While January is, on average, the coldest month of the year (at least in the Northern Hemisphere), it’s not necessarily the month with the most violent weather. Much of the time, Old Man Winter saves up his fury for the latter half of the season. Many of North America’s worst blizzards have swept in during February, March, or even later in the year.
That’s exactly what happened near the turn of the 20th Century, when the Great Blizzard of 1899 gripped the eastern half of the continent from Saskatchewan all the way down to Cuba. The storm, which started in Canada on February 11th and continued through the 14th, was notable in part because it disproportionately affected southern locales that were used to seeing much milder winter conditions. A photograph from the era even shows government officials in Tallahassee, Florida, having a snowball fight on the stairs of the state capital building. The southern U.S. had never experienced such severe winter weather, and has only seen it once since, in 1985, when a deep freeze destroyed many of Florida’s citrus groves.
Aside from the immense breadth of the storm, it was also memorable because brought record low temperatures to much of the country, many of which still stand to this day. Cape May, New Jersey, dropped to 0° F, the coldest temperature ever recorded in Cape May county, and received an unprecedented 34 inches of snow, a record for the state. Tallahassee dropped to -2° F, which is the only sub-zero temperature in Florida’s recorded history. Atlanta, Georgia, reached a numbing -9° F, a low it has not exceeded since. Washington, D.C., hit -15° F, an all-time low for the city, and received 51 straight hours of snow. Other areas had even lower temperatures: -33 °F in Sandy Hook, Kentucky; -35° F in Dayton, West Virginia; -39° F in Milligan, Ohio; -47° F in Camp Clark, Nebraska; and a bone-chilling -61° F Fort Logan, Montana!
Even the normally sweltering city of New Orleans recorded a sub-freezing temperature of 22° F during its Mardi Gras festivities that year. The city was completely iced over, and revelers had to wait for the snow to be shoveled from parade routes.