Top Ten Cold Events

In Central Kentucky and Southern Indiana

In an effort to further our understanding of weather through historical events, listed below are the top ten outbreaks of cold weather.  Sorting out which event should be ranked higher than another is no easy task.  Because of this, we have tried to do our best and a few events that got left off the list are given honorable mentions at the end.

Outbreaks of cold weather happen routinely across the contiguous United States every year.  The events over Kentucky all follow the same pattern.  A strong and very cold Canadian high sinks across the Great Plains following a strong low pressure system with an equally strong cold front.  The high then moves slowly to the east over Kentucky leaving behind freezing temperatures.  Though not as noticeable as tornadoes, hail storms, and other destructive events, they are equally as memorable. 

In trying to place cold events into a list, an "event" was defined as 2 or more days of abnormally cold temperatures occurring at at least two different stations.  Factors such as the time of year and duration of the event were weighed along with the area in which the event occurred.  And of course, the minimum and maximum temperatures along with a daily average at various stations was also considered.  If you wish to express your feelings about this list or if you have personal stories or pictures you'd like to share, please e-mail us at w-lmk.webmaster@noaa.gov.  Please let us know if we may include your comments or photos here on this page.

As a frame of reference for the extreme temperatures, here are the normal high and low temperatures for each month listed below.

City January February April December
Louisville 41.0/24.9 46.6/28.5 66.8/46.0 45.4/29.9
Lexington 39.9/24.1 45.2/27.7 65.1/44.1 44.3/28.4
Bowling Green 43.0/25.4 48.6/28.6 68.6/45.0 47.4/29.2

1. Brrr...

January 18-20, 1994

Low temperatures January 19, 1994
Low Temperatures across the region January 19, 1994

This three day outbreak of cold weather includes some of the coldest recorded temperatures in the state of Kentucky, including the all-time record of -37 degrees F at Shelbyville on the 19th.  The average temperature that day for Shelbyville was a bracing -19 degrees.  Other stations in the area also reported low temperatures in the -20's to -30's, including Frankfort, Louisville and Lexington.  Large snowfalls came a couple days before the cold, dropping up to 20 inches in the northeast portion of the region.

A low pressure system sank down from the Northwest Territories in Canada and across the US border bringing with it very cold air and a strong cold front. After the front had passed, temperatures across the Midwest and Northeast dipped into the negatives for lows and in some cases, the highs as well.  Relief came at the end of the week with balmy temperatures in the mid-20s.

image from: http://www.crh.noaa.gov/lmk/?n=top_20_weather_events


2.  Easter Freeze
4/6/2007-4/11/2007
 Snowy track, April 2007

 Record daily snowfall on April 6, 2007, for Opening Day at Keeneland Race Track in Lexington.

After what was a warm early spring, a strong cold front moved through the area at the beginning of April, bringing with it arctic air.  Temperatures reached into the 20's and 30's every morning for 6 straight days (5th-10th).  Over this time period, the high temperatures that were reaching into the mid-40's were equal to the normal low temperatures for the month while being 20-30 degrees cooler than what one usually expects at this time of the year. 

The late freeze also had huge impacts on the agriculture throughout the region.  Losses were suffered in nearly all crops, including peaches, apples, pears, cherries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, grapes, corn, soybeans, and wheat.  Almost all of the peaches were destroyed.  Half of the wheat crop was destroyed with $63,000,000 in damage.  The corn crop recorded $5,000,000 in losses.  Of the twenty million dollar fruit industry, $16,000,000 in damage was incurred.  Depending on the variety, up to 90% of grape crops were lost.

Photo:  Steve Blake

3. It's So Cold Outside...

01/23/1963-01/29/1963
 
City High Low Difference
Louisville, KY 42 -13 55
Bowling Green, KY 45 -21 67
Bonnieville, KY 11 -34 45
Bradfordville, KY 19 -30 49
Cynthiana 47 -24 71

On the night of January 18th, 1963, a very strong cold front made its way across the Midwest and through much of the Southeast United States.  Behind this front was a very cold, arctic air mass coming down from Canada that movedslowly southeast, and sat southwest of Kentucky, bringing freezing temperatures throughout much of the Great Plains and Southeast. Lasting over 6 days with low temperatures reaching into the -30's with the lowest of -34 degrees at Bonnieville, in Hart County, KY.

This event was unique in that the difference between the high and low temperatures were large.  In some cases, this difference could be up to 50 and as high as 70 degrees!  The temperatures before this event were quite mild for January, but dropped into the low 20's and high 10's for the highs with brutally cold lows.  There was a day in the middle of the period with slightly warmer temperatures, but they fell back down quickly before leveling out around normal.

4. February 1951 
02/01/1951-02/03/1951

Feb 1951 weather map

From: The Daily Weather Map, February 2, 1951
The temperature at Louisville on this map is -2 degrees. 

Click map for larger image.

This short lived event was preceded by heavy snow throughout the region.  A quick moving system swung through the area at the end of January and started moving out of the region during the begining of February.  Though lows as low as -32 degrees were reported in southern Indiana, they were isloated reports.  Most lows hung around between -10 to -20 on the 2nd before starting to warm back up, nearing 0 degrees in most places on the 3rd and approaching normal temperatures by the 4th.accompanied by more snow.

5.  February 1899

2/8/1899-2/14/1899

Forecasts from the US Daily Weather Maps series:


Friday, February 8th, 1899-8PM
Indication for the next 24 hours
  For Tennessee and Kentucky: Clearing, colder; westerly winds becoming variable.

Saturday, February 9th, 1899- 8PM
Indictation for the next 24 hours
For Tennessee and Kentucky: fair, warmer, variable winds

 

In this six day stretch of time, temperatures got down well into the negative values for both highs and lows. On the 9th and 10th, some places did not get above subzero temperatures during the day. Daily mean temperatures got as low as -16 degrees in Marion County, while their low for the day was -30, with a high of -2.

Accompanied by the cold were massive amounts of snowfall throughout the month. Many stations reported over ten days with measureable precipitation. The Louisville Weather Bureau (now NWS) office reported 18 days with precipitation. By the end of the month, however, temperatures of the mid-60's were being reported around the area.

 

6. December 1989
12/21/1989-12/25/1989

 December 1989 weather map

High and Low Temperatures for December 22nd, 1989
From: The Daily Weather Map

Highs in the single digits and lows in the negative 10s may not have been what people asked for Christmas, but it is what was delivered.  Though not the coldest Christmas for the major cities in central Kentucky, many places did see frigid weather on Christmas morning.  The real show, however, was the few days previous when lows reached all the way down into the -20s and daily means were tip-toeing around zero.

 

7. January 1977
 01/11/1977-01/13/1977 and 01/16/1977-01/19/1977

 January 1977 weather map

High and Low temperatures on January 18th, 1977
From: The Daily Weather Map

Really two events in one, they are only seperated by 2 days of relatively warmer temperatures.  Lows for both time frames got well into the negative numbers during both the11th-13th and the 16th through the 19th.  Daily mean temperatures dropped well into the negatives with some places reporting colder than -10 degrees for their daily mean.  This month is the coldest on record for Louisville with an average temperature of 18.6 degrees.  As with other events, large snowfall accompanied this one as well, with up to 6 inches in some places. 


8. A Cold, White Christmas...
Dec 24-26, 1983

Christmas 1983 weather map

Hi and Low Temperatures on December 25th, 1983.
From: US Daily Weather Maps

Just in time for Christmas, snow fell across the region on the 21st-22nd. As the system moved to the southeast, it brought with it cold temperatures across much of the Midwest and Southeast U.S. Though it moved out of the region fairly quickly, with temperatures rising, it did not disappoint fans of cold weather. Record Christmas day low temperatures were set in Louisville, Lexington, and Bowling Green of -7,-9 and -7 respectively.

Christmas Day saw temperatures below zero degrees for almost all of the region. With temperatures reaching only the -5 to -10 range, but winds from the north blowing from 10-15mph, wind chill values were well in the -20s and -30s. Many places saw only single digit highs on Christmas.

 

 9. January 1985
Jan 20-23, 1985

 January 1985 weather map

Hi and Low Temperatures on January 21st, 1985.
From: US Daily Weather Maps
Another event with large day to night temperature swings, of about 30 degrees. A few days before, a low pressure system started in Canada and moved almost due south to the Great Lakes where it turned to the east and headed toward New England. Kentcuky and southern Indania got clipped by the southen end of the system as it turned.

Areas across the state saw low temperatures in the -10's with highs reaching to and staying in the single digits. The region saw 4-6 inches of snow in most places on the first day of the event followed by a sharp drop in temperature. Many places dropped from highs in the mid 20's on the 20th down to the negative teens overnight and struggled to reach positive temperatures on the 21st.

 

10. January 1936
Jan 22-31 1936
 

With a brief reprieve in the middle of the event and temperatures breaking into single digit negative numbers, the length of the event earns it the final spot on the list.  This month is tied with January of 1977 with 7 days of subzero temperatures, but 1977 wins in the magnitude of temperature.  With continous blasts of cold air coming down from Canada, what saved the region from a colder time was the quick moving nature of the weather systems and they stayed well to the north of central Kentucky and southern Indiana.  Some places across the region did see -15 degrees or colder, and the average lows ranged from 0 to -10 degrees.  If those systems had dipped further south, the average low would have ranged from -15 to -20 instead.

 Honorable Mentions: Jan. 9-12, 1978, Jan. 24-29,1940

A special acknowledgment to Tom Reaugh for his advice and use of his previous work on climate events.


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