This Past Weekend’s Cold Air Outbreak - How Does it Compare?

Very cold air spread into eastern Kentucky this past weekend, with temperatures falling into the single digits Sunday morning. Many areas also had single digit temperatures again Monday morning. The only spot that recorded a temperature below zero was Black Mountain, where the temperature fell to 5 below zero. While this was the coldest weather so far this winter, this cold air outbreak paled in comparison to the cold air outbreaks of the 1990s, 1980s, and 1970s.

A review of the lowest winter time minimum temperatures observed at the National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office (WFO) in Jackson shows that since records began in January 1981 there have been 8 winters when the temperature fell to zero or below. There have been 14 winters when the lowest observed temperature was between 1 and 5 degrees above zero, and four winters when the lowest observed temperature fell between 6 and 10 degrees above. There was one winter when the lowest observed temperature failed to reach 10 or colder. That was the winter of 1997-1998 when the coldest observed temperature was only 11 degrees.

The last time the temperature fell below zero at the National Weather Service Office in Jackson was in February, 1996. The graph displayed below shows there has been a lack of truly significant cold air outbreaks for the past decade. Significant cold air outbreaks were much more common in the 1980s and 1990s. While records at Jackson only date back to 1981, looking at records from other eastern Kentucky locations shows significant cold air outbreaks in the 1970s as well. For example London, Kentucky reached -14 in January 1977 and -10 in February 1978. The lowest observed temperature so far this winter has been 5 degrees at Jackson and 7 degrees at London.




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