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1983: “The Coldest Christmas Ever”

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1983: “The Coldest Christmas Ever”

Whether or not you’re dreaming of a white Christmas this year, chances are you’d rather do without sub-zero temperatures on the big day. With January and February traditionally bringing the coldest temperatures of the year, Christmas day tends to be relatively mild in much of the country. In fact, the much-heralded white Christmas is little more than a pipe dream for the vast majority of the continental U.S.

The Coldest Christmas Ever

But in 1983, the nation’s cold weather lovers got a little more than they bargained for. Overall, the 1980s dished out some of the coldest Decembers on record, but 1983 was king of them all, with 70% of the month colder than average over much of the country.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas day of that year, more than 125 cities east of the Rockies broke temperature records for the day, and 34 hit the record cold temperatures for the entire month of December. These punishing temperatures, which dipped below zero in many areas, were also accompanied by brutal, stinging winds. In addition, heavy snow covered the ground from the Pacific Northwest through the Great Plains and Northern Appalachians.

Havre, Montana dipped to a numbing -50°F. Chicago, where high temperatures never went higher than -10° F during the several days leading up to Christmas, reached a low of -25° F. In Sioux Falls, S.D., temperatures dropped below 0° F on December 15 and remained there for more than nine days, dropping to -23 °F over Christmas. The area also saw 60 mph winds, which brought wind chills of -70 °F. The average temperature in Minneapolis for the month of 3.7° F, the coldest on record for the city. The barometric pressure at Miles City, Mont. reached 31.42 inches, a record for the U.S. Even normally balmy Huntsville, Ala., plunged down to -1° F, while Galveston, Texas, dipped to a frosty 14° F.

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Do you remember this cold Christmas? Share your story in the comments below!

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1 Terry T { 02.24.19 at 9:32 pm }

I was a sales manager at Carousel Porsche & Audi. Audi had introduced their 1st automatic transmission diesel.
The first cars came in to the dealership in early November. We delivered 18 of them between Thanksgiving and Christmas. At that time there were two types of diesel fuel, #1, a lighter weight fuel and #2, a heavier version. Un-beknownce to us, these all had the #2 fuel from the receiving port in Houston, Texas.
We received over a dozen customer calls (not very happy) that their brand new car
wouldn’t start…The diesel fuel (#2) had “gelled” due to the very low temperatures and thus would not flow to the engine. As I recall we towed in over a dozen of them to our shop to warm up the #2 fuel. After removing the fuel (we pumped it into our used oil tank
for recycling) and thinned out the remaining fuel by filling the tanks with #1.
FYI, The current diesel fuels are specially formulated for regional climate conditions.

2 Christine { 01.30.19 at 11:20 am }

Jeff Clark: My husband and I were married December 17, 1983 in Chicago. We had a record lows that day as well with extreme windchills! It was the happiest day of my life.

3 Dani { 01.29.19 at 4:17 pm }

I was living in a Detroit Michigan suburb during the 1983 holidays. Visited friends for Christmas eve or Christmas, I can’t remember which. But they had a small home and each time someone would open the front door the entire front room of their house would instantly fog up to zero visibility. Sub zero air meeting the cooking heat and humidity I guess. I also remember that the brutal cold of being outside for just a few seconds was painful. I ended up moving to Phoenix Arizona a few months later. Then in 1990 it hit 122 in Phoenix. I was out shopping that day and I can still hear the sticky sounds made by car tires as they drove over the melting blacktop in the parking lot. Soon after that I moved to a more moderate climate … so now I deal with the threat of wild fires.

4 Susan A Little { 01.28.19 at 7:57 pm }

December 24, 1983 as I remember was -70 during the night. My mother received a call from my great-aunt, that the heat was not working in our 3-story mixed use building in downtown Lemont, Illinois. She owned it and lived on the 2nd story. My mother, pharmacist brother, and I ran the pharmacy on the 1st floor.
Sure enough, after walking a block, we discovered that the boiler had went out. We had to transport the dear aunt to our home. All the tenants (4) were instructed to go stay elsewhere and we would provide payment. Also, they were told to not run any water or flush toilets. One tenant did not listen and flushed her toilet and cracked it. Oh well.
For 3 days, in order to work in the drugstore we had no heat and worked in our winter jackets. That was a very costly boiler to replace. What a memory! Sue Little

5 Susan Higgins { 01.29.19 at 4:06 pm }

Hi Susan, right where you posted this comment you can share your story! We’d love to hear it!

6 Susan A Little { 01.28.19 at 7:48 pm }

I enjoyed reading about 12-24-83. I do not understand where I would type up “my story” from that date.

7 Tracy Cook { 01.28.19 at 5:46 pm }

We were living in Texas in 1983 & went to Kentucky for Christmas to see our families. It was really cold & dark when we got to KY so we only took what was necessary for overnight inside. The next morning we got the rest of our stuff out of the car & our shampoo was froze solid. We had just purchased our first home & moved into it in December. We were so worried because we kept hearing about how cold it was in Texas & so many people were having busted water lines. Thankfully when we got back to Texas ours had not busted.

8 Susan Higgins { 01.28.19 at 8:42 am }

Jeff Clark, hahaha thanks for sharing!

9 Jeff Clark { 01.27.19 at 4:35 pm }

My wife and I were married December 17, 1983 in northern Indiana. We had a record low that day of -15 with a wind chill of -50 to -80! Photos of us coming out of the church look like we’re shouting for joy but really we were screaming at the cold! LOL

10 Susan Higgins { 10.12.18 at 8:41 am }

Hi Cathy! The old Datsun 210 Hatchback! I remember that car! Glad you made it safely. That was quite a storm!

11 Cathy { 10.09.18 at 11:47 am }

We left Dallas/Fort Worth a few days before Christmas to drive to Colorado Springs where my mother was. There was an ice storm coming into DFW and we knew we would be stuck if we didn’t get out of there. Little did we know we were heading right into a west TX blizzard in our little Datsun 210 hatchback. We were out in the middle of no where on highways heading to Amarillo and saw no traffic anywhere. We could have run off the road and never been found. We kept going to Amarillo and it was snowing hard there but like dummies we kept going. Got to Raton, NM around midnight and called my mom who was frantic! Drove in the next day to Colorado Springs – the snow had stopped by then. When you are young, you do dumb things sometimes. I would never do that now at my age!!!

12 From 80 Degrees To Half A Foot Of Snow: 12 Days Of Christmas Weather In D-FW History | Bible Prophecy In The Daily Headlines { 12.18.17 at 1:04 pm }

[…] low dropped to 6. It’s the coldest Christmas on record. Texas wasn’t alone; this was a historically cold Christmas for much of the […]

13 William Wells { 12.23.16 at 9:14 pm }

My family and I spent Christmas of 1983 in the Atlanta, Georgia area. We had planned an extended family meal at our home. We had warning of an exceptionally cold night for Georgia- -below zero. As bedtime approached on Christmas Eve, it occurred that I might need to leave some water running to keep the plumbing from freezing. I went to the master bath and turned on a faucet- -too late, the plumbing was already frozen! I had visions of broken pipes everywhere, dreaded the morning. When morning came, I crawled under the house with my trusty propane torch, thinking I might be able to thaw a pipe enough to get some water moving. No luck. Headed out to a rental place and picked up a 135,000 btu space heater. I pulled it under the house and fired it up. In about 15 minutes, water began to flow throughout the house with NO broken pipes! A miracle? My neighbors were not so fortunate, a pipe broke in the ceiling over their game room, dumping on their pool table. All day Christmas, a local station was playing Christmas music and interspersing some interesting stories from Christmases past. At every news break, they gave the temperature- -it was stuck at 4° for all of Christmas Day. I don’t recall the overnight low temperature but it was well below zero, very uncommon for Georgia. I had experienced colder temperatures in Buffalo, NY, but it was expected there and people were better prepared to deal with it.

14 M.L. Sherman { 12.11.16 at 5:12 pm }

I chose that week in 1983 to move back to Michigan from the coast of Maine. I left Bar Harbor early in the afternoon, Dec. 21, my old Ford pickup loaded with all my stuff and got into heavy wet snow around Augusta, Maine, and by the time I got to the Kittery Bridge at the New Hampshire border it had turned to slush…almost drove sideways through the toll booth trying to stop and throw coins in the basket! From there I drove through rain and rising Conn, and stopped at the Pa. border to sleep at a rest stop for a few hours. I woke to someone tapping on the window, telling me I had to move because they needed to plow the parking lot…I remember being shocked at how cold and crunchy it was…within 2 hours the temp had gone from 50 to about 25. I tried to get a decent weather report in order to figure out which road to take…90 across the lower part of NY state, heading toward Erie and Cleveland? Or 80, going to Youngstown, Ohio…I decided on 80 and drove about 40mph all across Pa in windy, snowy, fog-like conditions, where even in my old heavy pickup the wind gusts could shove me over into the other lane. I got to Youngstown, Ohio the following afternoon and that’s where the real fun began! The wind increased, temps decreased and there was an icy fog…felt as if I was crossing a Tundra region. I couldn’t drive any faster than 30mph or would risk joining cars that had spun out to my right, beyond the shoulder, and were to the left, on or in the median and I swear that every river bridge was blocked by a jack-knifed 18 wheeler. When I stopped at the turnpike reststops I left the truck running…didn’t dare turn the truck off for fear that it might not start was getting to 0° with that horrific windchill, plus I had my cat bundled in a blanket on the seat with me. The reststops were almost out of food…they did have coffee, though, so I drove on. I got into Mich. before midnight on the 22nd, teeth chattering I was so cold, and headed straight up 127 to Jackson, thinking if I could get there I could stop at a bar to get a shot of tequilla to warm up for the last 30 miles to Lansing. I pulled into my parents’ driveway at about 3 a.m. on the 23rd. I have never traveled in such treatcherous weather in my life!

15 Weather Buzz: Deep Cold Here Until Christmas? | { 12.08.16 at 10:07 am }

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16 Scott { 09.05.16 at 2:19 am }

I was just 18 in 1983 and had just recently. Moved to Port lavaca Texas and was working different jobs and staying with my dad and brother when xmas was coming up my dad asked d if we wanted to go home to Ohio for Christmas when we left Port Lavaca i want to say on Dec 23. At approximately 9:30pm the temperature. Was in the low to mid 60s. And buy 8:00 am the bay was froze over according to my step mother and buy the time we hit the Tennessee State line I had put on thermal long johns a coat and wrapped up in 2 or 3 blankets the wind was blowing straight at us most of the time .the wind speed was 50-60 Mph with gusts up to 80 mph. The wind chill sitting still was about 50 to 60. Below zero .It was so cold we put two pieces. Of cardboard in front of the radiator. And about four bottles per tank of gas of stuff called heat to keep the fule lines from freezing up. And when we finally. Made it to my home town in central Ohio my dad had to help me pull my boots free of the carpet in the floor board of the truck because they had froze to the floor it tore some of the carpet fibers from the carpet I now live in California and hope to god that i will never get that cold agian

17 Scott { 09.05.16 at 2:17 am }

I was just 18 in 1983 and had just recently. Moved to Port lavaca Texas and was working different jobs and staying with my dad and brother when xmas was coming up my dad asked d if we wanted to go home to Ohio for Christmas when we left Port Lavaca i want to say on Dec 23. At approximately 9:30pm the temperature. Was in the low to mid 60s. And buy 8:00 am the bay was froze over according to my step mother and buy the time we hit the Tennessee State line I had put on thermal long johns a coat and wrapped up in 2 or 3 blankets the wind was blowing straight at us most of the time .the wind speed was 50-60 Mph with gusts up to 80 mph. The wind chill sitting still was about 50 to 60. Below zero .It was so cold we put two pieces. Of cardboard in frount of the radiator. And about four bottles per tank of gas of stuff called heat to keep the fule lines from freezing up. And when we finally. Made it to my home town in central Ohio my dad had to help me pull my boots free of the carpet in the floor board of the truck because they had froze to the floor it tore some of the carpet fibers from the carpet I now live in California and hope to god that i will never get that cold agian

18 A. Carey { 07.27.16 at 5:10 pm }

My dad lost his Florida orange crop in Crescent City in the “Freeze of ‘83”

Our yearly trips to Florida were never the same after that. Before that, we would go to Florida every summer and sometimes during winter break to hang out with our cousins and aunts and uncles and pick oranges and ferns. In the winter, the orange trees would produce “navel oranges” – large, deliciously sweet, seedless oranges, better than anything you could buy in a supermarket in New Orleans.

It sure would have been nice to save those orange groves. Dad told us that he didn’t want to invest in new groves because it would take 7 years to see the results and you had to worry about another freeze. He was right, there was another freeze in 1985

19 Jim { 12.25.15 at 10:52 am }

I remember Christmas 1983 well! My mom was working down Atlantic City at the casino. Had to see the ocean on such a cold day. Wow! The beach had ice banks on it!

20 Pat Reed { 12.23.15 at 10:54 am }

Christmas Day was the only time in all my years of delivering newspapers that I couldn’t go because neither of my trucks would start due to the cold. Brrrrrr….

21 Pat { 12.22.15 at 10:47 pm }

I never want a white Christmas!!! In fact, I want no snow at all! I am not a cold weather fan! But I do remember that super cold Christmas in the 1983!! Man, I can do without a repeat of that!!

22 JOHANNA SILVA { 12.22.15 at 10:44 pm }

I was only 4 but I also remember it well, my mother was pregnant with my sister and went into labor christmas night. She gave birth at home. Snow was so deep paramedics had to walk a block to get to the apartment

23 Sharon Beaumont { 12.22.15 at 9:29 pm }

Remember it well! I was pregnant and due in January! I could not get my coat closed! Boy was it cold! Baby born during ice storm warning! Next baby was due in August 86

24 Robert { 03.06.15 at 12:38 pm }

I remember my radiator froze …’83 was cold

25 Claranna { 12.20.14 at 6:34 pm }

The winter of 2013 – 2014 in Michigan was pure hell. We had the coldest temps on the PLANET – record breaking cold. Just thought you should know.

26 Eddi Scott { 01.07.14 at 2:53 am }

I ventured out shopping for Christmas presents for my children, I was 81/2 months pregnant.

27 Lori { 02.01.13 at 2:08 pm }

I just noticed this article. There was no mention of the record-breaking temperatures in Michigan that day, but something else happened that was worse. I’ve lived in Michigan most of my adult life, and I’ve driven through what most people call “whiteouts” many times. But nothing compares to Christmas Eve, 1983.

I had to drive from Chicago to Grand Rapids. It usually takes about 3.5 hours. I made it to the Michigan border in record time and then it started to blizzard. The next several hours were the worst I’ve ever driven in. The lakeshore gets a lot of “lake effect” snow, but this was horrifying. You couldn’t see. By the time you saw someone, it was too late. I was crawling along and almost every time I saw a car ahead, it would start weaving and go off the side of the road. I thought about pulling over to wait it out but every time I gently touched the brakes, I would start to slide. Also, I had no idea where I was the entire time because you could see no signs, no lights, no exits. And I didn’t want to be sitting on the side of the road for someone to hit. And most of all, it was below zero outside but I couldn’t just sit and run the engine. I had no idea how long it was going to last and if something did happen, the rescue vehicles had so many other accidents to clean up.

When the freeway started to turn inland, I noticed a huge difference. It turned into a regular bad blizzard, but you could see exit signs and lights. You still couldn’t see far in front but at least if you car lights, it wasn’t a dire situation.

I have yet to talk to anyone that drove on that freeway that night (94 north to 196 to Grand Rapids), Christmas Eve, 1983. It took me 8 hours to get from the Michigan border to Grand Rapids.

28 Amy Kirk { 01.09.13 at 1:34 pm }

I remember that Christmas, I had a new baby, my furnace went out , and the wind chill factor in Chicago was -60F

29 Ron { 12.30.12 at 8:31 pm }

I remember the Christmas Day 1983 freeze very well. It was my grandfather’s last. We lived in Fl. and it never got over 38 for the high as I remember. He wanted my wood heater going non-stop. And I did keep it going. He died the following June and as I remember back, he enjoyed my fire that day so much. He kept his chair by it all afternoon. So I have fond memories of it.

30 Bobbi { 12.28.12 at 4:03 pm }

I remember December 1983 very well. I moved to Daytona Beach, FL just 4 years later. I grew up in northwestern Virginia near Charlottesville and boy!! It was FRIGID! Daytime highs were below 10 degrees for atleast a week in a row and on Christmas it was the coldest. Temps fell below 0 and according to the historic data lows were at -11 degrees and snowstorms battered my area that winter. Thats one of the reasons why
I moved to Florida.. I was FED UP with the Virginia winters. I saw enough snow and ice living in the mid atlantic so I was gone by 1987. Mark my words, it gets cold in Florida. The other day we had temps in the upper 20s and lower 30s for overnight lows and wind chill advisories were posted. Back in 2010 we had a coating of snow and 2011 we had a dusting too. Even in sunny Florida old man winter will find you! You have to go way down to Miami to escape the cold completely

31 Deborah Lee { 12.27.12 at 9:16 pm }

1983 was the year I got divorced and ended up having no blankets. Even here in Florida, it was cold. You know what I asked Santa Claus for that year!!

32 Jaime McLeod { 12.27.12 at 9:02 am }

Hey Jim,
Merry Christmas!

33 James Roberts { 12.27.12 at 12:05 am }

Jamie: Christine Roberts gave me the correct Farmers Almanac (yours) for Christmas. Jan gave me the wrong almanac for my birthday.I haven’t had a chance to read all the articles, but I really like the detailed planetary section. Thank you Jim Roberts

34 Raul { 12.26.12 at 9:48 pm }

I remenver that Christmas I was living in Leon Mexico about 500 miles south of Texas Mecxico border and even there is always cold that year was monstrous it was super cold, by February 1984 I came back to south Texas that was in weslaco; all citrus fruit trees were frozen.

35 Donna { 12.26.12 at 4:45 pm }

I remember that year because I had family from Ohio. Living in MO it is some times cold and sometimes it is not freezing. My grandmother was in her 80’s but she was there to visit the family that was headed to Colorado. It was so cold we couldn’t spend much time outside!

36 Janet groves { 12.26.12 at 1:53 pm }

I remember my daughter was born that winter.

37 RJ { 12.26.12 at 1:36 pm }

I remember running a tow truck during that havoc. Lots of vehicles wouldn’t start, batteries were not to be had despite a battery manufacturer in town (NWMo). Lots of snow and wind chills that seemed to cut flesh. I can remember colder temps but not for so many days in a row near zero for a high temp.

38 Beverly Keller { 12.26.12 at 10:52 am }

We live in Colorado. In 1983 We had just purchased our home and moved in. By December we were in that blizzard. The neighbor had to shovel a path to the door for us to get outside. The only other way out of the house was to jump out the second story window and hope nothing was under the snow. Our son was 41/2 years old and walked over a 6ft fence. The snow had a crust on the top. We survived and laugh now how we made it back when the blizzard hit and neighbors were skiiing to the grocery store a mile away. Nothing could come or go up and down the street on wheels.

39 Kathy Clinton { 12.26.12 at 9:01 am }

I remember that Christmas as we were living outside Washington, DC. I was 8 months pregnant and trying very hard not to fall on icy sidewalks. My daughter was born 18 Jan 1984 in the middle of another snowstorm, and the day we brought her home from the hospital it was 5 degrees above zero. It was 3 weeks before my parents could visit from Ohio as it was bitterly cold there, and they were afraid of their pipes freezing. Going to retire in Arizona.

40 Dawn { 12.25.12 at 11:36 am }

Merry Christmas to all, God bless one and all.
One of my Christmas memorries ~
We were in living in Huntsville, Utah in 1983. One of the coldest winters with gusting winds that had a wind chill down to -60 and snow on our roofs of around 5′ (yes, we had to shovel it off). The snow was so deep even the fence posts were mostly covered in snow, some of the tops of the fence posts were peeking out from the gusty winds blowing the snow off of them. Snow banks on the street and in the driveways were over 5′ deep. We had over 25′ of snow up on the mountains.
After opening presents with my family we decided to visit the neighbors down the street. It had been snowing and blowing pretty hard that morning. The snow plows hadn’t been out yet, so my father fired up the snow blower. He plowed through 2′ of snow to get us all to the neighbors that were about a hundred feet down the street. Wow ~ what a great Christmas day!

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