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Understanding Alabama Winters

| 1:30 pm December 2, 2012

I hear this often.

When it is going to turn cold, and “stay cold”?

The answer in Alabama is “never”.

We are a low latitude state much closer to the equator than the pole, and our winter here should be relatively mild. The coldest part of the winter, based on data going back over 100 years, is between January 7 and January 18 when the average high is 52 and the average low is 32. Interesting to note the average high never goes below 50, and it never goes below freezing.

But, many say “I can remember winters when it stayed cold all the time and snowed a bunch.” No, not here.

We tend to have selective memories. Old folks (my age or older) like to talk about all the snow and cold in the 1950s and 1960s in Alabama. Yes, we had plenty of good snaps and snow events, but the truth is we had lots of warm weather too. On Christmas Eve in 1964, the high in Birmingham was 77 degrees. People were having backyard cookouts in shorts to celebrate the arrival of Santa.

Birmingham’s warmest December temperature, 80 degrees, was recorded on December 7, 1951. Generally speaking, our two warmest decades on record here are the 1930s and the 1950s.

Other monthly record highs during winter, and the years…

JANUARY: 81 degrees… recorded January 10, 1949
FEBRUARY: 83 degrees… recorded on February 8, 1918… February 13, 1962, and February 23, 1996

For the three months in meteorological winter… Alabama’s warmest (based on average highs) came in…

December 1984
January 1950
February 1976

So, yes, warm spells are not unusual, and to be expected around here.

And, it is interesting to note that we can (and usually do) warm up in a hurry, even after historical cold waves.

On January 11, 1982, we dropped to -1 (F) in Birmingham, with a crippling ice storm to follow. But, on January 19, just 8 days later, we soared to a record high of 76 degrees. Everybody remembers the cold, but few remember the warmth.

So… if you are looking for lost lasting cold, best best is to head north. Northway, Alaska dropped to -47 (F) this morning, and they won’t be warming up much anytime soon!

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