Thirty Years Ago Today…

| January 12, 2012 @ 7:00 am

A powerful cold front moved through Alabama on Saturday, January 9, 1982, sending temperatures plummeting. The high on Saturday at Birmingham was 49, but it was down to 27 by midnight and the mercury was in a free fall like I had never seen. It was bitterly cold all day on Sunday the 10th, 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 the 11th was 2. 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 –1 at the Birmingham Airport during the evening hours. In response to developing low pressure in the Gulf, cloud cover increased, and by midnight, it was back up to a balmy 13.

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.

Brookwood 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.

Reader Brandy Carden sent in this photo of her and her uncle from t he event. She was 3 at the time. The picture was taken between Roanoke and Woodland.


If you have any pictures from the 1982 event, please send them to

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Category: Met 101/Weather History

About the Author ()

Bill Murray is the President of The Weather Factory. He is the site’s official weather historian and a weekend forecaster. He also anchors the site’s severe weather coverage. Bill Murray is the proud holder of National Weather Association Digital Seal #0001 @wxhistorian

Comments (19)

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  1. Pat says:

    I think I remember this one. I went to work at UAB prepared to stay, worked a double and slept at the hospital. My then boyfriend (now husband) abandoned his car near Elmwood, and walked to his parents house, nearly in Bluff Park. I did get to leave the hospital Wednesday am, since temps were slightly above freezing. I spent 2 days at my grandmother’s, and survived reasonably well, since she had a gas stove, gas hot water, and a gas heater in the bathroom.(At the time, I was bored out of my mind, and didn’t realize how good I had it!) I had to work Friday, and a Homewood policeman picked me up to meet the UAB van which never showed, so he took me over 20th street. I’ll never know how he did that, brake and slide, brake and slide all the way to to UAB, or how he ever got back over the mountain! From my recollection, things were much better by the time I got off Friday afternoon. I am definitely not a fan of ice storms!

  2. laura says:

    Hi Pat. I too spent the night at the hospital(Montcliar) to be able to work. That was my second time to stay in-house so I could work in the ice/snow. I now really don’t like it. Now that I am old I have worked my way up to a position so I don’t have to spend the night. Ahh fireplace and hot chocolate!

  3. Lawrence Weedov says:

    I worked 48 hrs in a 72 hr. period as other employees had difficulty
    getting to work.

  4. Shady says:

    I remember this storm. I was in 6th grade at the time and had not heard a word about snow being forecast. I was at school on Tues and found out about the early dismissal at the time they dismissed us. I waited outside in sleet for someone to come pick me up. My sister arrived and we had a very exciting drive home. I remember numerous cars pulled over and abandoned along the length of Greensprings Hwy through Homewood. We made it home safely.

    Through the night the ice coated everything outside. It was like a winter wonderland! I had never seen anything like it. I also remember how unbelievably cold it was. The pool in my parents’ back yard froze over. We lost power, but we had gas logs to keep the living room warm. The next day my older siblings came to my parents’ huddle up with us through the storm. My sister worked at Brookwood Hospital at the time and an ambulance had to come pick her up because there was no possibility of travel on the roads. I thought it was exciting!

    The next day was my birthday and I got a bathing suit as one of my presents, lol! I remember so clearly because my mother wanted me wear it and pose by the frozen and snow covered pool for a picture. I wish I had now!

    It was a great snow storm as a kid. The branches were coated in ice which made the snow that followed stick to them. The pine branches were heavy with ice and snow and drooped making everything look so surreal. We sledded and built snow men and played in the snow all day. One of our neighbors worked for the Birmingham News at the time and mentioned us in his story, saying that my mom couldn’t even bake a birthday cake for me because of the power outage.

    That snow remians one of the fondest memories of my childhood! I was kind of hoping for a repeat performance this week, minus the ice. Oh well. =D

  5. weather says:

    Thanks for the 1982 Warning! Let it snow! Let it snow! We will get snow or i’m taking a vacation in Colorado.

  6. Audra in Moody says:

    weather, I think your odds are much better with the trip to Colorado 🙂

  7. ~Kim~ in Smokerise says:

    LOL @ Audra and Weather we can rent a Tour Bus and all of us go.

  8. danny p says:

    I remember it well, I was senior in St Clair County High and they gave us the day off (cancelled) due to the impending weather. So I went hunting. A friend and I sat in the woods watching for something to shoot at (no animal of any kind showed its head) in the freezing cold temps. It started snowing and sleeting lightly about 11 and my friends mom made me go home (while I still could). We lost power that night and did not get it back for days. I remember being disappointed that there was not more snow (mostly ice). It did snow the next day but only an inch or so, but the ice was on everything! My brother and I spun out (not intentionally) on the icy roads three days later and almost wrecked his car.
    It was beautiful, but treacherous, and man was it ever cold before the storm hit. My thermometer on the front porch went down to -4, there first time I had ever seen the outside temp below zero, and only once since (1985).

    Oh, and I also remember listening to JB Elliot on my bran new weather radio I had gotten for Christmas, what a calm reassuring voice he had/has, while relaying the seriousness of the conditions. Thanks JB.

  9. Acid Reign says:

    …..That storm was NASTY! As I seem to recall, you had a base of ice on it, then a couple of inches of snow on top of that, then more ice on top. Walking out on the porch was TREACHEROUS! The power was off, of course! (Reliable! sez Alabama Power…) It was COLD! And it stayed cold, for nearly a week. Despite fires, and gas hot water, after about 5 days, the indoor temp was down to 37 in the house. We were preparing to shut off the water, fill the toilets with kerosine, and abandon ship to a motel, when at last… The power came back on!

    …..In that sort of environment, it was a RELIEF to go to work, where they had heat. Only good thing was that sledding was at an all-time best in Birmingham, if you could stand the cold! Sleds ran like rockets, on that ice! I bought a sled from Huffstutler’s Hardware, YEARS ago, hoping for another event like that. Sadly, there have been none, since Winter Storm 1993…

  10. BeninGrantley says:

    I remember this storm as well. I was a senior at JSU at the time. I remember how cold it was before the snow hit. It was mostly snow for us because our temps never got high enough for the sleet/ice. We did get some sleet but not as much as some people did. I think its the only time we had a good snow and didn’t lose power. I just searched through my dads old calendars to find that date, as he kept records of every day’s weather conditions . Him being a farmer he had to, just to have an idea of what to plant and when. He recorded a low of -7 on tuesday the 12th. Wednesday he recorded 9″s of snow on level. Tuesday night he had a comment on how still it was outside. “its Deadly silent this evening, we are in for falling weather” were his exact written words. On the 18th he said “the last of the snow has left the shady spots, good riddance” It seems to me that we used to have an occurance of snows during the late 70’s through the early 90’s about once every 2-3 years but the last 10-15 years have been devoid of these memorable snowfalls. I feel sorry for the kids that haven’t expeirenced a true Alabama snow. It is pretty special.

  11. Deb says:

    I think we are due some really good winter weather. I just hope I am not at work…I would love for my kids to see a Blizzard of 93

  12. Rebecca says:

    I’ve talked to James about this many times. It was back when I was a paramedic working with Suburban Ambulance and back when James had (more) hair! 🙂

  13. Melba says:

    I remember that event like it was yesterday. I worked @ BellSouth on 280 at the time, but lived in Trussville. We were getting reports from fellow co-workers out of New Orleans & Miss that it was headed our way. We couldn’t convince the powers to be to allow us to leave until it became apparent that we were in big trouble trying to go up a steep hill from the AOC bldg. (directly across from the entrance of the Summit Shopping Center) just to get onto 280 before trying to make our way home up & down steep grades all along the 280 corrider. I finally had to abandon my vehicle with several hundred others on 280 near the water works. The one thing I do remember about my windshield was watching the extreme cold actually crack it all the way across. I walked to a home nearby to borrow a phone. (No cell phones in those days). The young teenager allowed several of us who were stranded to enter their home in the Overton Road community. I will never forget his kindess in letting me have a pair of his sneakers (I had on open toed shoes) & a warm cup of hot chocolate. I walked from the water works down the steep hill to Broodwood Village. I was one of the many folks stranded there. Somehow, my dad who lived in SW Birmingham area of Green Acres against all odds make it to Brookwood many hours later (after dark) in his PU to get me. We then proceeded from there for a very long and angonizing drive to downtown Birmingham to pick-up my baby who was being babysitted by my husband’s grandmother who lived in the housing district. From there another several hour drive to my parents home in Midfield. We ended up staying with them for most of the week due to the extreme cold freezing & bursting our water pipes twice before that horrible winter would let up. That was all with a 4 month old baby. That baby is now 27 with 2 babies of his own….my how time has flown….. : )

  14. Bird says:

    Wasn’t this the event that stranded so many workers downtown because it came earlier than expected? I worked on Southside and my employer, Liberty National, dismissed us about 30 minutes before everybody else in town, so I missed the major traffic jam and made it home to East Lake fairly quickly. Many coworkers who lived further away said it took them 6-7 hours to get home that day. Definitely not fun!

  15. Jeff says:

    I had just moved back into my dorm at University of Montevallo the weekend this was ramping up, ready to start a new semester after the break. We never had classes that week and on-campus students had sledding parties on any hill we could find, using the cafeteria trays as sleds! With all the large old trees on campus, we could hear the cracking and crashing of giant ice-covered limbs throughout the day and night. A certain classmate who is now a local funny weatherman had a Honda Civic parked on the street under a huge oak tree not far from our dorm. He discovered the ice had toppled the tree right onto his car, crushing it flat to the street.

  16. This storm has been etched in my mind as one of my fondest memories in my young adult liftime. I worked for S.P. Richards Company located in Hoover, Alabama. It seems that they had been predicting snow for a while and it never happened. Then one morning after I got to work the day became more concerning. My boss finally allowed us to leave which seemed like either sometime before lunch or shorly thereafter, I’m not sure. The drive was tretcherous. I made my way up interstate 65 north to 59 north, I got off of the 1st avenue exit and continued up West Boulevard. The road was long and uphill. I had to abandon my car in a church parking lot at the bottom of the hill. As I walked up the hill I actually met up with my Day who had to do the same thing. We made it home and my family faired well in comparison to some other family. I remember my Mom being very concerned that her Sister was without coffee. That was a necessity. This was one of my fondest memories as a young adult especially now that my parents are no longer alive. I’ll never forget it.

  17. Also, I will submit a picture of my sister Holly and I. If you look in the background of the picture, you will see a piece of cardboard that we used to slide down the hill of 93rd street. I no longer live in Birmingham, but it is my strong desire to move back there and hopefully retire. I tell my children of my memories as a child and young adult of the snow that I experienced on many occasions. There is nothing like it. It is a sort of magical insulation that makes everything very quiet. The animals are not even moving around. To look at the snow as it is coming down in the light of a street lamp and the smell is something to be remembered.
    My mom and dad would always wake us kids up and say “go look outside” and we would know, it had snowed.
    One more thing, the excitement of the weather stations announcing the school closings. I would give anything for my children to have experienced it.

  18. Tom McEnery says:

    I usually don?t post in Blogs but your blog forced me to, amazing work.. beautiful

  19. Power went off so we put two large steaks out side on the table. Going to grill later in the day. Next door dog jumped the fence and ate both.