Category: Met 101/Weather History
On February 13, 1899, one of the coldest airmasses ever observed in the U.S. made it all the way to the Gulf Coast. It was 7F in New Orleans and Pensacola. Mobile dropped to a numbing -1F.
The reading of -2F at Tallahassee still is the state’s coldest reading ever. Many all time state record lows were observed during the cold wave.
In Birmingham, observations were taken at the old Fountain Heights weather office. According to J.B,, records were kept in a beat up old journal. The official low on this frigid morning was -10F at the weather office. Handwritten notes on the journal for the date indicated that the temperature in outlying areas around the city was -14F.
If the reading had been taken at the current observation post at the airport, it would have surely been –14F. If readings had been kept in Pinson then, (normally coldest in Birmingham area) it is safe to bet that the reading there would have been –17F!
Other Alabama lows that cold morning: -7F in Tuscaloosa, Elba and Opelika; -5F in Greensboro; -11 in Florence; -12 in Decatur; -15 in Oneonta; -16 in Hamilton and Scottsboro and –18 in Valley Head.
Greensboro had five inches of snow on the ground.
A major blizzard was spreading a wide swath of snow from Florida to Maine. Snow flurries were reported in Fort Myers, Florida. The blizzard, dubbed the “Storm King,” dumped nearly 16 inches of snow on New York City on top of an 11 inch snowcover. Twenty inches of snow fell at Washington DC and thirty four inches fell at Cape May, NJ.
The pressure in the center of the storm was estimated at 966 Mb (28.53 inches), as strong as a major hurricane.
More cold records that fell during the coldwave included these all time records: -8 DAL, -16 AMA, -23 Tulia for the coldest ever in Texas, -13 at LIT, -22F at KC and -15 at Washington DC.
Snow affected the northern portions of the Outer Banks on Friday, making the tan colored sands of the North Carolina coast look more like the dazzlingly sugar white sands of Northwest Florida and Alabama.
Some snowfall amounts from eastern North Carolina included:
…3 inches at Nags Head
…3.5 inches at Kill Devil Hills
…1 inch at Duck
Winter storm warnings were in effect for the Outer Banks, something you don’t see every day!
The precipitation started out as light snow at Hatteras, but it quickly changed over to rain with temperatures in the middle 30s.
Historically, Cape Hatteras has seen several big snows, including a couple of 7 inch storms and their all time record, 11 inches, which occurred on December 30th in 1917.
Did some digging through the books this morning… here are the top ten warmest Christmas Days since 1900 at Birmingham…
DECEMBER 25 RECORDED HIGHS AT BIRMINGHAM
73 1982, 1942
71 1926, 1922
68 1974, 1904
As you can see, we have exceeded 70 degrees on Christmas Day six times… 1987, 1982, 1942, 1964, 1926, and 1922.
Can we beat the record high of 74 set in 1987? Ensemble data is showing a high of 69 for Birmingham Friday, but we all know that can change.
We will also need to monitor for strong storms Wednesday as severe weather parameters are ramping up a bit, but there is a good bit of uncertainty in this potential.
Scroll down for Brian’s discussion…
I get so many questions about this winter with people seeing all kind of wild reports on TV and the Internet. Let’s separate facts from fiction…
*There is LITTLE skill in a seasonal outlook. So, quite frankly, nobody can really tell you what the winter will be like right now. These are just my thoughts and observations after going operational meteorology in Alabama for 37 years.
*There is a strong El Nino ENSO phase underway.
*Looking at the past can give you a peek into the future, but we have to be careful with using analogs.
*Most previous El Nino years have been wet across the Deep South with few exceptions.
An enhanced southern branch of the jet stream tends to push frequent storm systems through during the winter season.
The same pattern that sets up the active storm track, also tends to keep true Arctic air from advancing this far south very often. It can happen, but El Nino winters here tend to be generally mild.
*When cold air does arrive, it is usually shallow. And, with the active southern storm track that could very well open up the door for more ice threats than snow threats this season. Ice storms are caused by extended periods of freezing rain (liquid precipitation falling with temperatures are below 32 at the surface). Our last significant ice storm was in 1996, and the last catastrophic ice storm was in 1982, so we are somewhat overdue for one. And, trust me, they are no fun.
*Having warm weather at Christmas in Alabama is NOT unusual. Most don’t like it, but this isn’t anything new. People in Alabama were outside in their shorts and t-shirts on Christmas Eve, 1964 when the temperature soared to 77 degrees. Our warmest Christmas Day on record came in 1987, when the high in Birmingham was 74 degrees.
Birmingham soared to 76 on December 16, 1924.
FYI… the warmest December temperature on record is 80, recorded on December 7, 1951.
In Alabama, it never “gets cold and stays cold”. If you are looking for that kind of winter, head north.
*I have heard in recent weeks “I can never remember the weather being this strange”. I will never forget speaking to a civic club for the first time in my career about weather in 1979, and and older gentlemen said those very words to me after my talk. The truth is that our weather is “strange” EVERY year. There is no such thing as “normal” weather. The chaotic state of the atmosphere guarantees that. But, we do have averages based on 100 years or so of weather records, giving us “average” highs and lows.
*I do have some concern for the spring of 2016; the 1997-1998 El Nino brought an active tornado season; many remember the April 8, 1998 EF-5 tornado in Birmingham that killed 32 people.
BOTTOM LINE: I know there are many cold weather fans that want snow. But, again, this is Alabama. It doesn’t snow much here… never has, and never will. We are coming off a number of cold winters with very significant winter weather events, and it won’t be like that always. Expect a relatively mild winter with frequent rain producers. Yes, occasional cold shots. And, watch for winter storms that could bring more ice than snow. But, NOBODY knows for sure. We will just have to wait and see.
On December 16, 2000… an EF4 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 EF3 tornado which stuck the Coats Bend region of Etowah County, near Gadsden, destroying 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. This is the core of the late fall tornado season.
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 (photo from Michael E. Palmer) 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 her story here.
There are some that believe it has always been cold, and should be cold at Christmas in Alabama, and something is wrong this year since we are projecting temperatures, generally speaking, above average through the rest of the month.
Let me say up front, there is no such thing as “normal” weather. The chaotic state of the atmosphere guarantees that. But, we do have averages based on 100 years or so of weather records.
For Birmingham on December 25, the average high is 54, and the average low is 34. But you rarely will find a Christmas with those numbers.
WARMTH: On the warm side, people in Alabama were outside in their shorts and t-shirts on Christmas Eve, 1964 when the temperature soared to 77 degrees. Our warmest Christmas Day on record came in 1987, when the high in Birmingham was 74 degrees.
FYI… the warmest December temperature on record is 80, recorded on December 7, 1951.
No, having mild weather at Christmas is not unusual at this low latitude. In Alabama, it never “gets cold and stays cold”. If you are looking for that kind of winter, head north.
ARCTIC CHILL: But, from time to time, we can have Arctic blasts in late December. The coldest Christmas morning on record came in 1983, when the low in Birmingham was 2 degrees above zero. In 1989, on December 23, the temperature dropped to 1 degree.
WHITE CHRISTMAS? Getting a white Christmas in Alabama is next to impossible, but we did actually have snow five years ago, on December 25, 2010…
For many North Alabama communities, it was their first “white Christmas” on record, and some of those records go back over 100 years. The wet, warmer ground conditions in the City of Birmingham and points southward along the Interstate 65 corridor contributed to most of the snow melting as it made contact with the ground. Only a trace of snow was recorded at the Birmingham International Airport with no snow to measure on the snowboard. The City of Birmingham has therefore still never recorded a White Christmas since records have been kept, which is right at 100 years.
BOTTOM LINE: The weather at Christmas in Alabama is like a box of chocolates… you never know what you are going to get. But, this year, with the strong El Nino pattern in place, sure seems like the best chance of cold and snow will be out west, in the Rocky Mountain states. We will see…