Wednesday, January 31, 2018

North Alabama Ice Storm February 1-2, 1985

View of Huntsville from Bankhead Parkway on Monte Sano

Huntsville Times February 2, 1985

The worst ice storm in decades in North Alabama, if not the worst in recorded history, began in Northwest Alabama during the early morning hours Friday February 1, 1985.  It began as a mix of freezing rain and sleet in Lauderdale County. By the time it finally ended early Saturday February 2, 11 inches of sleet had accumulated in Florence and the entire North Alabama region was covered in heavy ice.

Maysville Road in Northeast Huntsville
On February 1, 1985 the NWS Huntsville issued a Special Weather Statement saying, “A damaging ice storm is ahead for NW Alabama. The National Weather Service emphasizes that this will be an ice storm of damaging proportions. There will be potential major damage to trees and utility lines and numerous highways will become impassable. There will likely be numerous and extended power outages. Early this morning, power lines were already falling in Southern Lawrence County and on Monte Sano Mountain in Huntsville.” This prediction was spot on. The video below is an actual recording from the Huntsville NOAA Weather Radio From the NWS Huntsville.

Sleet and snow fell in northwestern parts of the state, accumulating to 11 inches. All roads were closed in Florence. In Huntsville, the precipitation was mostly freezing rain. It was by far the worst ice storm I’ve ever seen. In Northeast Huntsville, power was out for five days due to the heavy freezing rain and resulting damage to power lines.

Near East Huntsville Baptist Church on Maysville Road.
West and southwest of Huntsville, sleet piled up in amazing amounts. This ice storm came after one of the biggest cold snaps of all time when the temperature dropped to -11F in Huntsville on January 21, 1985. The streets were like ice skating rinks. When the sun came out, it melted the very top layer, making it impossible to even walk. I literally had to crawl part of the way to our neighbor’s house it was so slick. We were very fortunate to have a wood burning stove. The video below is my description of what I witnessed during the storm.

Cullman roads iced over by noon Friday and that evening, 600 motorists were stranded between Birmingham and Cullman on I-65, forcing travellers to spend the night in shelters.. Hundreds of traffic accidents were reported across North Alabama.Roofs collapsed on three businesses in the Florence area and numerous carports and awnings fell victim to the weight of the sleet and snow. For the first time in recorded history, roads were closed in the Florence area. Most Huntsville television stations were off the air. The video below contains local radio coverage of the historic ice storm. Stations include: WBHP 1230 AM, WAAY 1550 AM, WZYP 104.3 FM, and Q104 FM.

Additional photos I took during the ice storm in Huntsville, Alabama:

Bankhead Parkway, Monte Sano

Wooddale Drive, NE Huntsville

Near Chapman School, NE Huntsville

Oak Park, NE Huntsville

Oakwood Avenue, NE Huntsville
Here is the NOAA Storm Data publication write-up about the event from February 1985:


Monday, January 29, 2018

Coldest Temperature Recorded in Alabama - 1/30/1966

January 1966 was one of the coldest months in Alabama history and the last week of January 1966 was particularly brutal with temperatures 18-21 degrees below average. The NOAA Monthly Weather Review shows that on the map below.

January 1966 NOAA Monthly Weather Review
This cold air was attributed to a strong ridge in the Northwest United States, extending to Alaska. This, in conjunction with a trough in the eastern half of the U.S., forced a series of shots of polar air southward. Adding to the mix was an unusual amount of snow cover.  On the 29th, 6-11" of snow was on the ground across North Alabama.  This set the stage for some all time records to be in jeopardy, including the all-time coldest temperature recorded in Alabama.

NOAA Climatological Data, January 1966
Alabamians awakened to the following low temperatures on the morning of January 30th:

-27F in New Market (Madison County) ***
-24F in Russellville (Franklin County)
-19F in Belle Mina (Limestone County)
-19 in Haleyville (Winston County)
-19F in Hamilton (Marion County)
-17F in Athens (Limestone County)
-17F in Haleyville (Marion County)
-14F in Double Springs (Winston County)
-14F in Madison (Madison County)
-12F at Redstone Arsenal (Madison County)
-11F in Vernon (Lamar County)
-11F in Valley Head (DeKalb County)
-11F in Huntsville (Madison County)
-10F in Moulton (Lawrence County)
-9F at Sand Mountain Substation (DeKalb County)
-9F in Scottsboro (Jackson County)
-8F in Red Bay (Franklin County)
-8F in Florence (Lauderdale County)
-7F in Bridgeport (Jackson County)
-6F in Muscle Shoals (Colbert County)
-6F in Albertville (Marshall County)
-5F in Fayette (Fayette County)
-5F in Waterloo (Lauderdale County)
-5F in Pinson (Jefferson County)
-5F at Saint Bernard (Cullman County)
-4F in Falkville (Morgan County)
-4F in Guntersville (Marshall County)
-4F in Oneonta (Blount County)
-4F in Birmingham (Jefferson County)
-4F in Heflin (Cleburne County)
-3F in Calera (Shelby County)
-3F in Decatur (Morgan County)
-2F in Bessemer (Jefferson County)
-2F in Gadsden (Etowah County)
-2F in Lafayette (Chambers County)
-2F in Rockford (Coosa County)
-2F in Pell City in St. Clair County)
-2F at Bankhead Lock and Dam (Tuscaloosa County)
-1F in Talladega (Talladega County)
-1F in Alexander City (Tallapoosa County)
0F in Clanton (Chilton County)
0F in Anniston (Calhoun County)
0F in Auburn (Lee County)
1F in Sylacauga (Talladega County)
1F in Childersburg (Talladega County)
1F in Thorsby (Chilton County)
2F in Ashland (Clay County)
2F in Aliceville (Pickens County)
2F in Centreville (Bibb County)
2F in Prattville (Autauga County)
3F in Marion Junction (Dallas County)
3F in Eufaula (Barbour County)
4F in Tuskegee (Macon County)
4F in Union Springs (Bullock County)
5F in Montgomery (Montgomery County)
4F in Clayton (Barbour County)
4F in Highland Home (Crenshaw County)
4F in Ozark (Dale County)
4F in Troy (Pike County)
5F in Selma (Dallas County)
5F in Hayneville (Lowndes County)
5F in Greenville (Butler County)
6F in Whatley (Clarke County)
6F in Thomasville (Clarke County)
6F in Tuscaloosa (Tuscaloosa County)
6F in Demopolis (Marengo County)
6F in Livingston (Sumter County)
6F in Brantley (Crenshaw County)
6F in Camden (Wilcox County)
6F in Enterprise (Coffee County)
6F in Frisco city (Monroe County)
7F in Natchez (Monroe County)
7F in Headland (Henry County)
7F in Andalusia (Covington County)
7F in Chatom (Washington County)
8F in Atmore (Escambia County)
8F in Gilbertown (Choctaw County)
9F in Geneva (Geneva County)
9F in Evergreen (Conecuh County)
9F in Brewton (Escambia County)
9F in Fairhope (Baldwin County)
9F in Bay Minette (Baldwin County)
10F in Dothan (Houston County)
10F in Robertsdale (Baldwin)
11F in Coden (Mobile County)
13F in Mobile (Mobile County)
14F at Fort Morgan (Baldwin County)

At the time it was reported that the coldest temperature was -24F in Russellville, but that was in error. It was the only time I have ever heard that an Alabama community reported the coldest temperature in the United States.  Alabama State Climatologist Dr. John Christy interviewed the observer who reported the -27F reading in New Market in 1988.  She explained why the original report of -17F was changed to -27F.

*** "Ms. Lucille Hereford of New Market in Madison County was town postmistress and served as the volunteer weather observer. Every morning she faithfully checked the high and low temperature, and the precipitation. I interviewed Ms. Hereford by phone in 1988 to get her story. She remembered that the sun was out on the morning of Jan. 30, 1966, and the ground was covered with 8" of new snow (Huntsville measured 7.3"). It was terribly cold. She walked out to the instrument shelter and opened the door. She couldn’t believe what she saw so she called an acquaintance who happened to be trudging by and asked him to read the little indicator that rested at the coldest temperature since it was reset the day before. He said it looked like -28° Fahrenheit, but she thought it was closer to "only" 27 below. Since she was the official reader, the observation was reported as -27° F – Alabama’s coldest ever recorded temperature. The official story has a twist: For some reason the value was officially recorded as -17° that morning, not -27°. That was a bit warmer than the -24° F reported at Russellville that day."
According to NOAA Storm Data for January 1966, the snow and record cold of January 29-31, 1966 was responsible for 10 deaths, five injuries, and extensive damage to utility lines, water pumps, water lines, and automobiles. There was an extensive loss in poultry production. 

Special Weather Summary by State Climatologist C.C. Wooden

Alabama has had a handful of other extreme cold waves in 1899, 1940, and 1985, but the extreme temperatures in isolated pockets of North Alabama were the coldest ever recorded in this state.
NOAA Monthly Weather Review January 1966 
NOAA Storm Data 1966
Alabama Climate Report December 2010 Dr. John Christy
Climatological Data, January 1966, NOAA, Environmental Data Service


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Harpersville F4 Tornado - 1/24/64

Photo by Shelby County Reporter
Ten people were killed and six more were injured when a brief, relatively small, yet powerful tornado hit Harpersville in Shelby County, Alabama at 7 p.m. on Friday January 24, 1964.  The tornado was on the ground for only four miles and was never much wider than 100 yards. 

In a storm survey report by Charles F. Bradley, NWS Birmingham, MIC and J.B. Elliott, NWS Birmingham, Forecaster, they describe the worst damage:

"Two houses were completely carried away from their foundations.  One was picked up and carried some 500 feet, where it was slammed into another house.  Four died in that house (one of the injured died later), and 5 died in another house across Hwy 280 about 300 yards NE of the first house that was destroyed.  In the latter house, an electric freezer  weighing several hundred pounds was carried some 150 yards before being dropped."

The Shelby County Reporter described the storm as follows:

"It left ten dead and six injured. The path of this one was very narrow, ranging from only 50 yards to about 125 yards in width, but damage was heavy in the narrow path. This one struck entirely without warning. Birmingham radar was monitoring the area at the time. But the line of thunderstorms approaching Harpersville appeared only moderate -- proof that radar is by no means foolproof. Harpersville residents later reported that no unusual and brilliant display of lightning was seen, and most thought it was just an ordinary thundershower."

Most likely this was a typical winter time low topped storm produced in a high shear, low instability environment.  These short-lived tornadoes are difficult to detect and warn for even in the age of Doppler radar, so it is no surprise that in 1964 this one happened without warning. 

New York Times article from January 25, 1964.

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