Monday, December 12, 2011

Remembering One Of The Worst Arctic Outbreaks in Arkansas

Video of the frozen Arkansas River in December of 1983 from the KATV archive.



Do you remember what happened 28 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.

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.

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.

28 comments:

Vickie said...

I remember it! My husband's workplace was shut down for a week because of the weather. We were living paycheck to paycheck, had 3 children and no money coming in that week. Seems like I remember it being 10 degrees in the daytime! Was that even close? My husband's employer learned to hire out to clear off parking lots during future snow and ice events, so they always had work after that year. I learned to always have an extra week of groceries on hand in the winter! God got us thru, as usual.

Teresa from Pine Bluff said...

I was 10...my two older sisters, myself, and my mom and dad had to sleep in the living room floor for a week! We had a gas fireplace and that's the only heat we had in the house...they used my bedroom for the refrigerator! I was needless to say miserable and I vividly remembering opening our Christmas presents by the big window in our living room so we could see them...then just like a Christmas miracle our electricity came on about noon Christmas day! :)

Anonymous said...

I remember looking at the frozen river while crossing on the I-430 bridge on the way to Catholic High School and seeing tire tracks that went all the way across.

Anonymous said...

I was living in an apartment in Maumelle. One of those nights the power went out after I went to sleep. I woke up about 5:00 am literally freezing to death. A glass of water by my bed had started to freeze and there was icy slush in my toilet! Fortunatley, I had family in Conway where I could stay. There were "brownouts" occuring because of the load on the power grid. I remember evacuations of some nursing homes that had lost power....Very dangerous situation! People without power, people without water (burst pipes) and people stranded in their cars. My grandparents had cattle and had to go out 2 or 3 times a day to break the ice on the ponds! I don't remember, but I am sure there was loss of life associated with the extreme cold....I hope we never experience that kind of prolonged cold again.....

Susan in Heber....

Mark said...

"The greatest United States cold wave of the 20th century occurred during January, 1977. Snow was reported in Miami, Florida and temperatures across the northern U.S. from Iowa to Pennsylvania didn't rise above freezing for the entire month."

I'm not sure of the original source of this fact, but I remember that month. The Arkansas river froze. US 67-167 From Jacksonville to I-40 was CLOSED on one side, routing all traffic onto the Southbound (I believe) side. It was cold and NASTY.

jimmylee42 said...

Todd- I remember it very well and we talk about it often in my family. I notice on the above graphic that the 28th and 29th of Dec was left off. Those two days did not get above freezing either, as I recall. I know all my records say it was 12 days in a row below freezing.

The previous record in LR for the low high temperature in December was 14 degrees before this event. There was two days in a row that the high temp was below that. 10 degrees on the 24th and 12 degrees on the 25th.

Anonymous said...

Too bad i don't remember this piece of Arkansas weather. I was born 4 years later in 87. Bring on the real Cold weather.

Omarr Wilson said...

I was Not even Born When This Happened. But My mom Was telling me about this Event. She was Living in West Helena Ark. They Only had a Furnice Fire Place And It was not working that well. She Said that was the only time in her life that she has Woke up And Tried to Comb Frozen Hair. The Mississippi River Froze over and My Uncle Drove Clear across It to Mississippi and Back to Ark. They Crossed In front of the Casino In Lula. That was An event that The South only have Once in a Lifetime. But I would love to Experience Something like that

Anonymous said...

We got a call at midnight that our cabin cruiser at the Yacht Club had sunk. The ice busted through the boot. Eleven boats went down from the ice. A few people lived on their boats at the time. Diesel fuel was on the surface throughout the boat slips. People had to leave their boats. When we arrived to check on our boat we noticed a young woman walking across the iced over river with a small child. My husband yelled at them to get off the ice! We had to hire divers to strap large balloons to lift the boot off the floor of the river. NIGHTMARE!!

Anonymous said...

I was only 5 years old at the time, but have heard tons of stories. The "HIGH" temp on Christmas Eve that year here in Pocahontas was 7! Numerous nights below 0 in that time period too. Some of our family members took pictures of people driving 4 wheelers on a local pond and all 5 of Randolph Counties rivers was froze over. Crazy!

Raj said...

Wow! Wish we could have weather like that this winter!

Anonymous said...

Yes how well I remember!!! I was working on a Thoroughbred farm near Hot Springs and we had to keep the water lines dripping to make sure we had water for the horses. We also had to keep breaking the ice in the water tanks and buckets so they could drink.

Mickey Graham said...

I remember duck hunting that year. Everything except the River was frozen solid. We went to Tar Camp Park @ Redfield and launched the boat after an hour of breaking ice at the ramp to get the boat in the water. The only place with open water was the main channel of the river about 50 yards wide that day. We had to go real slow because the ice bergs floating in the channel would damage our boat. We rounded the corner from the ramp and to our amazement the river channel had thousands of mallard ducks in it. Thousands! We just watched. To amazed to even think about shooting ducks. It was un....real! Never seen it before then or since then. That was COLD!!
Mickey Graham
Redfield, Ar.

SnowbirdBob said...

Hello Everyone, First I would like to say, I remember the 1983 Outbreak fairly well, I was 7 years old at the time,even down here in N La all ponds & partial lakes was frozen over..Speaking of Arctic Outbreaks, This winter could be very Interesting, I will explain.

I have been reading post from personally 2 of the best meterologist in the Nation, Joe Bastardi & Larry Cosgrove..I will explain a little, I will be the first to tell you, I dont know much about what they are talking about as far as the warming of certain layers in the atmosphere can lead to a long-duration of extreme Cold across much of the country including the south.In fact one of them, If not both have brought up the years 1984-85 & 1983 which were Brutal..Joe has been looking at similar patterns in the upper atmosphere that occurred before these big Outbreaks & suggest that there is a possibility we maybe heading into a period such as that as we head into the last part of Dec. & early Jan...Now, I can speak from myself..I have been watching models for over 15 years, I dont recall a time when the long-range models really dont have a clue what is going on..Example Today Canadian says Snowstorm,GFS says rainstorm,EURO says I meet you in the Middle..Not one of the long-range models have been consistant over the last week or so...This brings me to my own SnowbirdBob gut feelings that the Lord has given me, Enjoy the next 2-4 days of milder weather, After that, I beleive we could have a step down effect, Which could lead to a wetter & wintry period..Also, It dont stop there, I even said in my long-range outlook back in Sept. Late Dec. Early Jan. WATCH OUT!! for extreme Cold & Wintry conditions & I am not backing away from that idea...Have you all noticed something over the last 10 days or so, The surface temps seems easier to cool than previous winters,It just wants to snow over the same locations..The South! You know you just get that feeling, Something Extreme is brewing..No, I am not Wishcasting or wanting an Arctic Outbreak of Historic times..lol Ok, maybe a little..Anyway, I say sit back hold on tight,cause the weather is wanting to fight..So, some of you maybe thinking, NAO,AO,AAO, Positive, The models are not showing anything extreme,Blah,Blah, Blah..lol...Ok ,Here goes SnowbirdBob's Extreme Weather Meter for Wintry Weather & Extreme Cold for late Dec. in Jan. 95% Chance, That's right...& Always"We Shall See"

SnowbirdBob

Carol Allen said...

The house we lived in at the time had a very steep driveway which led up to a single-car carport. My husband returned from work and parked behind my car, which was parked under the carport. A short time after he arrived home, I happened to look out the living room window, only to see his car out in the middle of the street! The driveway was so slick that even with the emergency brake engaged, it still slid into the street. Fortunately, it didn't hit anything or anyone and we lived on a street that wasn't heavily traveled.

Pintailkiller said...

Omar- the Mississippi River did not freeze over. The casino's did not come until 1992. My dad ran Helena Marine at the time and he commuted from our home in Sherwood back and forth. He told me about the ice chunks in the river and the hazard to the barges. The river was closed to navigation north of Cairo, IL.
I had a paper route for the Democrat in NLR in the Indian Hills area. Many mornings the papers got delivered late - all my customers were understanding and quite a few offered coffee or hot cocoa. I remember having to walk alot over there due to the hills

Michael said...

I Think u are rite SnowBirdBob Because I am 18 years old an this is only the second time that it has snowed in November were I live I live in Trumann and it now has snowed 5.5inches of snow an its not officially winter yet I will definitely stayed tuned to the Arkansas weather blog an ur tweeter feed back on the blog

Hank Williford said...

Appreciate the info SnowBirdBob. We'll hope that happens! Can't wait to see what we get. All we can do is sit back and see what the Lord gives us!

ArWeAtHeRGuY(Zdad) said...

Thanks, SnowbirdBob. I too have been reading and listening to @BigJoeBastardi and also to you!! I am in the "something BIG is coming down the road" camp!! The models dont have a clue. Keep us informed Bob.

LaciLBridger said...

I was in my moms belly, but I still get harassed for them driving my mom to the hospital new years eve for me to he born at midnight then back home a few later. They say they slid there then back. My grandfather always said he was going to stop on the bridge and pinch my head off cause I wasn't a boy and throw me over, but it was so slick that he couldn't get the car stopped!

JasonBHampton said...

Im with ya SNOWBIRDBOB and I hope it pans out. I want to see the Coldest/snowiest weather we have ever seen. I like Ryan Vaughans prediction of someone in Arkansas seeing snow on the ground Christmas morning. I love Chistmas, but like most kids I am not wanting to see what presents I have under the tree. I am wanting to see what the weather brings. I said it in November and I will say it now my wishcaster is calling for a MAJOR icing event in the coming days in the deep South. As SNOWBIRDBIB says " We Shall See"

Delania said...

My husband and I were a young married couple with no children at that time living & working in LR. We lived off Kanis and I worked downtown. One of the ladies I worked with had an old Volkswagon that would go anywhere on anything. She would come and pick me up and off we went to work down 12th Street. It was an adventure for us.

Cary said...

I was 5 when this happened. I remember my dad coming inside from the backyard saying he just walked across the pool. We ran to the window and saw his footprints going across the shallow end. Our pool had froze solid enough for us to eventually build a little snowman in the middle of it.

The Weather Fanatic said...

Let's see..I was 8 during this event and remember watching The Weather Channel and thought it was funny to see the "local forecast" call for a low of zero or 1! They didn't have the local on the 8's back then. I remember Cantore (AKA Mr. Potato Head) very well. I enjoyed sledding on the sheets of ice but don't really remember how cold it felt. I'm sure Mom had me bundled up like The Christmas Story kid! I was tempted to stick my tongue on a pole, but glad I didn't! :-)

As for the next few weeks, I'm afraid Jason is on something with a major icing event for the Deep South. Unfortunately we are due for a big one. It's been 11 years now for Central Arkansas. We all remember that one well. It was bad.. 3 and 1/2 inches of solid ice on everything and the temps were in the low to mid 20's! We've been fortunate the past 2 winters with plenty of Snow, but I'm afraid our luck runs out this winter. Hope I'm wrong! I still think we get some snow, but probably more icing events than snow this year. Happy Holidays everyone.

Michael Bodiak (The Weather Fanatic)

Michael Hook said...

Here is a link from Dec 1983 from The Weather Channel. Look at the arctic air covering the country:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MGbqmBXbxI

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-tvauatq1w&feature=related

Michael Hook said...

Wow, I just spent 10 minutes typing some comments on the arctic outbreak from 12-83 but somehow they were lost.

I will try again.

The thing I remember the most about Dec of 83 was of course the extreme cold. It lasted for what seemed like 3 weeks although I'm sure we had a little moderation followed by reenforcing shots of cold air. I do remember the AR River being frozen at the I-430 river bridge and ice in the river near the I-30 river bridge. The First American National Bank clock in NLR (now city services building) and other banks in NLR were showing temperatures of 9-12 degrees in the afternoon on a couple of days.

I remember the cold was so intense down here that many cars would not start due to dead batteries, mine included so I had to walk to work and I lived near Burns Park and walked to work at Jones Nissan-Isuzu in Sherwood. That might seem like a long way and it was, but I actually have walked to school in -40 degree weather when I lived in Alaska.

I remember we had some winter precipitation but not from a big storm but from a couple of smaller ones and there seemed to be more sleet/ice than snow until around Christmas and then we did have snow on the ground.

The cold extended into January and I got married in an ice storm on January 14, 1984. It was 16 degrees when my wife and I left our wedding reception that afternoon and traveled to Dallas for our honeymoon. 35mph all the way down I-30 only to get to Dallas and find the city shutdown due to ice and snow.

Those were fun days for sure and even though I got married in an ice storm, it must have been good luck as my wife and I will celebrate our 28th anniversary on Jan 14, 2012.

And back then,there was only one channel on TV to me, The Weather Channel.

WeatherNinja

JasonBHampton said...

Jan 1977 was SUPER cold too, Not only did Northeast Arkansas have the COLD but we also had the frozen precip. Area schools only went to school 1 week the whole month! Roads were bad most of the month, and talking to alot of people the winds was very bad too!

Pocahontas Jan 1977 facts:

30 of 31 days the low was freezing or below.

11 days the low was single digits or lower.

Jan 8th it was -8

23 of the 31 highs for the month didnt make it out of the 30's!

jimmylee42 said...

I just looked up the record for days in a row below freezing and it was in 1983. December was the month and it stayed below freezing for 12 days and some change.

Talking about the winter of 76-77, I remember it well too. Those three winters of 76, 77, 78 all had record breaking stats, with 77-78 coldest winter on average for NLR and coldest since 1917-18 for LR. Jan 77 had the coldest average low temp. Jan 79 had the coldest overall average for NLR and again 2nd coldest for LR since the 17-18 winter. This was the only time in weather history for LR to have three winters in a row with months of January all averaging below freezing for the entire month.

All of these stats come from the NWS.

NOAA Winter Guidance