Snowstorms in the South: An Historical Perspective

By: Christopher C. Burt , 7:37 AM GMT on January 12, 2011

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Snowstorms in the Southeast and Deep South of the United States: An Historical Perspective

Atlanta, Georgia was amazed recently when 4-6” of snow (and ice) accumulated this past Sunday and Monday. Furthermore, snow fell on Christmas Day (officially 1.4”) in the Atlanta area as well. So how unusual is this? Of course, it is unusual but not close to record-breaking snowfall anywhere in the Southeast. Huntsville, Alabama recorded 8.9” and this was their 3rd heaviest accumulation on record but still a long way from the all-time record of 17.1” set on New Years Eve 1963-1964. Atlanta’s official 4.4” accumulation is also distant from their record of 11.2” set on January 7, 1940.

The Greatest Southeastern Snowstorms on Record

The following is a summary of the all-time greatest snowstorms to have been observed in the Gulf and Deep South Region.

JANUARY 9-11, 1800: Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina

The single greatest snow accumulations ever reported from Florida to coastal Georgia and coastal South Carolina occurred on January 9-11 some 211 years ago in 1800. A survey party demarcating the border between Florida and Georgia was encamped at the mouth of St. Mary’s River near where Ft. Clinch State Park is now just north of the current site of Jacksonville, Florida. They reported heavy snow most of the day and night of January 10th and awoke to 5” of snow cover. More may have actually fallen and melted prior to sunrise on the 11th when they made their observation. In and around Savannah, Georgia 18” of snow fell with drifts up to 3-feet. Here the snow fell continuously for a 36-hour period from late evening January 9th until early morning January 11th. In Charleston, South Carolina, the State Gazette reported 8” of snow on level with severe drifting and gales. It would appear that Charleston was on the northern edge of the heaviest accumulations which were centered around Savannah. (For more about this event see Early American Winters: 1604-1820 pp. 159-160, by David M. Ludlum, American Meteorological Society, Boston, 1966).

In modern records the heaviest snowfalls have been the following for these locations: Jacksonville, Florida: 1.9” (February 12-13, 1899), Savannah, Georgia: 3.6” December 8, 1989; Charleston, South Carolina: 7.1” February 9-10, 1973.

DECEMBER 3-6, 1886: Southern Appalachians

An early season heavy wet snowstorm hammered all of Alabama and the higher elevations of Georgia and North Carolina December 3-6, 1886 with 12-16” of snowfall in central Alabama (Montgomery had a record 11.0”), 17-20” in the northern parts of Alabama, and up to 25” in northern Georgia (as was measured in Rome). But it was in the mountains of North Carolina that the most extraordinary accumulations were reported with 36-42” at places like Hot House, North Carolina and Ducktown, Tennessee. Asheville, North Carolina reported 33” of snow on level, almost double the amount from the famous ‘Superstorm’ of 1993.

FEBRUARY 14-16, 1895: Coastal Texas to Alabama

A coastal low in the Gulf of Mexico developed near Texas on February 14, 1895 and spread a mantle of deep snow from the coastal areas of northern Mexico to Florida over the following two days. Snowflakes were reported in Tampico, Mexico (the furthest south snow has ever been recorded at a coastal location in the Western Hemisphere: 22°18’N). Brownsville, Texas measured 3-6” and the accumulations became even more fantastic further up the coast: Galveston had 15.4”, Houston 20.0”, and Lake Charles, Louisiana 22.0”. A peak accumulation of 24” was measured at Rayne in southeast Louisiana, a state record. These amounts were actually ground depth measurements, so more may have actually fallen. New Orleans registered its greatest snowfall on record with an 8.2” as did Pensacola, Florida with 3.0”. A state record for Mississippi was set at Batesville with 20.0”.



New Orleans experienced its only true blizzard on February 12, 1899. Although only 3.8” of snow fell (compared to the 8.2” in 1895) the temperature fell from the mid-20°s to low teens during the snowfall (with strong winds) and then down to an all-time low of 6.8°F by the morning of February 13th. (photo from Historic New Orleans Collection).

DECEMBER 31, 1963-JANUARY 1, 1964: Mississippi and Alabama

Another record-breaking snow of note includes this event that still holds the following all-time snowfall records: Huntsville, Alabama 17.1”; Florence, Alabama 19.2”; Meridian, Mississippi 15.0”.

FEBRUARY 9-10, 1973: Piedmont of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina

No snowstorm in the old or modern records can match that that struck the Piedmont regions of Georgia and South Carolina in February 1973. Macon, Georgia received 16.5” of snowfall and Augusta and Columbus both reported 14.0” (all-time records). Even Albany received its all-time accumulation of 3.0”. In South Carolina an all-time state record was achieved at Rimini with 24” and Columbia (16”) and Florence (17”) also set their respective all-time records for both a single snowstorm and a 24-hour accumulation.



This graphic shows the track of the surface low (solid line) and track of the 850mb low (dashed line) along with snow accumulation amounts during the storm of February 9-10, 1973. Peak snowfall was in central South Carolina with 24” at Rimini. (graphic from Weatherwise Magazine Vol. 27 p. 193, October, 1974).

MARCH 12-14, 1993: All of the interior Southeast

No summary of southern snowfall records would be complete without mention of the so-called ‘Superstorm’ or ‘Storm of the Century’. Among the notable all-time snowfall records achieved during this event are the state records for 24-hour snowfall in Georgia, 24.0” at Mountain City (modern record, see 1886); as well as Tennessee: 30.0” on Mt. LeConte, and also North Carolina: 36.0” on Mt. Mitchell. Mt. LeConte also reported an amazing Tennessee state record for a single-greatest storm total with 60.0” over the course of three days March 12-14. For the lower elevations all-time snowfall records were set at Birmingham, Alabama: 13.0” and Asheville, North Carolina: 16.5” (only a modern record, see storm of 1886 above).


A Special Note About Snow in Florida

Aside from the snow event of 1800 readers might be curious as to what the modern snowfall records are for Florida. The greatest ‘statewide’ snowfall occurred during the famous East Coast blizzard and cold wave of February 1899 (the same event that brought sub-zero temperatures to Florida for the first and only time). On February 13th, 1899 snow flakes were observed as far south as Fort Meyers and a general 1”+ accumulation occurred statewide north of Gainesville. Jacksonville recorded its greatest modern accumulation of 1.9”, 2.1” was measured at Pensacola, and up to 6” was anecdotally reported near the Georgia border in northwest Florida. The highest official amount was 3.5” at Haywood.

The furthest south snow flakes have been reported is at Homestead (south of Miami 25° 18’ N) on January 19, 1977. The deepest snowfall officially measured in the state is 4.0” at Milton Experimental Station in the NW corner on March 6, 1954.

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27. Charlotteanun
6:52 PM GMT on January 28, 2014
Thanks for this, a lot of work. Glad you mentioned the southern Superstorm of "MARCH 12-14, 1993: All of the interior Southeast". I was in San Francisco yet I remember it well.

I was 30 years old, worse than half-dead, intubated in Intensive Care, having been just diagnosed with advanced lymphoblastic lymphoma cancer and injured by a freak medical accident. My parents in Charlotte NC were urgently called to come see me (at the San Francisco hospital), for it seemed unlikely for me to pull through the next couple of days. In a haze of deadly illness, blood loss and intravenous morphine, I stared blearily at my husband as he leaned over the bed gently explaining why my parents couldn't come right away. "Snowstorm?" I thought, "in March?!" That was the most surreal moment of the whole experience for me. Funny now, looking back 20 years later and in good health, but oh so confusing at the time.

These weather events so benign on paper (or on the screen) may disrupt and redirect peoples' lives, affecting even people far away. One can only marvel and wonder at the effects those extreme snowstorms in the 1800's had on the southerners living through them.
Member Since: January 28, 2014 Posts: 0 Comments: 1
26. Christopher C. Burt , Weather Historian
6:55 AM GMT on January 19, 2011
Quoting JFLORIDA:
High of 74 sets record for warmest Jan. 17 in Las Vegas, National Weather Service says

Kennedy says the warm day also contributed to records in the California cities of Needles, along the Colorado River, and Bishop, in the Owens Valley.

Needles hit 80 degrees, well above a record 76 for the date, also set in 1976.





It was 80° in Big Sur, CA today (Jan. 18) the 4th consecutive day of 79°+ (including three of these 80°+). Warm and dry weather expected in Central and Southern California right on to the end of the month. La Nina finally working as usual! I would expect to see a very dry and warm conclusion to this winter, but won't bet my last dollar on that.
Member Since: February 15, 2006 Posts: 324 Comments: 307
24. hklinker
12:05 PM GMT on January 18, 2011
This was a great article! I lived in B'ham, Al during the 1993 storm and remember measuring 17 inches of snow. We had no power for five days and were stranded. Now I live in Mount Dora, FL and they had a tornado that day. I will never forget the "Storm of the Century"!
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 4
23. Christopher C. Burt , Weather Historian
5:16 AM GMT on January 17, 2011
Quoting presslord:
here's an interesting extreme weather possibilityLink


The 1861-1862 December-January event remains unprecedented in Califronia history (30" of rain in San Francisco between Dec. 22-Jan. 22 that season) and indeed, if repeated, result in one of the most catastophic weather events In. U.S. history. It certaintly won't happen this year (looks dry for the forseeable future here in California), but probably will happen again at some future date.

In January 1862 the entire Central Valley became a giant lake.

Chris
Member Since: February 15, 2006 Posts: 324 Comments: 307
21. presslord
1:32 AM GMT on January 17, 2011
here's an interesting extreme weather possibilityLink
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10513
20. iceagecoming
2:43 PM GMT on January 15, 2011
Snow Depth Pinkham Notch 164 in. February 27, 1969 276818 N
Maximum Temperature Nashua 106 °F July 4, 1911 275712 E
Minimum Temperature Mount Washington -50 °F January 22, 1885 275639 NA


Special Notes for NH state climate records
TMIN: Value of -50°F exceeds the previously reported all-time minimum temperature extreme of -46 on 1/8/1968. The -50°F is not yet present in NCDC's digital data files but exists on observation forms and publications in NCDC archives. The value ties with Vermont and Maine for coldest temperature recorded in the Northeast region of the United States.

Link

Glad I missed that snow removal project.
Member Since: January 27, 2009 Posts: 26 Comments: 1134
19. Walshy
4:06 AM GMT on January 14, 2011
North Carolina has a great data base for winter storms.
Link

Here is the 1993 storm.

Link
Member Since: May 17, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 907
18. Christopher C. Burt , Weather Historian
11:49 PM GMT on January 13, 2011
Quoting 1900hurricane:
Also, apparently a mind-boggling 30 inches of snow fell on Beaumont, TX during the Great 1895 Winter Storm.


Great find! I've always wondered what the accumulation was in Port Arthur and made the mistake of not looking at the Beaumont records instead of Port Arthur's since Beaumont's are older than Port Arthur's. The sites are right next to one another. I will make this update in my book for the Port Arthur records I have there as well. Thanks!
Member Since: February 15, 2006 Posts: 324 Comments: 307
17. 1900hurricane
5:11 PM GMT on January 13, 2011
Speaking of the 1895 Storm, here is a map of the accumulations from that storm that I found and made into an image from the PDF file. Click the image to make it bigger because it it pretty large.

Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 47 Comments: 11866
16. 1900hurricane
4:54 PM GMT on January 13, 2011
Also, apparently a mind-boggling 30 inches of snow fell on Beaumont, TX during the Great 1895 Winter Storm.
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 47 Comments: 11866
15. Christopher C. Burt , Weather Historian
4:50 AM GMT on January 13, 2011
Quoting LoveStormsatNight:
We need Kocin and Uccellini to do a book on Southern Snowstorms! :)


I couldn't agree more! Paul is a friend of mine and I've asked him if he would be interested in doing similar treatments for other regions of the U.S.A. He replied that the NE Snowstorms book was a monster of a job and 'that was that' so to speak. You can't imagine how much work was involved in putting that book together.
Member Since: February 15, 2006 Posts: 324 Comments: 307
14. Christopher C. Burt , Weather Historian
4:46 AM GMT on January 13, 2011
Quoting LoveStormsatNight:
I like these storms too--not as awe-inspiringly widespread but still of interest I think.




I decided, perhaps arbitrarily, not to include North Carolina in my report (aside from the 1886 event since that storm was the greatest ever for Georgia). Also, North Carolina may be consisdered a 'mid-Atlantic' state not 'Deep South' or 'Southeast' region of the United States. Also there have been MANY great snowstorms in its history. New Bern once reported a 4-foot snowfall in the mid-19th century.
Member Since: February 15, 2006 Posts: 324 Comments: 307
12. Christopher C. Burt , Weather Historian
4:28 AM GMT on January 13, 2011
Quoting 1900hurricane:
What about the Christmas Snow of 2004 in South Texas? Places like
Victoria and Brazoria saw a foot or more and measurable snow was
recored all the way to south of Brownsville.


This event was realatively small-scale and doesn't rank as one of the great snows of all-time in the context of the Deep South or Southeast of the United States. A list of every single snowstorm that broke a record in one place or the other in the region would take an entire book to realize.
Member Since: February 15, 2006 Posts: 324 Comments: 307
11. 1900hurricane
3:29 AM GMT on January 13, 2011
What about the Christmas Snow of 2004 in South Texas? Places like Victoria and Brazoria saw a foot or more and measurable snow was recored all the way to south of Brownsville.

Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 47 Comments: 11866
8. Christopher C. Burt , Weather Historian
10:45 PM GMT on January 12, 2011
Quoting LoveStormsatNight:
The St. Patrick's Day 1892 snowstorm in Tennessee which brought 18" to Memphis and 17" to Nashville---amazing to have their biggest snowfall so late in the season! That deserves and honorable mention!


Most definitely worthy of mention! In fact, the storm total for Nashville was an amazing 21.5" from March 15-18, 1892. There have certainly been many other remarkable snowstorms in the South, so I just picked what were the most widespread and record-setting but the 1892 event should have been included since it was the greatest snow on record for low elevations in Tennessee. Thanks for the heads up!
Member Since: February 15, 2006 Posts: 324 Comments: 307
5. wa6bjh
6:08 PM GMT on January 12, 2011
My father was stationed at Redstone Arsenal and I distinctly remember the New Year's Eve snow storm in Huntsville. It snowed, rained, and then snowed again, so there was a layer of ice halfway down the snow. Northern Alabama shut down. I don't think they had any snowplows.

Thanks for the blog, and I didn't realize it was record.

Kerry
Member Since: April 19, 2002 Posts: 0 Comments: 0
4. aznarak
4:41 PM GMT on January 12, 2011
Chris, After digging out this morning in suburban NYC, this morning's story on historic southern snowstorms brought back a lot of memories. I was 8 years old and visiting my grandparents in Vestavia Hills, AL (on top of Shades Mountain, just south of Birmingham) during the New Years storm of '63-'64. I vividly remember it started snowing early on New Year's Eve day, and didn't accumulate for a long while; in fact, the forecast was that it wouldn't. At one point, it changed to sleet for a while, then back to snow. By late afternoon, it had started to accumulate, and we got excited. Sure enough, when we woke up on New Year's Day, we had a foot of fresh snow to play in. Even better, we couldn't get off the mountain to go home to Atlanta on the day planned, and so got to miss an extra day of school! The Piedmont storm of 1973 was remarkable to us Atlantans, because the storm deposited 15" at Macon, 90 miles to the south, while the sun shone brightly on us. The idea that it could snow to the south of us while we got nary a flake was inconceivable in its own right, let alone such mind-boggling totals. The "white hurricane" (what you call the superstorm) of 1993 was amazing in its own right as a storm, but what was most amazing to an Atlantan was that it was accurately forecast a week in advance. Growing up in Atlanta, the "rule" was, if it was forecast to snow, it would never happen. Actual snow only came as a "surprise" :). One storm I was a bit surprised you didn't mention - -not too many years ago, Victoria, Texas, south of Houston, had about 12" of snow on Christmas Eve or Christmas day -- my exact memory is a bit fuzzy on this one.
Member Since: January 12, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 0
3. Neapolitan
3:02 PM GMT on January 12, 2011
Awesome read, as always.

My father worked for NASA on the Apollo program, so in the fall of 1963 he was transferred from the Los Angeles area to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Because of that, and purely by chance, I saw that 17" of snow on New Years Eve/Day. And because of that, I grew up thinking that Hunstville was an awfully snowy place. Shows the flaws inherent in extrapolating from a single data point. ;-)

Again, well done.
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 14227
1. ncforecaster
8:13 AM GMT on January 12, 2011
Hi Chris,

I really enjoyed reading this particular blog entry and appreciate all the effort you put into writing it!:)

~Tony
Member Since: May 17, 2006 Posts: 108 Comments: 1376

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About weatherhistorian

Christopher C. Burt is the author of 'Extreme Weather; A Guide and Record Book'. He studied meteorology at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison.