as many as 750,000 Alabamians in the dark. Travel became possible for a short while on Wednesday, as temperatures rose to just above freezing at lunch. But the sound of tree limbs snapping under the weight of the ice was like shotguns.
An upper level disturbance brought a nice snowfall on Wednesday night that led to some great sledding and snowball fights on Thursday. But when it was all said and done, twenty Alabamians were dead and another 300 injured and damage totaled $78 million.
With all the talk about the upcoming wintry weather event, I thought we might shift gears for a moment and look back at some weather history that doesn’t involve cold and that happened on this date.
Back in 2009, heavy rains fell across North Central Alabama between January 5-7. The most rain fell from Walker County to Etowah County; where up to seven inches of rain was reported. A bingo hall was flooded in Walker County on the night of the 6th, requiring the rescue of seventy stranded patrons. Eighteen cars were submerged.
While the flooding was a disaster for some people, overall, the rains were very welcome, with long term rainfall deficits still in place in many Alabama counties.
Rain kept coming all year. When all was said and done, it was the third wettest year in Birmingham since 1930.
Greg Carbin will be the Guest WeatherBrain tonight on the weekly netcast that is all about weather!
We will be reviewing the top weather events of 2013 as he presents his Meteorological Musings for 2013. Prepare for some heavy duty alliteration!
Check out the show at www.WeatherBrains.com. You can also subscribe on iTunes. You can watch the show live here.
Folks in Central Alabama will be able to see the show as always on the James Spann 24×7 weather channel on cable systems or directly over the air on the dot 2 feed from ABC3340.
Here is my look back at the top weather events of 2013. Make sure to chime in with your memories, events I overlooked or underrated, as well as your thoughts on the list.
On March 18th, a strong derecho caused widespread tree, power line and structural damage across a large part of North Central Alabama. The powerful line of storms entered the state during the early afternoon and raced eastward, with widespread 60-70 mph winds. Winds gusted to 88 mph on Weiss Lake BEFORE the anemometer broke! There were a total of 151 wind and hail reports across the state. Thirteen people were injured.
April 11th Tornado:
A relatively minor severe weather outbreak produced two dozen tornadoes across Mississippi and Alabama, but one EF3 long track tornado did move into western Alabama’s Pickens County before lunch. The tornado was very photogenic since it was not rain wrapped like many Alabama tornadoes.
On January 17th, an upper level low pressure system caused dynamic cooling that allowed snow to fall across North and Central Alabama despite temperatures in the 40s. Birmingham picked up 2.1 inches. Cullman saw 4 inches. A traffic nightmare developed along I-65 between Decatur and Cullman that evening as thousands of cars were stranded. The jam finally cleared late that night.
January Wake Low/Gravity Wave
A convective system triggered a wake low and gravity wave event across Central Alabama on the evening of January 10th. Trees and power lines were downed across parts of Pickens, Fayette, Sumter, Greene, Tuscaloosa, and Jefferson Counties. Many in these areas lost power. Winds gusted to 74 mph atop the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse.
The state’s capital city recorded two or more inches of rain on three consecutive days February 10-12, with 2.82 inches on the 12th, and a three-day period total of 7.50 inches. A total of 13.36 inches of rain fell in the month, just 0.02 inches short of the all time February record set in 1961.
Birmingham’s Wettest Day
A northward moving warm front produced heavy rain on June 5th, even as Tropical Storm Andrea was forming in the Gulf. The rains were not related directly to the tropical system. A rain amount of 3.57” fell at the Birmingham Airport, the station’s wettest day of 2013. Substantial flooding was reported in parts of the city. There were numerous flash flood warnings across other parts of Central Alabama.
Quiet Severe Weather Year:
Alabama experienced 23 tornadoes in 2013. This is well beneath the 30-year average (1983-2012) of 43. The ten year average (70) is severely skewed by the 2011 totals, which saw 145 tornadoes in the state. The state was not alone in experiencing a tornado drought. The rest of the country saw below average tornado counts as well.
There was no 100F reading in the state of Alabama during the summer. It was only the sixth time since 1883 that has happened. The only other years were 1965, 1974, 1994, 2001, and 2003. The highs on the Fourth of July were 77F at Birmingham and 76F at Anniston. The 76F at Anniston was the coolest Independence Day ever there and the Birmingham temperature was within one degree of the all time cool record high for the date. Then starting on August 15th, Birmingham recorded four straight days with highs in the 70s, including highs of 79F, 70F, 73F and 75F respectively. That has never happened in Birmingham.
Impressive Rainfall Surpluses:
Some reporting stations across the state reporting whopping rainfall surpluses in 2013, like Anniston at +25.85 and Birmingham at +14.41. Dothan had a +24.14 surplus. Interestingly, Tuscaloosa finished with a deficit of -1.11 inches. Of course that is before any rain we receive today. By May 9th, all remaining drought was erased across the state of Alabama. By the end of the year, only a small part of the state was experiencing drought conditions and generous rainfall on the final weekend of the year likely erased that.
Here is my annual list of the top weather events in the U.S. this year:
1. El Reno Tornado: Massive tornado cut a track 16 miles long west and southwest of Oklahoma City. The tornado killed eight people including veteran stormchaser Tim Samaras, his son Paul and chase partner Carl Young. The tornado expanded to 2.6 miles making it the widest tornado on record. Originally rated EF5, the tornado was re-rated as an EF3 in a controversial move because there were no appropriate damage indicators for the higher rating.
2. Colorado Flood: A stalled cold front led to Biblical flooding along the Front Range of Colorado in September. The resulting flooding covered a large part of 17 counties. A new record was established when 9.08 inches of rain fell in 24 hours in Boulder on the 11th and 12th. Rainfall records were set on five of seven days in Boulder during the event. The resulting floods across the Front Range washed out over 50 bridges and numerous roads. Damages totaled $1 billion. Eight people were killed and six were missing.
3. Newcastle/Moore Tornado: The first EF5 tornado since May 24, 2011 struck Newcastle and Moore, Oklahoma, killing 24 people. It was the deadliest tornado in the U.S. since Joplin. Seven children were killed at the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore when a wall fell on them as they sheltered. This led to increased debate about severe weather safety and schools.
4. Firefighters Killed: Nineteen members of an elite firefighter crew from Prescott, Arizona were killed when the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona blew up on June 30th. It was the greatest loss of firefighters in a U.S. wildfire since 1933. It was also the deadliest U.S. wildfire since the 1991 East Bay Hills fire killed 25 people.
5. November Illinois Outbreak: On November 17th, 73 tornadoes struck Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee, killing seven. It was the worst November outbreak in Illinois history. There were two EF4 tornadoes, including one that struck Washington, IL.
6. Back to Back Derechos: On two days in a row, June 12th and 13th, large derechos converged on the Mid-Atlantic States. The June 12 derecho followed a similar path to the June 2012 super-derecho that had knocked out power to millions for 7-10 days. The June 13th derecho had its genesis from southern Ohio and eastern Kentucky into Alabama and Georgia during the morning hours of June 13th. A total of four people died in the two events. Unlike the 2012 event, both 2013 derechos were well forecasted up to three days in advance.
7. Record Streak of Days without Tornado Fatalities Ends: The January 29th and 30th outbreak produced 60 tornadoes across the South, including an EF3 at Adairsville, GA that killed one. It was the first tornado fatality since June 24, 2012, a streak of 219 days that is a record.
8. Low Tornado Count: The SPC’s preliminary tornado count for 2013 will end up at 941. The actual number will probably be pretty close to that. The previous year, 2012, finished with 939 tornadoes, making the two very similar in count, but significantly below the rolling ten year average of 1,342.
9. Tame Hurricane Season: There were thirteen named storms in the Atlantic in 2013, but only two hurricanes. There were no major hurricanes. There have only been 33 such seasons since 1851. The 2013 North Atlantic Hurricane Season will go down as the 14th slowest since 1851 with an Accumulated Cyclone Energy index (ACE) of 30. It is the lowest ACE value since 1983, when a 17 was posted.
10. Record May Snows over the Upper Midwest. An unprecedented spring snowstorm dumped over a foot of snow over Minnesota and Wisconsin. That had never happened in May. The 17.2 inches of snow at Dodge Center, MN may hold up as an all time single storm record for the Gopher State.
…Hattiesburg Tornado (2/10): EF4 tornado injured 60, but good warnings led to no deaths.
…Virginia Fog Chain Reaction (3/31): Easter Sunday fog event on I-77 resulted in 95 vehicle crash that killed 3.
…Powerful October Winter Storm in Upper Midwest (10/4): Second biggest snow ever at Rapid City. Also produced EF4 tornado at Wayne NE.
…New Connecticut State Snow Record (2/9): 36.0″ of snow in Ansonia, CT may be state record.
…Loveland Avalanche (4/20): Colorado’s deadliest avalanche since 1962 killed five people outside the Loveland Ski Resort.
…Plains Drought Eases in Some Areas
Please give your feedback below by commenting! It’s been a fun 2013. Looking forward to a great year next year!
Also, I am working on my list of the top ten Alabama weather events. Send your suggestions!
On December 16, 2000… an F4 tornado tore through the southern part of Tuscaloosa, killing eleven people and injuring over 100. Nine of the fatalities occurred in mobile homes, one in a vehicle, and one in a commercial building converted to residential use. Six of those killed were females and five were males. Ages ranged from 16 months to 83 years old. The tornado was on the ground for a total of 18 miles, all within Tuscaloosa county. The tornado path was estimated to be 750 yards wide at it’s maximum intensity.
There was an excellent warning for the tornado; a warning was issued at 12:40 p.m. on that deadly Saturday, 14 minutes before the twister first touched down in a rural area southwest of Tuscaloosa near the Black Warrior River. The tornado crossed Alabama 69 near Shelton State Community College and Hillcrest High School; destroying a shopping center and many homes. The Bear Creek Trailer Park was hit, where many of the deaths occurred. The tornado moved to the east/northeast, south of Skyland Boulevard, and finally crossed I-59/20 near the Cottondale exit.
We caught the tornado live on our tower camera in Tuscaloosa; we were able to show live video of the twister on ABC 33/40 for almost 10 minutes as it rolled through the southern part of the city of Tuscaloosa. Our StormChaser van was heavily damaged in the storm; John Oldshue and his photographer had to rush in to a Hampton Inn to protect themselves as the tornado passed right over their location. The manager of the motel has all of the guests lined up in a hallway on the lowest floor, and nobody was injured there.
Later in the day, the same parent storm dropped an F3 tornado which stuck the Coats Bend region of Etowah County, near Gadsden, detroying 250 homes and injuring 14 people. Like the Tuscaloosa tornado, excellent warnings were issued by the National Weather Service long before the damage occurred. Just another reminder we can have some very violent weather this time of the year.
See our live coverage of the tornado below… note we had a skeleton staff that day, and the person running the old tower cam over in the newsroom was multi tasking, and doing the best he could to keep up with everything. The problems on this day led to our new SKYCAM system, which we fully control in the weather office.
And, the front page picture from the Tuscaloosa News on December 17, 2000 was so touching. Michael Harris carries an unconscious Whitney Crowder, 6, through debris in Bear Creek Trailer Park after a tornado on Dec. 16, 2000. Whitney’s father and 15-month-old brother were killed in the tornado. Whitney graduated from Tuscaloosa County High School in May 2012; read more about it here.