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The 1982 Ice Storm

| 10:07 pm January 11, 2007 | Comments (28)

A powerful cold front moved through on Saturday, January 9, 1982, sending temperatures plummeting in Birmingham. 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 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.

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  1. Michael Mills says:

    Man I recall that storm talk about cold I was in forth grade at that time and when I went to school that morning it was cloudy and the temperature was 22. When I got to school I heard people talking the storm comeing and around 10:30 they told everyone to go home. Before I got home it was snowing and the roads got white fast since the temperature was below freezing the snow was powder so comeing home was no problem. Later that night it changed to sleet and freezing rain and around 10:30 that night the lights went out and they stayed out all night this house got cold fast. It was hard to sleep because it was so cold well the next day the power came back on glad that happened. Then the snow came that night that was fun to play in I was out of school untill Friday I don’t want any more ice storms but I do want some snow.

  2. Chris says:

    Even though I was in the first grade I remember this storm vividly. We were at school and of course they let out early. It had already started to get icy and our neighbor who was a teacher brought my brother and me home. I remember seeing wrecks happen right in front of us. My mother was stranded at my grandparents…my dad at the office and my brother and I with the neighbors. We lost power that Tues night and I remember it being really cold and us without power until Thursday. I also remember playing in the snow after the ice…I don’t remember a lot from 1st grade..LOL…but I remember that.

  3. Joe says:

    I got married on the 8th and we went to Florida. Came back on 4 days later and had 2 inches of water in the house from leaking pipes that had bust from the unexpected cold. What a way to start a marriage. 25 years and still going strong.

  4. Derek says:

    I was just wondering if anybody knows the coldest surface temperature at which freezing rain has been observed. Just curious.

  5. I was in 3rd or 4th grade during that storm. I remember it well, because my grandmother came to get us, and she never did that. By the time we got to her house the ground was covered in ice pellets (I remember playing in it and you could not make a decent snowball with it) My dad was standed at Kmart in Eastlake, and my mother at her dr’s office downtown. We had a blast at my grandmother’s, the power went out (we were just a few houses away from Michael Mill’s) and she built a fire in the massive fireplace and drank hot chocolate :)

  6. Vic Bell says:

    Derek, I’ve seen freezing rain at 9° in Oklahoma City.

  7. New Mike says:

    Dang yall are young!! LOL!! I was a Sophmore in High School and had to ride the bus home at 10:30… We slid all the way home!

  8. Chris M. says:

    Guess your not exactly a “New Mike” afterall! :)

  9. greg says:

    call me ignorant, but what does the LOL that i keep observing stand for?

  10. bryan says:

    LOL=Laugh Out Loud

  11. Joe says:

    I was junior in high school. I will never forget the teacher’s exasperation as various groups that rode a bus were excused. He finally gave up when he realized it was fruitless to continue. It took me four hours to drive four miles. Even at that age, I was amazed at the driving of some people – for example, we were trying to climb Niazuma Avenue (I was 16, that is why I was even trying! – But I made it!) and the lady in front of me was sitting on her horn……..like that was really going to help anything! I also remember listening to (and enjoying) TC & John Ed ALL NIGHT LONG. How many hours were they on the air during that storm?

  12. debby says:

    Sophmore..funny! I had been married all of 4 months..19 years old, my Mom was in the old East End Mem. Hospital recovering from pins having been placed in her ankle from a nasty fall. I was going to see her and get groceries and head home, my hubby called the hospital (believe it or not no cell phones!) and told me to leave immediatly and get only what we needed and get home. It was 10 AM, he was listening to his companies delivery truckers on the radio, it was already shutting down Mississippi and was heading our way. To be precise when he called it was on the border, expected in B’ham at Noon. I reluctantly left about 20 min. later, headed to the Food World on Carson Road, nobody much in there at that time, shopped at meandering pace. Time to check out..where did all these people come from!? Lines were back to the meat market! I got checked out..now begining to be a bit worried. For some strange reason I looked up at the clock over the front doors as I was leaving..straight up Noon, it was just beginning to snow with ice pellets mixed in. By the time I got to Pinson the roads were slick, the windshield wipers were freezing to the glass. I was driving a ’78 Pontiac Grand Prix..very light back end, thankfully I’d put bricks in the trunk. I got home an hour later in what normally took 25 min or so. Hubby wasn’t home yet, phone circuits completly beserk, he finally got home an hour or so after me, it was late night when I could get my Mom. My Aunt was stranded at an apartment complex of Green Springs Ave..after walking who knows how far in heels, her home was in Shelby Cty. My Mom stayed in the hospital for days, eating off leftover Christmas Party paper plates (all they had) had to come to my house when we finally could get out because her sidewalk was still a solid sheet of ice days later!
    I remember it well!

  13. Dave Jones says:

    I remember that. I was living in Birmingham and B’ham Cable and in those days had a channel of continuous Centreville weather radar and NOAA weather radio. I watched as the storm got closer, it started out as rain then freezing rain. Businesses started closing at noon so employees could beat the storm home; Birmingham Police closed the interstate about the same time. WHAT A TRAFFIC NIGHTMARE, It took my wife, now ex, 2 and one half hours to get from Southside to Ensley. I did not loose power but many did. My cross street neighbor was on a different line and lost power for 3 days. I just got off night shift and returned to work 3 days later as scheduled. I was working at the nearby steel mill, they tried to call me in as others could not make it in due to icy roads. I told them I could not make it in either, my car doors were coated with ice and frozen shut. I may have got them open with warm water but it was nice to spend time home with family.

  14. Sue says:

    I also have a war story for that date. I was going to my Sister’s home about 20 miles away from home and she lived on top of Battleground Mountain in Cullman County. By the time we went up the mountain it had iced so much and so quickly we almost didn’t make it. Thinking it would be shortlived I didn’t worry too much. I am an avid reader and can survive if I have a book. My sister and her husband were very hospitable but were not readers. It was five days in her home, no electricity, a fireplace with good stock of food but the only thing available to read was “Goat Monthly” (they raised prize goats). I now carry books with me every where I go “just in case” of an emergency. Recently after attending a funeral, I told my children which book to bury with me “just in case.”

    Oh, I also now have a generator attached to my home. Lets just hope I’m there if a winter storm arrives.

    Let it snow, but no ice.

    Sue

  15. Kelly says:

    I bet people up north can’t remember every ice and snow story like we can.LOL I was in the eighth grade. My mom and dad taught me and my sister how to play Rook. There was nothing else to do! I have better stories about the snow from 1985! I lived in Northwest Alabama and it took forever to thaw out! I know what northerners feel about mud!!

  16. Tiffany says:

    I was born on 1-11-82. I hear stories all the time about that ice/snow storm.

  17. David says:

    I remember that day very well I was living in Lithia Springs Ga on that date,I was half way through my junior year they had plans to let us go early but the storm came early and no sooner it hit, the bus I was on skidded off the road into a shallow ditch and got stuck and I just got off of it ,luckly I had my heavy jacket with a hood and walked the 5 miles home in the snow and It took a gallon of hot chocolate to thaw me out lol

  18. GoldwingDave says:

    I too was a sophomore at Huffman High School in 1982…. and I can’t remember a thing about this ice storm.

    Maybe it was my junior and senior years activities that caused me to forget…. lol. :)

  19. BCB says:

    I was five years old and we were dirt poor living in a house my dad built in West Blocton. We had huge pine trees all around our house and I remember the sound of the limbs snapping and echoing all night long. Shotguns is right – we were scared to death. We spent days huddled in the living room around the wood burning stove. My mom attached a flashlight to a rope and hung it from the rafters in the A frame so she could have light to work a Rubiks cube. Ha!

    Ahhhh the 80’s.

  20. jimmy hutt says:

    i remember the storm very vividly. as a matter of fact, it is a red letter day in my life. my son was born 1/14 82. my wife went to labor around 1100pm on the 13th. and it was snowing like crazy!!we didnt have alot then,and to say the least our transportation wasnt very dependable. we made the decision to wait until daylight to go to the hospital, so at least if anything went wrong on the way, we could get help.i still tell my son about the events leading to his birth.i lived in gadsden then as i do now, but dont remember any ice with this event, it was all snow!!! i am talking about the same event?

  21. Brian says:

    I was a senior at Cullman High School when that storm hit. Of course, we got out early. I didn’t have a car, and instead of waiting for my mom or stepdad to pick me up, I went riding around with my friend in his VW Bug (BIG MISTAKE!). A short time later he took me back home in Hanceville, and MAN! did I get in trouble. This was long before cell phones so my mom had no idea where I had been. Amazing how stupid we can be when we’re young.

  22. Pat says:

    I definitely remember this ice storm! I was working at UAB, and came in on Tuesday, prepared work a double and spend the night. I even brought my pj’s and robe! Another nurse and I slept in an empty patient room. They had enough staff to let us go on Wednesday am, and I had Thursday off, so I went to my grandmother’s in Homewood. My mom had tried to go home to Montevallo, but couldn’t get up Green Springs, so she went back to my grandmother’s as well. We lost power, but we had a gas stove, gas hot water, and a gas heater in the bathroom. As my grandmother said, the garage was the fridge, and outside was the freezer! I remember walking to Kmart on Greensprings with my boyfriend (now hubby of a bunch of years) buying bread. On Friday am, a Homewood policeman picked me up to take me to the pickup point for the UAB van. It never showed, and that policeman, bless him, drove me over 20th street to UAB. He had chains, but it was brake and slide, brake and slide. I never knew how he got back over that mountain. It was an experience I don’t want to repeat.

  23. Daddyo says:

    I was a sophomore at Briarwood. We could all see it was snowing and were excited about getting out early, but they announced we would be staying until at least noon. By about 10:00 I could see snow building up on the hoods of running cars and decided if I had better not wait around. I just got up and told the teacher I was going home. I went to some other classes to get a couple of guys who rode with me and headed out to pick up my brother, slipping and sliding all the way. I was one of the last ones to make it all the way up the hill into our neighborhood. As I recall, a lot of the folks who stayed at school were stuck there for the duration. Our house was without power for 7 days. I was just a teenager, so I didn’t pay much attention to the weather, but looking back I wonder how this caught everyone by surprise. Was this Birmingham’s first big winter storm? It was the first one I can remember.

  24. Shannon says:

    Wow, I remember this one!! I was in the 2nd grade and was living Reform, Al. They let us out of school early. We went to my grandparents house to stay. My dad and grandfather both worked for the power company at the time. So they were glued to the weather. My dad and grandfather had to work so much OT, I was just amazed at how they were able to work in such poor conditions. And now that I look back, I guess that ice storm was probably the start of my obsession with weather.

  25. Christy says:

    I was in 2nd grade-and all I really remember about this storm was watching my sloping front yard turn into a sheet of ice. Several days later it was still ice. Just knowing that I could “ice skate” on that stuff I set out and ended up busting both of my knees. OUCH!

  26. Jo says:

    I was 7 months pregnant and rather large. We lost power and made it to my Parents house in Center Point, well almost anyway. We couldn’t get to the house by road so we had to park in a church parking lot behind their house.
    To get to the house we had to climb a small hill. Everyone was afraid I was going to fall and they were afraid that if they were holding me that they would just go down with me. My Father had the bright idea of tying a rope around me and tying the other end to a tree at the top of the hill. I pulled myself up with the rope while my husband and both parents held and pushed me from behind.
    We were all laughing so hard I’m surprised we didn’t all fall. I’m sure it was a pretty funny sight. My daughter, who is now 24 laughs at my story.

  27. Jonathan Case says:

    FYI, I have seen freezing rain observed at Massena, NY (far northern NY state) during late JAN 1994 at minus 1 Fahrenheit!! Being from upstate NY (Rochester) myself, that is the coldest I have ever noted.

    -Jonathan

  28. Rose says:

    I remember this ice storm!!! I was in Charles A. Brown middle school, and at 10am they started letting us go home. By noon, there was a complete blizzard! We were out of school for the entire week, thank goodness for the fireplace, too, because I don’t remember ever having been THAT COLD. The ice on the streets was so thick you couldn’t crack it. I remember some idiot in a Jeep thought he’d be smart and drive down the hill in front of our house… he hit every tree (there were at least 4) on the way… he’s slide head first into one, then manage to back up enough to get going again, and lose control and bang into the next, and do it again and again til he got to the bottom of the hill. We kids hung out and watched the traffic on that hill for hours! ;o)

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