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1983: “The Coldest Christmas Ever”

1983: “The Coldest Christmas Ever”

Whether or not you’re dreaming of a white Christmas this year, chances are you’d rather do without sub-zero temperatures on the big day. With January and February traditionally bringing the coldest temperatures of the year, Christmas day tends to be relatively mild in much of the country. In fact, the much-heralded white Christmas is little more than a pipe dream for the vast majority of the continental U.S.

But in 1983, the nation’s cold weather lovers got a little more than they bargained for. Overall, the 1980s dished out some of the coldest Decembers on record, but 1983 was king of them all, with 70% of the month colder than average over much of the country.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas day of that year, more than 125 cities east of the Rockies broke temperature records for the day, and 34 hit the record cold temperatures for the entire month of December. These punishing tempertures, which dipped below zero in many areas, were also accompanied by brutal, stinging winds. In addition, heavy snow covered the ground from the Pacific Northwest through the Great Plains and Northern Appalachians.

Havre, Mont., dipped to a numbing -50°F. Chicago, where high temperatures never went higher than −10° F during the several days leading up to Christmas, reached a low of -25° F. In Sioux Falls, S.D., temperatures dropped below 0° F on December 15 and remained there for more than nine days, dropping to −23 °F over Christmas. The area also saw 60 mph winds, which brought wind chills of −70 °F. The average temperature in Minneapolis for the month of 3.7° F, the coldest on record for the city. The barometric pressure at Miles City, Mont. reached 31.42 inches, a record for the U.S. Even normally balmy Huntsville, Ala., plunged down to -1° F, while Galveston, Texas, dipped to a frosty 14° F.

With the cost of fossil fuels for home heating ever on the rise, a white Christmas may not be such a boon, after all, if it’s accompanied by these kinds of temperature extremes!

15 Responses

  1. I ventured out shopping for Christmas presents for my children, I was 81/2 months pregnant.

    by Eddi Scott on Jan 7, 2014 at 2:53 am

  2. I just noticed this article. There was no mention of the record-breaking temperatures in Michigan that day, but something else happened that was worse. I’ve lived in Michigan most of my adult life, and I’ve driven through what most people call “whiteouts” many times. But nothing compares to Christmas Eve, 1983.

    I had to drive from Chicago to Grand Rapids. It usually takes about 3.5 hours. I made it to the Michigan border in record time and then it started to blizzard. The next several hours were the worst I’ve ever driven in. The lakeshore gets a lot of “lake effect” snow, but this was horrifying. You couldn’t see. By the time you saw someone, it was too late. I was crawling along and almost every time I saw a car ahead, it would start weaving and go off the side of the road. I thought about pulling over to wait it out but every time I gently touched the brakes, I would start to slide. Also, I had no idea where I was the entire time because you could see no signs, no lights, no exits. And I didn’t want to be sitting on the side of the road for someone to hit. And most of all, it was below zero outside but I couldn’t just sit and run the engine. I had no idea how long it was going to last and if something did happen, the rescue vehicles had so many other accidents to clean up.

    When the freeway started to turn inland, I noticed a huge difference. It turned into a regular bad blizzard, but you could see exit signs and lights. You still couldn’t see far in front but at least if you car lights, it wasn’t a dire situation.

    I have yet to talk to anyone that drove on that freeway that night (94 north to 196 to Grand Rapids), Christmas Eve, 1983. It took me 8 hours to get from the Michigan border to Grand Rapids.

    by Lori on Feb 1, 2013 at 2:08 pm

  3. I remember that Christmas, I had a new baby, my furnace went out , and the wind chill factor in Chicago was -60F

    by Amy Kirk on Jan 9, 2013 at 1:34 pm

  4. I remember the Christmas Day 1983 freeze very well. It was my grandfather’s last. We lived in Fl. and it never got over 38 for the high as I remember. He wanted my wood heater going non-stop. And I did keep it going. He died the following June and as I remember back, he enjoyed my fire that day so much. He kept his chair by it all afternoon. So I have fond memories of it.

    by Ron on Dec 30, 2012 at 8:31 pm

  5. I remember December 1983 very well. I moved to Daytona Beach, FL just 4 years later. I grew up in northwestern Virginia near Charlottesville and boy!! It was FRIGID! Daytime highs were below 10 degrees for atleast a week in a row and on Christmas it was the coldest. Temps fell below 0 and according to the historic data lows were at -11 degrees and snowstorms battered my area that winter. Thats one of the reasons why
    I moved to Florida.. I was FED UP with the Virginia winters. I saw enough snow and ice living in the mid atlantic so I was gone by 1987. Mark my words, it gets cold in Florida. The other day we had temps in the upper 20s and lower 30s for overnight lows and wind chill advisories were posted. Back in 2010 we had a coating of snow and 2011 we had a dusting too. Even in sunny Florida old man winter will find you! You have to go way down to Miami to escape the cold completely

    by Bobbi on Dec 28, 2012 at 4:03 pm

  6. 1983 was the year I got divorced and ended up having no blankets. Even here in Florida, it was cold. You know what I asked Santa Claus for that year!!

    by Deborah Lee on Dec 27, 2012 at 9:16 pm

  7. Hey Jim,
    Merry Christmas!

    by Jaime McLeod on Dec 27, 2012 at 9:02 am

  8. Jamie: Christine Roberts gave me the correct Farmers Almanac (yours) for Christmas. Jan gave me the wrong almanac for my birthday.I haven’t had a chance to read all the articles, but I really like the detailed planetary section. Thank you Jim Roberts

    by James Roberts on Dec 27, 2012 at 12:05 am

  9. I remenver that Christmas I was living in Leon Mexico about 500 miles south of Texas Mecxico border and even there is always cold that year was monstrous it was super cold, by February 1984 I came back to south Texas that was in weslaco; all citrus fruit trees were frozen.

    by Raul on Dec 26, 2012 at 9:48 pm

  10. I remember that year because I had family from Ohio. Living in MO it is some times cold and sometimes it is not freezing. My grandmother was in her 80′s but she was there to visit the family that was headed to Colorado. It was so cold we couldn’t spend much time outside!

    by Donna on Dec 26, 2012 at 4:45 pm

  11. I remember my daughter was born that winter.

    by Janet groves on Dec 26, 2012 at 1:53 pm

  12. I remember running a tow truck during that havoc. Lots of vehicles wouldn’t start, batteries were not to be had despite a battery manufacturer in town (NWMo). Lots of snow and wind chills that seemed to cut flesh. I can remember colder temps but not for so many days in a row near zero for a high temp.

    by RJ on Dec 26, 2012 at 1:36 pm

  13. We live in Colorado. In 1983 We had just purchased our home and moved in. By December we were in that blizzard. The neighbor had to shovel a path to the door for us to get outside. The only other way out of the house was to jump out the second story window and hope nothing was under the snow. Our son was 41/2 years old and walked over a 6ft fence. The snow had a crust on the top. We survived and laugh now how we made it back when the blizzard hit and neighbors were skiiing to the grocery store a mile away. Nothing could come or go up and down the street on wheels.

    by Beverly Keller on Dec 26, 2012 at 10:52 am

  14. I remember that Christmas as we were living outside Washington, DC. I was 8 months pregnant and trying very hard not to fall on icy sidewalks. My daughter was born 18 Jan 1984 in the middle of another snowstorm, and the day we brought her home from the hospital it was 5 degrees above zero. It was 3 weeks before my parents could visit from Ohio as it was bitterly cold there, and they were afraid of their pipes freezing. Going to retire in Arizona.

    by Kathy Clinton on Dec 26, 2012 at 9:01 am

  15. Merry Christmas to all, God bless one and all.
    One of my Christmas memorries ~
    We were in living in Huntsville, Utah in 1983. One of the coldest winters with gusting winds that had a wind chill down to -60 and snow on our roofs of around 5′ (yes, we had to shovel it off). The snow was so deep even the fence posts were mostly covered in snow, some of the tops of the fence posts were peeking out from the gusty winds blowing the snow off of them. Snow banks on the street and in the driveways were over 5′ deep. We had over 25′ of snow up on the mountains.
    After opening presents with my family we decided to visit the neighbors down the street. It had been snowing and blowing pretty hard that morning. The snow plows hadn’t been out yet, so my father fired up the snow blower. He plowed through 2′ of snow to get us all to the neighbors that were about a hundred feet down the street. Wow ~ what a great Christmas day!

    by Dawn on Dec 25, 2012 at 11:36 am

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