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Early Cold Wave and Snowstorm Not so Unusual

By: Christopher C. Burt, 8:53 PM GMT on December 04, 2013

Early Cold Wave and Snowstorm Not so Unusual

It has been quite awhile (or so it seems) since there was a big arctic outbreak and cold wave in early December in the U.S. In fact this is not unusual and has occurred many times in the past if not in the recent past. Here is one example.

Surface weather map for 7 a.m. ET Wednesday, December 6, 1950. A 1044 mb high over southern Canada has pushed a cold front all the way to Mexico. An all-time record 24-hour snowfall is underway in Duluth, Minnesota. An ice storm is developing in Arkansas. Temperatures are at -20° in North Dakota. In other words, a fairly similar pattern to what is occurring or about to occur this December 4-6.

While it is too early to access just how brutal the current cold wave will be (and what the final snowfall statistics might be) a cursory look back into the record books seems to indicate that similar events have happened quite frequently before. The most interesting case (and closest to what is happening now) was that of early December 1950. A large dome of high pressure and its arctic air pushed into Montana on December 4th eventually bringing bitter temperatures all the way to the Gulf Coast by December 6th. Heavy snowfall developed in Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas, and Minnesota as the system progressed south and eastward. Ironically, Duluth, Minnesota measured its greatest 24-hour snowfall on record December 5-6 (1950) with a 25.3” accumulation. So far, during the current event, Duluth has picked up at least 17”. Temperatures on December 6, 1950 fell below -20° over most of Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Pierre, South Dakota bottomed out at -33° on December 6th, Bismarck, North Dakota -28°, and even Amarillo, Texas got down to 3°. A heavy ice storm developed over Arkansas.

I’ll have a storm wrap-up on Friday.

Sound familiar?

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

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The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

November and December 1950 had more than their share of wild weather!

There was also a huge snowstorm over the mid South in the first week of December in 1886.
Dear Mr. Burt,

I am 66 and this has happened once in my lifetime, in 1950? I would say this is NOT a usual event, but unusual as it is cold from here in CA all the way to the east coas soon..

Keep up the good work keeping us informed.

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