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Local Weather History: The Often Forgotten January 1884 Arctic Outbreak

The 1883-84 to 1886-87 featured a string of historic, incredible Arctic outbreaks that have rarely been equaled since 1850.

Posted: Feb. 4, 2019 2:44 PM
Updated: Feb. 4, 2019 2:55 PM

The legendary, historic Arctic outbreaks that have crippled the Midwest & Ohio Valleys to the Deep South (even Florida) are known for the intensity, but also duration, expanse & penetration deep into the South.

Major winter Arctic outbreaks have frequent mention in local & nation weather history. Since 1850, the 1852, 1856, 1857, 1864, 1873, 1894, 1895, 1899 outbreaks are all usually regarded. Since 1900, the 1905, 1918, 1936, 1951, 1963, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1994 outbreaks are all regarded as significant in the annals of weather history.

However, there is often less mention of the great early January 1884 outbreak that is comparable to the great 1899 event.

A very impressive, intense surface Arctic high centered Northern Plains to Corn Belt produced temperatures that would beat modern-day 1895-2017 records. The -35 at Fillmore, Indiana (near the northern border of Montgomery County) was 1 degree shy of the all-time Indiana record of -36 set in January 1994. The -30 recorded at Vincennes (southwest Indiana) & Olney (southeast Illinois) beat modern-day data sets by 4 & 5 degrees, respectively. The -23 at Evansville, Indiana would tie the February 2, 1951 in the modern data.  The low temperature of -40 at Rockford, Illinois would beat the 1905-present modern record of -31 set just last week.

At Lafayette, low temperatures of -28 were recorded at Purdue on January 5, followed by a low of -26 on January 6.  A low of -30 was reported from Monticello.

The taller Appalachians & movement of the Arctic high more south than east kept the worst cold bottled west of the Appalachians from Virginia & westward.

Omaha, Nebraska dropped to an astounding -38, while Des Moines saw -30, Kirksville, Missouri -40 & Peoria, Illinois -27. This occurred right underneath the core of the very strong Arctic high with a deep snow pack, completely calm winds & the likely development of a strong inversion (similar to what they see in central Alaska this time of year). This leads to “super-cooling”. These conditions continued southeastward into the Ohio Valley, Ozarks & Upper South as a lobe of the very high pressure extended away from the parent center (see in surface map below).

Damaging freezing conditions bled deep into Florida. Sanford, Florida (near Orlando), surrounded by lakes to moderate the temperature, reached 28 degrees. West of Houston, 12 degrees was recorded at New Ulm, while Cleburne, Texas (southwest of Dallas) dropped to 1.

A southern snowstorm also accompanied the cold. As it was gradually moderating, a storm dumped 9″ at Memphis, Tennessee January 9. This was the most significant snowfall in the city since December 28-30, 1876 when 8″ fell.  Nashville, Tennessee recorded nearly 10" of snow. 

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