On January 1st, 1970, a phenomenal snow event occurred in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The snow produced the biggest mid-winter snowfall accumulation in two decades and paralyzed traffic across portions of the northern Black Hills. Three to four feet of new snow accumulated over the New Year's Holiday. For the three day period ending on January 1st, some accumulations included 37 inches at Lead, and 46 inches at Deadwood. Gusty winds of 25 to 40 miles an hour produced additional problems by creating widespread drifting which blocked roads.
A strong low pressure system moved southeast from Alberta on January 2, 1994. This storm, known as an Alberta Clipper, raced across the Dakotas into northwest Missouri before turning more eastward. As the low approached, a broad band of snow developed over Iowa. The snow fell at a rate of about an inch per hour at its heaviest. Much of the state received four to six inches of snow. This was the first widespread snow event of the 1993-1994 winter season for Iowa. The system started the precipitation as freezing rain in Woodbury, Monona and Crawford counties. Major travel problems did not arise with this storm as very little wind was evident. Light winds are unusual for an Alberta Clipper.
On January 3, 1990, a low pressure system moved rapidly northeast from the southwestern United States, passing just south of Iowa. Considerable gulf moisture was drawn north into the system and resulted in a thundersnow event in portions of Iowa. A narrow band, about 30 miles wide, of 4 to 10 inch snows fell from Shenandoah through Indianola, Newton, Vinton and Dubuque. The heaviest snow was in Carlisle where 11 inches fell.
On January 3rd and 4th, 1971, a blizzard buffeted most of Iowa. Heavy snowfalls of 10 to 15 inches, locally to 20 inches were common across the state. Gusty winds exceeding 50 miles an hour with temperatures dropping to below zero produced wind chill readings in the 40 to 70 below zero range. Highways were closed, thousands of motorists were stranded and activities associated with travel ceased. 27 deaths were indirectly linked to the storm, mostly due to over-exertion.
Much of Iowa experienced snow and heavy snow on January 4th and 5th, 1990. Snow began over the southwestern part of the state and developed quickly over the rest of Iowa. Snowfall was generally in the five to eight inch range in a band extending from southwestern and west-central Iowa, through central and into southeastern Iowa. The greatest amounts were at Audobon and Little Sioux, with each reporting eight inches.
A warm front helped to cause a heavy snow event on January 6th, 1995 across southwest and central Iowa. Snowfall amounts were generally in the six to eight inch range in a 60-mile wide band extending from south of the Coucil Bluffs area through Des Moines to between Marshalltown and Waterloo. The Des Moines airport received 8.1 inches of snow, with 7.8 inches reported at Ankeny. Following the snowfall, an arctic cold front dropped southeast across the state. The winds were gusty in the wake of the front, gusting at times to 30 to 40 miles an hour in northwest Iowa.
In the late afternoon hours of January 7th, 1989, one to three inches of snow were blown around by northwest winds of 30 to 40 miles an hour, occasionally gusting to 55 miles an hour in northwest Iowa. Driving was nearly impossible. Scattered power outages were reported. Wind chill indices plummeted to dangerously cold levels at 50 below zero and colder.
You think it's cold here in the northern plains? Vostok, Antarctica is the coldest recording station on the planet. In August (that's during the southern hemisphere's winter) the average low temperature is around 100 degrees below zero. The daily highs climb all the way to 80 degrees below zero. That's an average and that's without counting the effects of the wind chill.
On January 9th, 1987, a snow event moved across most of southeast Iowa. Amounts were not unusually heavy for this time of year, but it was the first signficant snowfall in nearly a year in this portion of Iowa. Three to six inch amounts fell over the east-central and southeast counties resulting in numerous auto accidents and injuries. The Quad Cities alone reported 100 fender benders. There were 20 injuries due to auto accidents.
Much of the Northern Plains was in the midst of one of the ground blizzards that the area is notorious for on January 10th, 1982. While only 1 to 3 inches of snow fell from January 9th through 12th, winds at 20 to 40 miles an hour led to widespread areas of blowing snow. The blowing snow reduced visibilities and drifted snow to five feet deep closing many roads. For three days extremely cold temperatures (as low as 30 degrees below zero) combined with 20 to 40 mile an hour winds to produce extremely dangerous wind chills of 50 to 100 degrees below zero.
On January 11th, 1975, an intense low pressure system moved nearly straght northward from south central Iowa to southeast Minnesota producing a severe blizzard in the tri-state area. This storm turned out to be one of the worse winter events of all time and is often referred to as "The Blizzard of the Century". Snow amounts of eight to 15 inches were accompanied by wind gusts to 75 miles an hour. Snow drifted to 20 feet paralyzing the entire area. Thousands of motorists were stranded. In northwest Iowa, 15 deaths were attributed to the storm. In addition, livestock losses were substantial. Estimates included 15,000 cattle; 15,000 hogs; 1,500 sheep; and 70,000 chickens totalling to about 20 million dollars in losses. The governor of Iowa requested that 40 northwest counties be declared as Federal Disaster areas.
A storm system moved across the Rockies and into the Plains from January 11th through January 13th, 1993. Snow and heavy snow fell over the northwestern three-quarters of Iowa. Snowfall was generally in the five to eight inch range. One area of heavy snowfall was in a 60-mile wide band extending from Storm Lake to Lake Mills. Eight to 12 inches were common in that area. Many schools were forced to close due to this storm, but due to the lack of winds, major travel disruption did not occur.
January 12th, 1912 also holds the record for the coldest low for Sioux City. On this day, the mercury dropped all the way to 35 degrees below zero.
On January 13th, 1911 Rapid City residents were likely talking about yesterday's weather events. On January 12th, 1911 an incredible temperature drop affected Rapid City. At 6 am the temperature was a pleasant 49 degrees, however, over the next two hours the temperature plunged an amazing 62 degrees to 13 degrees below zero. This 62 degree drop is the U.S. record for a two hour temperature change.
This was business as usual in Rapid City. Two days earlier, on January 10th, 1911 the temperature at 7 am was 55 degrees and in just 15 minutes the temp fell 47 degrees to a chilly 8 degrees above zero.
Very strong winds were reported in northwest Iowa on January 14th, 1983. On this day, the Sioux City airport had wind gusts to 66 miles an hour. A single engine Cessna aircraft was overturned by the wind.
And from January 14th through January 16th, 1994, extreme cold gripped all of Iowa. The mercury dipped in Mason City to 28 degrees below zero. Wind chill indices dropped to 40 to 65 below zero across the entire state. Some water pipes froze as this was the coldest air seen in Iowa in four years.
January 15th and 16th, 1982 the Northern Plains were struck with a severe ground blizzard for the second straight weekend. As with the previous storm only a few inches of new snow fell but northwest winds to 45 miles and a few gusts to 60 miles an hour caused widespread blowing snow reducing visibilities to near zero. Drifts as high as 10 feet were reported in northern Iowa. Extreme wind chills of 50 to 100 degrees below zero made any trip outdoors dangerous. Numerous deaths resulted for the second weekend in a row due to the extreme cold.
The only day of the year (through 1993) that a tornado touchdown has never been reported and confirmed somewhere in the United States is January 16th. Every other day of the year has at least one confirmed tornado report somewhere in the country.
An ice and sleet storm battered southwest Iowa on January 17th, 1979. The ice made the roads impassable with many cars and trucks sliding into the ditches.
An arctic cold front also gave South Dakota some very strong winds on this day. Seventy-five mile an hour gusts were reported in eastern South Dakota. Icing also occurred with the wind and ice leading to the toppling of a 250 foot radio tower near Aberdeen and a drive-in theater screen near Vermillion.
A massive winter storm drilled portions of the Northern Plains from January 18th through the 20th, 1988. A strong area of low pressure moved northeast across the area producing widespread precipitation. Snow amounts of 6 to 20 inches were reported in south central and southeast South Dakota...4 to 8 inches was common in northwest Iowa...and 8 to 12 inches fell in southwest Minnesota. Snow amounts included: 20 inches at Tripp, SD...18 inches at Yankton...13 inches at Worthington...and 10 inches in Sioux Falls. A foot and a half of snow was also observed in extreme northwest Iowa. As is so common with strong winter storms in the plains, high winds produced blowing snow greatly reducing visibilities and the widespread drifting blocked many roads across the area.
A narrow band of heavy, wet snow buried portions of the tri- state area on January 19th, 1990. Snowfall amounts of 8 to 12 inches extended through extreme southeast South Dakota. The greatest amount was 12 inches at Vermillion. The band of snow then extended across northwest Iowa with totals of 6 to 12 inches common. The heavy, wet snow broke many tree branches and power lines across the area resulting in a messy cleanup.
On January 20th, 1990, an ice storm glazed much of Iowa. Automobile accidents were numerous across the state and numbered possibly in the thousands. One of the larger accidents occurred south of Des Moines on Interstate 35 as up to seventy five trucks slid off the highway blocking both north and south bound lanes. The storm, as far as travel was concerned, was described as the worst in several decades in the southwest half of the state. It was estimated that 90 percent of the school districts in the state cancelled classes.
A winter storm hammered the tri-state area for the third weekend in a row from January 21st through January 24th, 1982. Rain and freezing rain began over southwest Iowa the evening of the 21st and spread northeast. Heavy snow fell over the north, with 18 inches recorded at Sioux City and 14 inches at Mason City. Strong winds blew the snow into drifts of 15 to 20 feet and reduced visibilities to zero. Southern Iowa was covered with a thick layer of ice. Most roads and schools were closed. Roofs of poultry houses and cattle sheds collapsed under the weight of heavy snow killing numerous chickens and cattle.
Conditions were no better in Minnesota. Minneapolis set a single storm snowfall record with 18.5 inches of new snow. Incredibly, the record that this storm broke had just been set two days earlier when 17.4 inches buried the Twin Cities. That's nearly 36 inches of new snow in just over 3 days.
In January of 1888, a harsh blizzard brought extreme hardship and many deaths over the great plains. It extended from Montana, the Dakotas, Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa southward to Texas. Death estimates ranged from several hundred to nearly a thousand. Although there have been colder cold waves, snow storms with more snow and higher winds, the combination of these in this blizzard makes it one of the worse in history. What made this storm especially severe was that extremely mild air dominated the region before it hit. School children walked to school in the morning with no coats on, only to be caught in a raging blizzard on the way home in the afternoon. Weather forecasts of 100 years ago were either non-existent or very inaccurate.
A strong Arctic front brought a blast of high winds and plummeting temperatures to the Northern Plains on January 23rd, 1988. As the winds and snow swept across the Plains some described it as a "wall of white" as visibilities plunged to near zero in white out conditions. Six to eight inches of snow fell in southwest Minnesota with lesser amounts elsewhere. Wind chills plunged to around 50 below zero in many areas. Winds of 25 to 40 miles an hour with gusts over 50 MPH blew the snow into a frenzy with the drifting closing many roads.
On January 23rd, 1971 the temperature at Prospect Creek, Alaska fell to 80 degrees below zero. That is the coldest temperature ever recorded in the United States. The high temperature that day was just 64 degrees below zero.
Severe weather is certainly unusual in the northern and central plains in January, but did occur in a good portion of southeast and east central Iowa on January 24th, 1967. On this day, two inch hail fell at Armstrong and over two dozen tornadoes were reported. Five miles north of Fort Madison, one fatality occurred from a tornado along with six injuries. Another six injuries were also reported elsewhere.
On the other side of the weather spectrum, a blizzard blasted northwest Iowa on January 24th and 25th, 1972. Snow, coupled with winds of 60 to 70 miles an hour brought travel to a standstill and resulted in many accidents. Schools were closed, and hundreds of students were unable to return to their homes. Two persons died due to exposure from this storm.
On January 25th, 1916 residents of Browning, Montana were still adjusting to the largest 24 hour temperature change on record in the U.S.. On January 23rd and 24th, 1916 the temperature fell from a pleasant 44 degrees above zero to a bitter -56 degrees in 24 hours. That's a temperature change of an amazing 100 degrees in 24 hours.
Near blizzard conditions were found across northwest Iowa on January 26th and 27th, 1994. Five to ten inches of snow fell in extreme northwest Iowa with ten inches reported at Rock Valley. In addition, Sioux Falls also reported ten inches. Winds of 20 to 35 miles an hour caused widespread blowing and drifting snow.
In northern and eastern Iowa, winds gusting to 50 miles an hour whipped powder dry snow already on the ground into huge drifts to 13 feet high. This occurred on January 26th and 27th, 1978. Extreme cold pushed wind chill factors to 70 degrees below zero. The drifts closed most roads including I-35. Thousands of cars and trucks were stranded along roadsides or in ditches.
On January 27th and 28th, 1977, strong northwest winds gusting to 55 miles an hour combined with sub-zero temperatures and one to two inches of snow to bring blizzard conditions to northern and eastern Iowa. Travel was halted as most roads and highways were blocked with drifts to six feet or more. Wind chill factors of 60 to 90 degrees below zero were common with many cases of frost bite reported. There were also numerous reports of broken water lines due to freezing.
Much of Iowa experienced near blizzard conditions on January 29th and 30th, 1984, as snow, combined with high winds lowered visibilities to near zero. Winds gusted to 61 miles an hour in Sioux City, where two television stations had to shut down for a short time due to a broken telephone pole near the transmission site. The snow accumulated to a depth of 4 to 7 inches in much of west central through northeast Iowa.
One of the more spectacular cold-weather atmospheric optical effects is referred to as an ice-pillar. On cold, calm nights when ice crystal fog begins to form, or there is an abundance of ice crystals in the air, light from point sources such as street lamps sometimes appear to illuminate a narrow column extending upwards hundreds or thousands of feet above its source.
What's the coldest city in the lower 48 states? That dubious distinction belongs to International Falls, MN which has a yearly average temperature of 36.4 degrees. Minnesota and North Dakota each had three cities in the top 10, while South Dakota had none. Some cities on the list include: #2 Duluth, MN at 38.2 degrees a year; #3 Caribou, Maine at 38.9; #6 Fargo, ND at 40.5 degrees; and #9 Bismarck at 41.3 degrees. Sioux Falls' average annual temperature is around 45.5 degrees.