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Weather History: December 15: Record temps, storms, wind, snow & tropics

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Meteorological events that happened on December 15th:


The first of eight major storms to strike eastern Massachusetts during the month hit Massachusetts Bay and devastated the harbor at Gloucester. Winds estimated as "whole gales" dismantled, drove ashore or pushed out to sea at least 50 vessels resulting in a death toll estimated around 50 people. Interior New England reported up to 20 inches of snow. Loss of life was great at Gloucester, MA.


The board of the Smithsonian Institution appropriated $1,000 for the purchase of weather instruments for Joseph Henry's proposed weather reporting network.


On this date through the 16th, 31.8 inches of rain fell in 24 hours at Nedunkem, Sri Lanka.


An intense cold front swept across the eastern U.S first producing heavy rain in Louisiana then heavy snow in the northeastern U.S. Behind the front, many locations reported record low temperatures. Neillsville, WI recorded their coldest December temperature with -36°. Other daily record lows for the date included: Scottsbluff, NE: -32°, Bridgeport, NE: -32°, Valentine, NE: -31°, Alliance, NE: -30°, Fargo, ND: -29°, Norfolk, NE: -29°, St. Cloud, MN: -28°, North Platte, NE: -26°, Sioux Falls, SD: -24°, Aberdeen, SD: -23°, La Crosse, WI: -23°, Duluth, MN: -23°, Huron, SD: -22°, Minneapolis, MN: -21°, Sioux City, IA: -20°, Green Bay, WI: -20°, Des Moines, IA: -18°, Waterloo, IA: -18°, Lander, WY: -17°, Madison, WI: -16°, Columbia, MO: -15°, Milwaukee, WI: -14°, Chicago, IL: -12°, South Bend, IN: -12°, Springfield, IL: -10°, Indianapolis, IN: -10°, Dayton, OH: -10°, Lexington, KY: -8°, Concordia, KS: -7°, Cincinnati, OH: -7°, Louisville, KY: -7°, Evansville, IN: -6°, Nashville, TN: -2°, Wichita, KS: 1°, Memphis, TN: 2°, Oklahoma City, OK: 4°, Little Rock, AR: 6°, Knoxville, TN: 7°, Birmingham, AL: 8°, Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX: 9°, Abilene, TX: 10°, Atlanta, GA: 11°, Waco, TX: 13°, Athens, GA: 14°, San Antonio, TX: 15°, Jackson, MS: 15°, Austin, TX: 17°, Bakersfield, CA: 19°, Tucson, AZ: 20°, Corpus Christi, TX: 20°, Mobile, AL: 20°, Pensacola, FL: 20°, Houston, TX: 21°, Baton Rouge, LA: 21°, Galveston, TX: 25° and Phoenix, AZ: 26°.


Beginning the previous day through the 17th, a record December snowstorm buried Buffalo, NY under 36.6 inches of snow, with unofficial totals south of the city ranging up to 70 inches. Travel was brought to a stand still.


A strong southwesterly flow ahead of a cold front brought record high temperatures from the Southern Plains to the Missouri Valley and Southeast. St. Louis, MO set a record high for December with 76°. Other daily record highs included: Brownsville, TX: 84°, New Orleans, LA: 81°, Baton Rouge, LA: 80°, Jackson, MS: 80°, Meridian, MS: 80°, Savannah, GA: 80°, Wichita Falls, TX: 79°, Fort Smith, AR: 79°, Columbia, SC: 79°, Tulsa, OK: 77°, Tupelo, MS: 76°-Tied, Oklahoma City, OK: 75°, Springfield, MO: 73°, Charlotte, NC: 73°, Little Rock, AR: 72°, Asheville, NC: 72°, Columbia, MO: 70°, Paducah, KY: 67° and Lexington, KY: 65°-Tied.


The "Great Blizzard" lashed the southern Prairie Provinces in Canada with heavy snow, 55 mph winds and temperatures as low as -30°. Three people froze to death and thousands of animals perished.


Dense fog in Orange County, California led to a freeway accident on Interstate 5 involving more than 100 vehicles.


The major winter storm that had plagued the central Plains over the previous two days underwent rapid deepening over Illinois also known as going through “bombogenesis”. The barometric pressure at Chicago, IL dropped three quarters of an inch in 6 hours to 28.96 inHg, a record low reading for December. Hurricane force wind gusts produced blizzard conditions, downed power lines, and drifted roads closed. O’Hare in Chicago reported a gust to 75 mph and 73 mph at LaFarge, WI. Snowfall totals of 4 to17 inches fell from the central Plains, parts of the Missouri Valley to the Midwest and lower Great Lakes. Some of the greater snowfall totals were: LaFarge, WI: 17 inches, Helena, OK: 16 inches, Columbia, MO: 12.7 inches, Rockford, IL: 11.4 inches, Moline, IL: 11.2 inches, O’Hare Airport in Chicago, IL: 9.1 inches, Peoria, IL: 8.9 inches, Platteville, WI: 8.7 inches and Waukon, IA: 8 inches. Muskegon, MI set a daily record with 12.1 inches. The storm system also produced thunderstorms which lasted from 2 to 4 hours, an unusual length of time for a winter storm. The thunderstorms also produced sleet and hail, with 3/4 inch hail reported in Joliet, IL. O'Hare Airport in Chicago was closed for several hours, for only the 4th time in 20 years. High winds derailed train cars at Avon, IN. Light winds and partly sunny skies were reported in areas within the storm's center of circulation – a feature more typical of a storm of tropical nature.

Behind the storm, a few locations reported record low temperatures for the date including: Amarillo, TX: -5°, Roswell, NM: 0°, Lubbock, TX: 2°, El Paso, TX: 6° and Midland-Odessa, TX: 11°.


High pressure in the Pacific Northwest and low pressure in the southwestern U.S. combined to produce high winds from Utah to California. Winds gusting to 70 mph in the San Francisco area left nearly 300,000 residents without electricity. Centerville, UT reported a wind gust of 105 mph.


A couple of low pressure systems spread heavy snow across the northeastern U.S. Up to 2 feet of snow was reported along Lake Erie in northeastern Ohio, and up to 10 inches was reported in Connecticut. Heavy snow squalls developed over Michigan for the 3rd day in a row. Three Oaks, MI reported 25 inches of snow in 2 days.

Many cities in the north central U.S. reported record low temperatures for the date; including a monthly record low of -10° at Wichita, KS (broke previous daily record by 10 degrees). Locations setting daily record lows included: Rapid City, SD: -22°, Dubuque, IA: -19°, Grand Island, NE: -16°, Concordia, KS: -16°, Kansas City, MO: -16° (broke previous record by 12 degrees), Moline, IL: -16°, Rockford, IL: -16°, Lincoln, NE: -15°, Omaha, NE: -15°, Peoria, IL: -14°, Dodge City, KS: -8°, Springfield, MO: -7°, St. Louis, MO: -5°, Flint, MI: -3°, Tulsa, OK: -1°, Paducah, KY: 2°, Oklahoma City, OK: 3°, Jackson, KY: 3° (broke previous record by 12 degrees), Wichita Falls, TX: :9°, Oak Ridge, TN: 12°-Tied, Dallas, TX: 13°, Tupelo, MS: 14°-Tied, Topeka, KS: 15° (broke previous record by 5 degrees), Gainesville, FL: 26°-Tied and Redding, CA: 28°.


The Tug Hill plateau in New York off of Lake Ontario was targeted by heavy lake effect snow. 44 inches fell at Highmarket and 30 inches piled up at Boonville. Incredible snowfall rates of 6 to 8 inches per hour were reported at Boonville.


An unusually intense storm struck the Pacific Northwest. Heavy rains of 5 to 20 inches accompanied the system, but the high winds and low barometric pressure readings were the main features. Record low sea level pressure readings were recorded at Astoria, OR of 28.53 inHg, Seattle, WA at 28.65 inHg and Medford, OR at 28.93 inHg. Wind gusts reached 119 mph at Sea Lion Caves, OR and 103 mph at Angel Island, CA. Six deaths and over 2 million power outages were attributed to the storm.


20,000 to 50,000 people died when torrential rains triggered raging floods that washed away homes, trees, and complete mountainsides across Venezuela.

Cyclone John hit the sparsely populated northwest coast of Australia with winds gusting to 185 mph. John was the strongest cyclone to hit Australia in over 100 years.

High winds developed in and near the foothills outside of Denver, CO as a strong upper level jet stream moved over the area. Generally winds gusted 70 to 80 mph. A weather spotter located one mile south of Fritz Peak near Rollinsville measured a peak gust to 124 mph. Other wind gusts included: 77 mph at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, CO and atop Blue Mountain and 70 mph at the National Wind Technology Center on Rocky Flats south of Boulder. Denver International Airport reported a top gust of only 32 mph.


On this date through the 23rd, cold, snowy weather prevailed across parts of the United Kingdom deemed responsible for as many as 2,500 deaths.


An unusual storm producing thunder and lightning passed over Montreal, Quebec Canada as temperatures rise to a balmy record high of 53°.


A powerful snowstorm, a magnitude that hasn't occurred since 1979, descended on the mountains and high deserts of southern California from this date through the 18th. Impressive snow totals included 54 inches at Big Bear, 36 inches at Wrightwood, 20 inches at Pinon Hills, and 16 inches at Hesperia, Idyllwild and Julian. At times, snow levels were as low as 2,000 feet. In Nevada, Las Vegas reported 0.28 inches of rain with a trace of snow. Areas outside of Las Vegas, received snow totals of 1 to 5 inches. Mt. Charleston, NV received between 15 and 20 inches of snow.

Behind the storm and front a 1040 millibar arctic area of high pressure brought record lows to parts of the Plains to the West Coast including: Fort Assinniboine, MT: -31°, Havre, MT: -30°, White Sulphur Springs, MT: -29°, Dillon, MT: -27°, Fort Benton, MT: -27°, Valentine, MT: -25°, Virginia City, MT: -25°, Ennis, MT: -21°, Casper, WY: -20°, Denver, CO: -19° (broke previous record by 13 degrees), Cheyenne, WY: -13°, Goodland, KS: -10°, Yakima, WA: 2° and Portland, OR: 22°. Out ahead of the storm, Augusta, GA set a record high with 79°.


Check out my colleague Weather Examiners:

Baltimore, MD area weather with Tony Pann at

Orlando, FL area weather with Dr. Steve Oliver at

Houston, TX area weather & the weekly Weather America Newsletter with Larry Cosgrove at

NOAA Headlines Examiner with Dr. Steve Oliver and IPR at



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