In last month’s article we told you about how similar this year is to 1976 in the weather patterns.
While no two years are exactly the same even when you have many similarities, I thought it would be fun to go back and look at that frigid winter.
The winter really started in late October when we woke up to a low of 28 on the morning of the 29th. While that is not a record for October, it set the pattern for the coming winter: below normal.
In November, 13 of the first 15 mornings were in the 20s or 30s, with sleet observed on the 14th. The last half was more up and down but bottomed out at a very cold 17 on the morning of the 30th.
December continued the alternating pattern of mild followed by some real cold shots. For example, a high of 69 on the 18th was eclipsed by a low of 13 on the 22nd. Christmas Day brought rain with a high of 40 here, but snow fell in the mountains. The real frigid air was held back until the new year. New Years Day brought a low of 14 and a high of 34; typical of what was to come. (By the way, the Dawgs lost 27-3 in the Sugar bowl that year.) In the rest of January, 1977, only 5 mornings were above freezing.
In that month, we had 14 days with lows in the teens or lower. It reached a brutal 5 degrees on two mornings, and we had an ice storm on the 3rd and the 14th, and 3 inches of snow on the 24th. On the 20th, the day Jimmy Carter was sworn in as President, we had snow showers most of the day which whitened the frozen ponds and the bare, frozen ground, making the landscape look more like Minnesota rather than Georgia. The cold continued into February, though not as severe, even bringing 1-2 inches of snow to portions of south Georgia on the 16th.
It wasn’t just the South that had a brutal winter that year. Most of the nation east of the Rockies suffered, with Buffalo, NY receiving over 200 inches of snow for the season. The weather pattern most responsible for the extremely cold winter was what is called a “negative NAO.” This pattern, also called the Greenland block, forces arctic fronts well south of their usual latitude due to a stubborn high that sets up over or near Greenland. It has been measured since 1950, and that winter it was consistently below normal, much like what we had three years ago in the very cold winter of 2009-10.
I do not believe we will have a repeat of 1976-77 this winter. But do not be surprised if you hear forecasts for some real bone-chilling cold at times this winter (well below 20 degrees). One difference in 1976 and this year is the dryness. So far, the southern storm track has been very quiet, and we are really in need of rain. Hopefully, in the wake of mega-storm Sandy, this will change soon.
Weather averages for October, 2012: Avg low: 50. Avg. high: 72. Lowest: 40. Highest: 80. Mean: 60.9 (-1.1). Rainfall: 1.97” (-1.76”). 2012 total to October 31: 34.15” (-7.49”).
Mark Jenkins is the cooperative weather observer for Madison County. He provides a monthly weather column to The Madison County Journal.