The record cold autumn of 1880 was unlike any in weather history in our area. Only 1819, 1842 & 1917 are comparable, when looking at records from around the region.
The mean temperature for September-October-November 1880 at Purdue University was 47 degrees. This is nearly 3 degrees less than the second coldest autumn; 49.2 degrees in 1917.
This is was a shock after the mild winter in 1879-80 during a strong El Nino. In fact the mean temperature of January 1880 was 41.4 degrees, whereas the November 1880 mean temperature was 27.1!! Even February 1880 beat November with a mean temperature of 35.3 degrees.
After a warm start to September )even a 90-degree high on September 17), an 84 on the 24th & even an 84 on October 11th, it was the overall domination of below normal temperatures & all-out record cold that was the story of that autumn.
Spurts of very dry Arctic air & high surface pressure led to many nights where the temperature tanked.
The sign of the impending record cold autumn began with a high of only 64 on September 8 & lows in the 30s on the 9th & 10th, then the earliest freeze on record (even to this day!) with 31 on September 14. Another freeze occurred on September 30th.
Regardless, it ended up as 18th coolest due to some hot days.
An unusually strong cold front brought highs of just 41 on October 17 & 18 & just 43 on the 19th, despite lots of sunshine. October 20 saw a record low of 20 degrees. It ended up as the 14th coolest on record, however, due to some very warm days in the 80s.
November was the really cold month with unnusual cold with snow & sleetfall on 8 of the last 6 days of the month, including 4" on the 18th. An all-time November record of -18 was observed on November 22 & the high of 12 occurred at midnight on the 21! Much of the day was in the single digits with that snow pack. This would be more typical of mid-January, not November!
The winter continued as colder than normal with the maximum temperature in January just 39 degrees. It was very dry with just 0.42" if liquid with a northerly or westerly wind component observed on 17 of the 31 days of the month of January. However, it only ranked as 15th coldest with 6 nights below zero.
December was 8th coldest, February tie for 27th coldest. However, what was so noteworthy were not necessarily the bitter overnights, unlike the autumn, but the colder days.
The Purdue weather station finally observered a temperature above 50 on February 26......the first time since December 1! Nothing is comparable until 1917-18 & then 1976-77 & 1977-78 winters with such a stretch of not hitting 50 degrees.
West Lafayette-Purdue University & Purdue University Agronomy Farm (records late 1879-present):
December 1880 Mean Temp 21.3 Degrees: 8th Coldest December On Record (Coldest: 16.2 Degrees 1963)
January 1881 Mean Temp 18.2 Degrees: Tie for 15th Coldest January On Record (Coldest: 7.5 Degrees 1977)
February 1881 Mean Temp 25.0 Degrees: Tie for 27th Coldest February On Record (Coldest: 12.2 Degrees 1978)
Winter 1880-81 Mean Temp 21.5 Degrees: 10th Coldest Winter On Record (Coldest: 17.3 Degrees 1977-78)