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Weather History: December 21: Record temps, storms, fog, snow, wind & ice

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Meteorological events that happened on December 21st:


A spectacular cold front passed through Illinois. Although no reliable temperature records are available, estimates from eyewitness reports indicated that temperatures fell from the 40's to zero degrees almost instantly. The water in ponds and streams was pushed into waves by 70 mph winds and then frozen in place. Small animals were frozen in their tracks. Two men near the town of Rushville froze to death. A man riding horseback from Chatham to Springfield started the trip in rain; by the time he arrived, his coat was frozen solid, and he was frozen onto the saddle. This was the beginning of what was referred to as the "Winter of Starving Time" in Illinois.


Lakota Sioux Indians took advantage of a unique super bright full moon on the night of the winter solstice to ambush soldiers in the Wyoming Territory. Since it occurred during a point when the moon's orbit is closer to earth than at perigee, the moon appeared 14% larger than it does at apogee. Also, the earth being closer to the sun than in summer made the moon brighter than usual. The combination of snow cover and the extreme brightness allowed the Indian attack to have disastrous consequences for the soldiers. A similar astronomical event would not occur again until 1999.


On this date through the 24th, Portland, OR was buried under a record 27.5 inches of snow.


On this date through the 22nd, an exceptional storm produced snow from the Middle Rio Grande Valley of Texas to southern Arkansas. The storm produced 26 inches of snow at Hillsboro, TX, 18 inches at El Dorado, AR, and 14 inches at Bossier, LA.


0.1 inches of snow fell at Billings, MT. This was the first measurable snow of the season, the latest first measurable snow on record.


A great warm surge from the Pacific Ocean across Oregon and northern California brought torrential rains on a deep snow cover resulting in record floods.


Temperatures soared to record highs around 60 degrees across Lower Michigan on the winter solstice. A sharp cold front came through in the evening and was followed by 2 to 4 inches of snow on the following day.

Four tornadoes swept across Grant, Blackford, Wells, and Adams counties in Indiana, reaching F3 intensity in Grant and Blackford Counties. A tornado causing F4 damage killed 3 people and injured 52 others in Iron County, Missouri.


A record breaking snowstorm pounded portions of South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa through the 22nd. Heavy snows were accompanied by winds gusting over 50 mph producing widespread blowing snow. Drifts up to 10 feet deep across the area stopped traffic. Amounts piled up to 18 inches in southeast South Dakota, over 12 inches in southwest Minnesota, and 6 to 15 inches in northwest Iowa.

The 24-hour total from this date through the 22nd of 16.6 inches at Sioux Falls, SD set the December one day snow total record. December snow total records were set at over 40 locations in Minnesota, thanks in part to this storm.

A very cold air mass settled over the West, setting numerous low temperature records. It was 2° at Idyllwild, CA, their lowest temperature on record for December, and the second all-time lowest temperature on record.

Locations reporting daily record lows for the date included: Ely, NV: -13°, Big Bear Lake, CA: -4°, Reno, NV: -3°, Victorville, CA: 12° (followed by a record low maximum of 33°), Las Vegas, NV: 20°, Stockton, CA: 22°, Riverside, CA: 23° (followed by a record low maximum of 43°), Sacramento, CA: 25°, Santa Maria, CA: 27°-Tied, Palm Springs, CA: 28°, Yuma, AZ: 28°, Borrego Springs, CA: 29° (followed by a record low maximum of 50°), Eureka, CA: 29°, San Francisco Airport, CA: 29°, Long Beach, CA: 31°, Los Angeles (LAX), CA: 32°, Downtown Los Angeles, CA: 33° and San Diego, CA: 37°-Tied.


Huge waves driven by hurricane-force winds surged across Flat Rock, Pouch Cove and Quidi Vidi Village in southeastern Newfoundland Canada, destroying shanties and wharves.


An extremely bitter cold arctic air mass prevailed from the Midwest to the West Coast bringing numerous record low temperatures for the date including: Butte, MT: -43°, White Sulphur Springs, MT: -40°, Casper, WY: -37°, Livingston, MT: -33°, Valentine, NE: -32°, Boulder, MT: -31°, Townsend, MT: -31°, North Platte, NE: -29°, Helena, MT: -28°, Cheyenne, WY: -28°, Scottsbluff, NE: -27°, Huron, SD: -27°, Sheridan, WY: -27°, Billings, MT: -25°, Kalispell, MT: -25°, Rapid City, SD: -25°, Pocatello, ID: -23°, Grand Island, NE: -23°, Missoula, MT: -21°, Denver, CO: -21° (followed by a December record low maximum of -8°), Goodland, KS: -17°, Clayton, NM: -14°, Pendleton, OR: -13°, Kansas City, MO: -10°, Spokane, WA: -10°, Boise, ID: -8°, Lewiston, ID: -8°, Wichita, KS: -8°, Buffalo, NY: -8°, Topeka, KS: -6°, Yakima, WA: -6°, Amarillo, TX: -4°, Oklahoma City, OK: -2°, Tulsa, OK: 0°, Lubbock, TX: 2°, Olympia, WA: 2°, Wichita Falls, TX: 4°, Abilene, TX: 8°, Dallas, TX: 9°, Dallas (DFW), TX: 10°, San Angelo, TX: 10°, Midland-Odessa, TX: 12°, New York (Kennedy Airport), NY: 13°, Astoria, OR: 15°, Portland, OR: 16°, Seattle, WA: 16°, Waco, TX: 16°-Tied and Quillayute, WA: 18°.


High winds continued along the eastern slopes of the Rockies. During the morning hours winds gusted to 97 mph near Boulder, CO and reached 64 mph at Cheyenne, WY.

A 4 day siege of heavy rain began in the south central U.S., as Little Rock, AR experienced their wettest December day on record with 5.01 inches of rain. Flooding throughout the south central U.S. claimed four lives and caused millions of dollars in property damage. Total rainfall exceeded 12 inches in the Memphis, TN area.


A storm in the northwestern U.S. produced 22 inches of snow at Idaho City, ID over two days, and up to 2 feet of snow at Happy Camp, CA. Ski resorts in Idaho reported 3 to 6 feet of snow on the ground.

A southwesterly flow ahead of a cold front brought mild conditions to the East Coast with a few locations reporting record high temperatures for the date including: Charleston, SC: 78°, Wallops Island, VA: 64°, Syracuse, NY: 58° and Binghamton, NY: 52°.


A strong upper level low combined with a deep upper level trough prevailed from the Rockies to the East Coast that brought dangerous, bitter cold arctic air. Many cities coast to coast reported record low temperatures for the date. Havre, MT not only set a record low but was the cold spot in the nation with a low of -44° and the temperature remained close to -40° through the daylight hours. Dickinson, ND reported a morning low of -33° and a wind chill reading of -86°. The high for the date of -16° at Sioux Falls, SD was a December record for that location. It is one of the coldest December days in history across Lower Michigan. The high temperature at Muskegon and Grand Rapids was only 5°, the lowest maximum temperature ever recorded in the month of December at both sites.

Locations reporting daily record low temperatures for the date included: Valentine, MT: -42°, Chester, MT: -42°, Chinook, MT: -40°, Williston, ND: -37°, Grass Range, MT: -37°, Lewistown, MT: -35°, Valentine, NE: -35°, Sheridan, WY: -35°, Fort Assiniboine, MT: -35°, Scottsbluff, NE: -31°, North Platte, NE: -29°: Tied, Duluth, MN: -28°, Billings, MT: -26°, Rapid City, SD: -25°-Tied, Norfolk, NE: -24°, Sioux City, IA: -22°, Ste. St. Marie, MI: -22°, Omaha, NE: -22°, Marquette, MI: -21°, Dubuque, IA: -21°, Indianapolis, IN: -21°, Green Bay, WI: -20°, Lincoln, NE: -19°, Des Moines, IA: -18°, Concordia, KS: -18°, Kansas City, MO: -18°, Peoria, IL: -18°-Tied, Fort Wayne, IN: -17°, Goodland, KS: -17°-Tied, Topeka, KS: -16° (broke previous record by 10 degrees), Columbia, MO: -15°, Dayton, OH: -15°, Milwaukee, WI: -15°, Chicago, IL: -14°, Cincinnati, OH: -14°, Evansville, IN: -13° (broke previous record by 11 degrees), St. Louis, MO: -12°, Mansfield, OH: -12°, Alpena, MI: -11°, Columbus, OH: -10°, Houghton Lake, MI: -10°-Tied, Lexington, KY: -10°, Toledo, OH: -10°, Louisville, KY: -9°, Grand Rapids, MI: -8°, Akron, OH: -8°: Tied, Paducah, KY: -7°, Springfield, MO: -7°, Pittsburgh, PA: -6°, Jackson, KY: -4° (broke previous record by 15 degrees), Nashville, TN: -2°, Tulsa, OK: 0°-Tied, Memphis, TN: 3°, Fort Smith, AR: 4°, Sterling (Dulles Airport), VA: 4°, Wallops Island, VA: 4° (broke previous record by 12 degrees), Little Rock, AR: 6°, Huntsville, AL: 7°, Tupelo, MS: 7°, Midland-Odessa, TX: 8°, Quillayute, WA: 10°, Islip, NY: 13°, Chattanooga, TN: 14°-Tied, Del Rio, TX: 21° and Redding, CA: 27°.


A complex frontal system brought wintry precipitation to much of the central states to the Great Lakes. Des Moines, IA, reported freezing drizzle with a temperature of -2°. McAlester, OK, reported a thunderstorm with sleet and a half inch hail while at 13°; as a result of a shallow, bitterly cold air mass overrun by warm air.

Behind the front, a deep upper level low and trough brought brutally cold arctic air from the Rockies to the West Coast. Fresno, CA reported snow flurries for the third day in a row. Casper, WY set their all-time record low for December with -41°.

Locations reporting daily record lows for the date included: Wisdom, MT: -49°, West Yellowstone, MT: -46°, Lincoln Ranger Station, MT: -42°, Stanford, MT: -40°, Conrad, MT: -37°, Great Falls, MT: -35°, Lander, WY: -35°, Choteau, MT: -34°, Cut Bank, MT: -33°, Helena, MT: -32°, Winnemucca, NV: -31° (broke previous record by 21 degrees), Miles City, MT: -30°, Virginia City, MT: -30°, Valier, MT: -30°, Ennis, MT: -28°, Cheyenne, WY: -28°-Tied, Ely, NV: -26° (broke previous record by 13 degrees), Billings, MT: -26°-Tied, Pocatello, ID: -25°, Missoula, MT: -25°, Kalispell, MT: -25°; Tied, Elko, NV: -24°, Burns, OR: -24° (broke previous record by 14 degrees), Colorado Springs, CO: -23°, Boise, ID: -23° (broke previous record by 15 degrees), Denver, CO: -21°-Tied, Pueblo, CO: -19°, Pendleton, OR: -16°, Clayton, NM: -14°-Tied, Grand Junction, CO: -10°, Salt Lake City, UT: -9°, Yakima, WA: -9°, Reno, NV: -8°, Bishop, CA: -4°, Medford, OR: -4° (broke previous record by 15 degrees), Olympia, WA: 0°, Astoria, OR: 6°, Eugene, OR: 6°, Salem, OR: 8° (broke previous record by 10 degrees), Portland, OR: 12°, Seattle, WA: 12°, Redding, CA: 17° (broke previous record by 10 degrees), Las Vegas, NV: 20°-Tied, Stockton, CA: 21°, Sacramento, CA: 22°, Eureka, CA: 23° and San Francisco Airport, CA: 28°.

Ahead of the front several locations from the Ohio Valley and East Coast reported record high temperatures for the date including: Tampa, FL: 85°, Tallahassee, FL: 80°-Tied, Charleston, WV: 74°, Cape Hatteras, NC: 73°-Tied, Huntington, WV: 72°-Tied, Jackson, KY: 71°, Elkins, WV: 69°-Tied, Boston, MA: 62°, Islip, NY: 55° and Binghamton, NY: 52°-Tied.


Winds gusting between 40 and 50 mph caused damage to an overhang on a bank building in downtown West Palm Beach, FL. The high winds damaged several boats in Martin County, and injured two sailors after their sail boats capsized offshore Palm Beach County and northeast Dade County. Beach sand was washed onto Highway A1A in Ft. Lauderdale. Trees and power lines were toppled by the high winds. Rainfall amounts up to 6.5 inches in 12 hours caused some flooding of poorly drained roadways.


60 inches of snow fell in 24 hours at Truckee and Echo Summit, CA as a strong western storm came onshore. These totals were very close to the 24 hour snowfall record for the state of California, which was 67 inches set at Echo Summit on 1/4-5/1982.

A storm that started on this day and ended the next day spread rainfall totals of two inches in the coastal areas and two to five inches in the inland valleys and foothills of southern California. Storm winds were measured at 40 to 50 mph.

Two major snowstorms dumped 49 inches at Victoria, British Columbia Canada during the last week of the month. However, Christmas Day was green. The 24-hour snowfall on the 29th of 25 inches completely shut down the city for several days.


A powerful storm in the east Pacific generated large surf with sets of 20 feet along much of the California coast. Broken surfboards, rescues, and beach erosion resulted. All piers were shut down and many were overtopped by the surf. Sea water flooded a parking lot in Carlsbad and floated several cars. Boardwalk damage occurred in Dana Point. Tow-in surfing occurred only 1.5 miles off Seal Beach.

An upper level and surface ridge across the Great Basin brought record highs to parts of the West including: Borrego Springs, CA: 81°, San Diego, CA: 80°-Tied, Los Angeles (LAX), CA: 79°-Tied, Idyllwild, CA: 74°, Palomar Mountain, CA: 72°, Big Bear Lake, CA: 67°, Ely, NV: 59°-Tied and Quillayute, WA: 54°-Tied.


Fog that brought visibility to as low as 377 feet caused the cancellation of hundreds of flights at London, England's Heathrow Airport for a fourth successive day disrupting the plans of holiday travelers. Visibilities down to half a mile are generally considered disruptive for flights.


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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