Figure 1: Temperatures were already well below normal leading up to the sharp arctic cold front that passed across the region on December 20th. The weather map early on the morning of the 22nd showed that the front had moved into the Gulf of Mexico with a 1055 mb high over the Central and Northern Plains. The pressure gradient across Missouri and Illinois caused the northwest wind that produced the dangerously cold weather.
Figure 2: Temperatures at 850mb (around 5000 feet above ground level) were between -20C and -25C over a large portion of the Nation on December 22nd.
Figure 3: Graph of wind chill values December 21st through the 23rd.

NWS
St. Louis, Missouri

The Cold Air Outbreak
December 1989

Some of the coldest temperatures in the history of the area were observed just before Christmas in 1989.  The cold temperatures combined with 10 to 20 mph winds to cause an extended period of bitterly cold wind chills.  Wind chills stayed below zero for over three days during this period, with many of these hours staying below -15°F.  Only January 15th-19th 1977 and December 21st-26th, 1983 have had longer stretches of sub zero wind chills in the past four decades.  Actual low temperatures on the morning of the 22nd dropped down into the teens and twenties below zero, including -29°F at Steelville in Crawford County, Missouri and -28°F at Weldon Spring in St. Charles County, Missouri.   Daily record low temperatures were set on the 20th, 21st, 22nd, and 23rd at Quincy as well as 21st, 22nd, and 23rd at both St. Louis and Columbia that still stand today.  Temperatures did not rise much during this period, with afternoon highs not even climbing above zero at many locaitons including St. Louis on the 22nd.  The cold did not last too long though as the high temperature on Christmas Day climbed to 42°F and January 1990 was the second warmest on record.


  DEC 20 DEC 21 DEC 22 DEC 23 DEC 24 DEC 25
HI/LOW HI/LOW HI/LOW HI/LOW HI/LOW HI/LOW
QUINCY 17/-14 4/-18 -6/-22 2/-21 20/-2 40/15
COLUMBIA 25/-1 10/-15 -5/-20 3/-19 23/2 41/22
ST. LOUIS 20/3 14/-12 -1/-16 5/-15 24/1 42/22
FARMINGTON 28/-7 10/-13 1/-16 10/-16 17/-3 43/17

COLDEST # OF HOURS # OF HOURS # OF HOURS
WIND CHILL WIND CHILL WIND CHILL WIND CHILL
<0°F <-15°F <-25°F

ST. LOUIS -37 80 59 38
COLUMBIA -42 70 65 51
QUINCY -41 87 73 57
Weather Map
850mb Temperature
Wind Chill Graph

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