Local Weather History: 1884-85.....The Winter to End All Winters....& a Record Cold Spring

The winter of 1884-85 was pretty much a tie for the coldest on record & it was the coldest spring on record. It was also the snowiest snow season on record.

Posted: Feb 25, 2019 11:15 PM
Updated: Feb 26, 2019 1:20 AM

To this day, you can't beat the 1884-85 winter & spring for West Lafayette & for the viewing area as a whole.  They are the winter & spring seasons for the ages. 

The December-February period was barely 0.1 degree away from tying for the 1879-2019 record for coldest winter at West Lafayette.  Only 1977-78 was just less than 0.1 degree colder.

The 1885 spring was the coldest on record, besting 1960.

The 1884-85 snow season was also the snowiest on record with an astounding 67.7" of snow.  That is also without any snow falling in November.....not even a flake. 

The winter-spring 1884-85 period was the coldest such period on record.

The extreme cold of 1884-86 can largely be attributed to the massive 1883 eruption of Mt. Krakatoa in Indonesia, which was one of the worst & most powerful, prolific volcanic eruptions since the historic 1815 Mt. Tambora eruption.  After a string of milder winters in the late 1870s, we were already trending colder anyway (1880-81, 1881-82 were pretty rough, snowy winters in their own right!), but the eruption turned it into one that will forever live in the West Lafayette weather history as the worst winter & spring combo on record & the winter that would seemingly never end.

Both cooled the globe be reflecting sunlight from the sulfurous, ashy haze.  This brought beautiful red sunrises & sunsets from around the world.  Such was the remark in 1815-16, as well.  In the case of that eruption, scanty records show that the 1815-16 winter wasn't so bad, but the summer was frequently chilly (but very dry with northwest & west winds very frequent) & the 1816-17 winter was among the worst of the 19th century.  The chill lasted into summer 1817.  An extremely hot, dry summer developed in 1819 over the Plains & Midwest & the 1820 summer ranks as one of the greats for heat & drought from the Plains to the Midwest & eastward.  There are several accounts from very early explorers & settlers passing through in Fountain & Vermilion counties remarking of the extreme nature of the drought & heat (creeks dried up, lack of any water, prairie grass & various vegetation withered or browned).

November 1884 was pretty typical, but dry until around Thanksgiving.  At that point, the unusual Arctic intrusions began to arrive.

The Purdue University data below is part of the 1879-present record.  Dedicted daily observer was esteemed Purdue professor Dr. Henry A. Huston of the State Weather Service at the time. The data these scientists took at the time, for government observations & records, is incredibly valable to gaining a picture of our past weather & climate!  This lives on in the modern-day NOAA COOP program & in our NOAA/FAA AWOS/ASOS observations at airports!

Date.....................precipitation.......snow..........high temperature.......low temperature

A brutal December went from bad to worse with multiple record lows & the all-time December record low temperature of -31 on the 19th. 

It suddenly turned mild & windy with heavy, flooding rain on New Years Eve.

Howling winds & a temperature drop of +45 occurred in hours.  January was brutal & would have beat 1977 if not for hitting 50 & 44 mid-month.  January of '77 failed to get above freezing.

February was brutal as well & even colder than January.  It is still the coldest on record.  At least it hit 45 early in the month & ended with a 50 on the 28th.  Nearly 2.5 feet of snow fell for the month.

Date.....................precipitation.......snow..........high temperature.......low temperature

The brutal weather continued into March with -3 on the first day of astronomical spring.  The 59 on March 31 was the warmest since November 16!  March was very dry with less than 0.50" of liquid, much of it snow.  This is indicative of strong, dry northwest flow.  The coldest winter to early spring months on record tend to be much drier than normal as any Gulf moisture & warm, humid air is shunted away by persistent flow from the Arctic.

The winter that wouldn't give up, the high was just 38 on April 4 & a trace of snow was recorded on April 12 & 13.  The temperature finally exceeded 70 on April 20th with 73, but waves of chill continued into late April with a frosty 27 on the morning of April 29.  Early to mid May was cool & clammy with a high of just 50 on May 9 after 29.5 on the morning of May 3.

May 13 & onward, warmer weather finally arrived & continued.  After some chilly mornings 18-20th, a high of 87 was recorded on May 24.

There were some substantial cool snaps in the summer, but intense heat built in at times, especially late June-July with temperatures as high as 99!  This was an early pre-cursor to the great, historic drought & heat wave of 1887 that brought a high of 107 at Purdue.  The summer 1887 at the time was said to have been the hottest & driest since 1841 & brought an end to the cold stretch from Krakatoa eruptions.

Date.....................precipitation.......snow..........high temperature.......low temperature

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