Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Historic December 1983 Arctic Outbreak

You think it's cold right now?  While we're all shivering in the middle of this arctic blast, it's nothing compared to what happened almost 27 years ago.  One of the worst arctic outbreaks gripped most of the United States including Arkansas.  Whether you like or hate cold weather, this period in Arkansas weather history is fascinating to all.

What made this outbreak notable was the severity and the duration.  For about 10 days, the temperature never rose above freezing allowing the Arkansas River to freeze over.  (See video below.)

We also had a few bouts with winter weather.  Snow and ice glazed the state providing Arkansans with a white Christmas.

I was only 9 years old and remember the icy weather quite well.  To begin the outbreak, we had 2 or three inches of snow.  A couple days later, a round of moderate to heavy freezing rain coated everything with a solid sheet of ice.  I could stand on the snow/ice in my front yard and never break or crack the ice.  (I also weighed much less than I do now).

Just a month prior to this historic arctic outbreak.  Little Rock experienced a round of severe storms.  Some of you may remember while the Arkansas vs. SMU game was being played at War Memorial Stadium, tornado warnings were issued for Pulaski county.  My dads business was hit by a tornado/high winds and destroyed.  I was home watching the game on TV and remember my dad finding a phone somehow and calling.  He said, "we're ruined".  Thankfully he had insurance and it turned out to be the best Christmas our family ever had.  He didn't have to work while the business was rebuilt and we spent a lot of time together during the Holiday.


video
Thanks to the National Weather Service in North Little Rock for this data.

December 19th, 1983 surface map

December 24th, 1983 surface map
The first surface map above shows the initial push of arctic air on the 19th with strong high pressure located in Minnesota.  East winds at the surface and some moisture produced snow with an official amount of .04'' recorded at Little Rock Adams Field (melted snow).  On the 21st, temperatures managed to warm to 31 ahead of another surge of cold air.  It didn't snow with this system, it was all freezing rain. 1.03'' glazed many portions of the state encasing Arkansans in an ice cube.

The next map on December 24th, 1983 indicates a surface high pressure of 1060 mb in Montana.  As you can see with the isobars (lines of equal barometric pressure), the flow of air was out of the due north at the surface.  The strong pressure gradient indicated on the map contributed to very breezy conditions.  This bitter air mass kept temperatures in the single digits and teens Christmas Day.  As a matter of fact, when the kids woke up to see what Santa Clause brought them, the temperature in Little Rock was 0 degrees. I guess the "weather outside was frightful."

Will we ever see anything like this again in our lifetime?  Who knows.  If you remember this event, please leave a few remarks in the comment section.  If you have any pictures you would like to share of this event, send them to photo@katv.com.

Just remember those chilling 10 days in December of 1983 as we go through this cold spell over the next couple of days!  Stay warm!

30 comments:

Pintailkiller said...

Things I remember about that cold blast was that I had turned 16 a few months before and had a paper route - there were a couple of mornings people did not get papers and several more that my dad drove me to make the deliveries. Also, my aunt was driving to Helena from California and got stuck with us for several days.

Anonymous said...

I recall this event too, I was 11 at the time. I remember our pond being frozen solid and all of us kids playing on it. My cousin fell and his best friend commented "real smooth there Mikey" and then proceeded to slip and fall face first and bust his lip. Myself and the other girls just sort of rolled our eyes until we saw the blood...

WeatherNinja said...

Todd..you know we talk about this event all the time. What I remember most is of course the Arkansas River frozen all the way across at the 430 River Bridge and also at the I30 river bridge. I also remember all the cars with dead batteries (mine included). I had to walk to work (and I did) from West NLR over to Sherwood. You do what you have to do. I lived on the bottom of a hill so even if I could have got my truck started..I could not have gotten up the hill. I remember warming up at McCain Mall. I also remember the old First American National Bank in NLR time and temperature and the temp stayed at 2 degrees for the longest. The only thing to me that comes close to the hardship is the 2000 ice storms.

Great video.

Anonymous said...

I lived in Maumelle in an apartment. One of those nights the power went out while I was asleep. I woke up about 5:00 am with a thin coat of ice on the glass of water by my bed. I was so cold I couldn't feel my fingers or toes! I stayed with my mom in Conway for a couple of days. If I remember correctly, the power went out with some frequency because the grid was overloaded. I also seem to remember several nursing homes being evacuated because of power outages.

Anonymous said...

This is wxguru's wife. Boy do I remember that event when I was 10. My mom was driving us to school but the roads got slicker and more treacherous,as we went. We ended up sliding off the road off Rodney Parham at Leawood and walked about a mile up into the neighborhood where my grandparents lived.At one point my youngest sister was about 5 at the time was crying and was so cold so we stopped at a strangers doorstep and they invited us in for warm cocoa and company to warm back up before we set out on foot again.They were awesome!That was one of the most memorable days of my childhood and it was crazy how fast the ice came down and halted everyone in their tracks.

Mitchell McDill said...

Todd,
I have heard a lot about the 1983 Arctic Outbreak but I was 3 then and have no recollection of it. My weather collective memory kicks in about 86. I wish I could have seen it because I can't imagine temps. being so low for Arkansas! The lowest I've seen the thermometer is about 6 degrees one frigid morning over 15 years ago.

Anonymous said...

I was 9 at the time. I remember the snow first the ice on top of that it eas like little rock was a ice rink for days and days..great sledding resevoir rd was awesome. Bring it on again !

Anonymous said...

I was a sophomore at ASU that December. I remember snow on and off all month. Not a lot, but just enough to be really Christmasy! After my last final on Friday morning, it began to snow again. My dad was so concerned about me driving home to southeast Arkansas but I was determined. He met me in Brinkley so he could escort me across the Clarendon bridgeway. I can remember how beautiful the snowfall was as I drove through the country, and I knew I would never forget it! Thanks for the weather stroll down memory lane! I love this cold!! I want it to stay and stay!! So.....I'm trying to use what you've taught us in your video blogs, and I've been watching runs of the GFS and NAM. Unless I'm not remembering well, I'm seeing some interesting things down the line before Christmas. You call it the 540 line, but on those maps it's the 5400 line....right???? And is that the freezing line??? If so....maybe, just maybe a little Christmas snowfall could come our way. I know, I know....it's early!! But it sure is fun to watch!! Loved the picture of Chika on Twitter! Thanks so much for taking the time to make that dream come true for him! He must have been on cloud 9 visiting you in the studio! We love him at Chenal Elementary! Have a great week!!

Chad Gardner said...

I was 6 years old when this outbreak hit. While I don't remember the snow/ice that we got out of this stretch of weather, I do remember riding in my dad's truck down Main Street in my hometown of Glenwood. As we passed by the bank, the temperature on the outdoor sign was in the low, single digits. Remember those trusty bank signs where the numbers were outlined by individual lights? That image will always stick with me since it was so rare to see a temp with only one digit... Are we in for a repeat this year??? Hmmmm...

By the way, I'll try to post some video in the next couple of days. Took a weekend trip to NW Alabama this weekend and it snowed on us all the way from 'Bama to Memphis this morning. A light dusting accumulated as some of the heavier "flurry" bands moved through. I had my superior to iPhone, DroidX (that was for Todd...), mounted on my window so I shot some video as we were driving.

SNOWBIRD BOB said...

Hello Everyone, I am currently in Boone,NC, I know, I wish yall were here too... I wish I could bring all this snow back to us..Have not studied the model & etc latley been busy driving.. 13 hours!! It better snow alot or This would definitley go down as the biggest bust, besides the Joplin trip. Anyway, I was 8 years old when the 1983 Outbreak set in, I do know for us down here in Northern LA it was one the longest stretch here too.I remember my uncles & cousins riding 3-wheelers on area lakes & ponds, My dad even road a 3-wheeler to work,roads were bad.Well,yall take care. I will send Todd some pics & video in the coming days..

jimmylee42 said...

What about the 28th and 29th of December, 1983, which I've always included in those 12 days when it did not get above freezing. I remember those days all too well. The 28th high was 29, the 29th high was 22, according to the records that I kept at the time, when I was an old guy in my 40's. I checked the NWS climate book for Little Rock and it agrees that the record for below freezing temps is 12 days and it was that time period Dec. 19 - Dec. 30.

Shack said...

I'm in Sioux Falls, SD, and if I said brrr the other day, I really didn't mean it. THIS IS BRRRRR!!!! -5 right now, ugh!

They got hit pretty good yesterday.

As far as 1983, I think I must have been visiting Dallas from Florida. I remember going out there for Christmas and the lake by my brother's house ended up freezing over. I can't remeber how many days below freezing they had, but it was a bunch for Texas. That has to be the year that this happened.

Anyway, I think that we all get excited for snow because we know it will go away not too long after. We get the best of both worlds so to speak. I couldn't imagine dealing with what I am looking at up here all winter long.

Get me back to Arkansas! lol.

Jason H said...

I was only 5 and dont recall it, but thanks for sharing. It was mighty COLD here in Randolph County this morning. I recorded a low of 11. We may not see a low that cold the rest of the year. Also, looking like we could have some slick roads Thursday morning if temps keep trending colder. Wont be much, but it wont take much FZR to make it bad.

Eric said...

This is chilly weather but boring..im hoping we can get some snow in the central part of arkansas before the big january thaw everyone is predicting. Meaning joe B and noaa. I know we most likely get any snow this winter but u can always wish.

tboyce1979 said...

I barely remember this seeing as I was all of 4 yrs old, but I do remember some talk about it. I DO remember however about 4 or 5 yrs later when we got the foot of snow. I think I remember my mother measuring 14in. to be exact in our back yard with a blue yardstick! We were out of school for about a week and a half! I want that just one more time :) But I don't see that happening again any time soon :(

raishaw said...

I was ten when this happened. I can remember our power going out and we all slept in the living room because that's where the gas heater was. We put all of our food in trash cans and put them outside on our screened back porch because it stayed so cold.

Shack said...

Would you people quit talking about how you don't remember because you were so young? ;)

You are making me feel REALLY old, lol. I was 15, btw.

Anonymous said...

I remembet ark was like alaska it was frigid an icy and just terrible lots of elderly people passed away lets hope nothing like that evet happens again

WeatherNinja said...

To Chad...you must have had your head out the window and your brain froze if you actually believe your Droid X is superior to an iPhone. On video shot with an iPhone you could actually see the snow.

Jason H said...

Hey Todd do you have anything at all on a Snow/Ice event that happened around Jan or Feb of 94'? It wasnt but just a few countys that got snow, most got rain I believe. It was by far the biggest snow I have ever seen in Randolph County. Most places in the County received 15-18 inches of snow. I know your bust, but when you have time. Thanks a bunch!

raishaw said...

Does anyone have any thoughts on the system coming through Christmas week? Having a white Christmas would be even better than birthday snow. :-D

Anonymous said...

I remember that December well. I was 11 years old at the time living in Delight, Arkansas. The main thing I recall about that December was the fact that our electricity was out for what seemed like nearly two weeks. We lived in the county and no electricity meant no water to run the well pump. Each night my Mom and Dad would load up the truck with us kids and we'd drive to my grandmother's house 3 miles away who was with a different eleciticty provider to get baths and load up water jugs. I remember everyone coming to our house for Christmas and my dad helping everyone walk from their cars due to the coating of ice that had been on the ground forever.

tboyce1979 said...

Okay, so without looking at maps like you guys, I'm noticing several of the weather websites have changed their forecasts a couple of times today beginning into Saturday through Christmas. Why can't they get a handle on it. I'll see snow on one day then I'll go back an hour later and it'll be taken out, only to pop up on another day. Is there something brewing that no one is really talking about? We haven't had much of a forecast from you weather nuts on here for a few days. Does that mean there is NOTHING coming soon? I need something to be excited about so PlEASE tell me if we could see some snow in a few days! Please please pleeease!!

Amy said...

And how about Christmas week 1989?? If I remember correctly, we didn't get out of the single digits several days that week. I'm thinking the high on Christmas day was 5 degrees that year, and that wasn't wind chill!! BRRRRRR!!!

Paul (The Wxguru) said...

Amy, if that is the one I am thinking about also, we had the thundersnow in Jan that year.....it was either then or in '88. A foot of snow and we didn't get above freezing for awhile.

Amy said...

Paul, I remember that thundersnow in Early February of '88, I believe. I am a teacher,and the Principal actually came over the intercom that afternoon and said, "It looks like the weatherman has this forecast right, and we may not be back in school for several days!" That was the best school announcement ever.... and a bold statement coming from a Nun, but she was right on...along with the weatherman! That was the deepest snow I've seen in my lifetime. All the cars in the apartment parking lot were completely buried! Beautiful, beautiful!!!

WeatherNinja said...

Amy, you are correct about the cold wave of 89 (week of Christmas).

Here are the highs and lows for some of the days that week:

Dec 21st High was 26 Low was 5
Dec 22th High was 14 Low was 0
Dec 23th High was 18 Low was -2

These are all records (shown above)

We didn't have much snow that year with less than 1/2 inch falling at NLR.

In 1988 it was Jan 6/7 that had the record snowfall and cold temps. Still one of my favorite snows in LR. It shut us down. I remember I40 was nothing but ruts!

Anonymous said...

Wxguru, I remember the snowfall of 88. I worked for Acxiom (it was still CCX then) and we were returning from a business trip to Florida. Our company plane (a King Air) was the last plane to land at the Little Rock Airport. We promptly slid off the end of the runway and did some minor damage to the underbelly of the airplane. Our families had been unable to get to the airport to pick us up and I think we got the last rental car in Little Rock. When we got to the rice fields past maumelle we couldn't see a thing. We took turns sticking our heads out the window and telling the driver "A little to your left --- a little to your right...." I think it took us about 3 hours to get to Conway...I wish we could get another snowfall like that one!

Arkansasdreamer said...

I remember that very well. My dad was a riverboat captain on the Arkansas River during that time. He had pictures of all the ice breaking up once they were able to get the tugboats out moving in the river. That was pretty wild!

Have you seen the house that had a main water line break and in case their home in ice in Kansas City?

http://news.yahoo.com/video/kansascity-kmbc-18211647/water-main-break-encases-home-in-ice-23484048

Can you imagine what they were thinking when they came home and saw that?

Duck said...

I thought this thread was about the Arctic outbreak in Arkansas but so many are posting about others that did not happen here or even happen the same year. I lived in Fayetteville, Arkansas that year and was in 10th grade. I can't believe that they did not mention the wind chills during this period of time. There were nights that the wind chills got down to 40 to 50 below zero. The extreme cold was so bad with those wind chills that it literally twisted and cracked the rafters in the roofs of houses and the shingles and decking was just caving in because the ice being so thick and heavy. There were days after that that we were out of school ONLY because of the cold. The temps caused the wind chills to be so cold that the school districts were concerned about students and faculty getting frostbite so they cancelled school a few days. A friend of mine had just moved here from Florida and I told him that winters here were not too terribly bad and we ended up having that! lol