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Weather History: January 17: Record temps, storms, snow, wind & tornadoes

Meteorological events that happened on January 17th:

A luminous snowstorm occurred in Vermont and New Hampshire. St. Elmo's fire appeared as static discharges on roof peaks, fence posts, and the hats and fingers of people. Thunderstorms were reported over central New England.


The green flash was apparently first documented by Captain Back of the H. M. S. Terror while in the arctic during its expedition of 1836-1837. He wrote: 'In the morning however, at a quarter before ten o'clock while standing on an ice hummock about 17 feet high, and looking toward the east, I had observed the upper limb of the sun, as it filled a triangular cleft on the ridge of the headland, of the most brilliant emerald color, a phenomenon which I had not witnessed before in these regions.


The Famous “Cold Storm” paralyzed areas from North Carolina to Maine. One to two foot snowfalls were the norm rather than the exception. 20 foot drifts were reported in Norfolk, VA. Temperatures were below zero from Virginia northward. At Cape Henry, NJ, one could walk out 100 yards on the frozen ocean. The Chesapeake Bay was frozen out to a mile and one-half from shore.


A severe wind and snowstorm paralyzed the Northeast with 12 inches of snow and hurricane force winds. The old colony railroad was snow bound for 10 days.

The mercury dipped to -17° at Millsboro, DE, to establish a state record.


The temperature reached 98° at Laredo, TX for the hottest temperature on record in the U.S. for the month of January.


This date started off with unseasonably mild temperatures for January in the Northern Plains. But, a strong front quickly changed all of that. Rain was falling across much of northern and eastern South Dakota before a strong cold front blasted through dropping temperatures 30 degrees in two hours. The quick drop in temperatures following the day's rains led to extensive icing problems on area roadways.

Strong winds also belted the area with 50 to 55 mph gusts across the west and up to 75 mph gusts reported in the east. The wind and icing led to the toppling of a 250 foot radio tower near Aberdeen and of a drive-in theater screen near Vermillion.


A single storm dumped 77.5 inches of snow at Summit, MT, to establish a state record.


Scotland's wettest day on record occurred as 9.38 inches of rain fell in 24 hours at Sloy Main Adit, Loch Lomond.

Portland, ME recorded their greatest single snowstorm on record and most the snow in 24 hours. 27.1 inches of snow fell over a two day period.

An ice and sleet storm battered southwest Iowa. The ice made the roads impassable with many cars and trucks sliding into the ditches. An arctic cold front also gave South Dakota some very strong winds on this day. 75 mph gusts were reported in eastern South Dakota. Icing also occurred with the wind and ice leading to the toppling of a 250 foot radio tower near Aberdeen and a drive-in theater screen near Vermillion

Parts of Hawaii received a year’s worth of rain in 6 days as 60 inches fell in some areas.

The "Cold Sunday" in the United States occurred as high pressure covered the U.S. east of the Rockies, and was centered over Kentucky to Arkansas at 1032 millibars or 30.47 inHg. Tower, MN was the cold spot in the nation with -52° and International Falls, MN following closely behind with a record low of -45°. Danville, IL set their all-time record low with -26°. New January records were set at Milwaukee, WI at -26° their coldest in 111 years and Buffalo, NY with -16°. Philadelphia, PA tied their January record low with -7°. Chicago, IL and Pittsburgh, PA set daily record lows with -23° and -18° respectively. The record low of -5° at Washington, D.C. was their coldest reading since 1934.

Buffalo, NY set a low maximum for the month of January when the afternoon high only reached -2°F and Princeton, NJ managed just 2°.

Strong Chinook winds caused severe wind damage at Boulder, CO. A top wind gust of 147 mph was reported at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in the southwestern part of Boulder. This location reported 20 wind gusts over 120 mph between 1am and 9am. An estimated 40% of all buildings in Boulder received at least minor wind damage. About 50 homes sustained severe damage enough to be uninhabitable. At least 15 homes in the Table Mesa area of Boulder lost their roofs. 20 small planes were completely destroyed at the Boulder Airport. Many residents were without power for long periods as utility poles were snapped in half. Insured damage totaled $20 million dollars making this the costliest windstorm on record in Colorado up to that time. Cheyenne, WY reported a wind gust of 71 mph.


A winter storm spread snow from the Southern Rockies into the Mid-Mississippi Valley and southwestern sections of the Great Lakes Region, and freezing rain across Texas and Oklahoma. Snowfall totals ranged up to 16 inches at Tulia, TX, with 12 inches at Wellington, KS. Up to 14 inches blanketed western and northwestern Oklahoma. Farther south, southwest Oklahoma and western north Texas experienced a significant ice storm. In these locations, as much as 2 inches of ice combined with several inches of snow, to cause numerous traffic accidents and downed power lines


A Pacific storm battered the southern coast of California. A top wind gust of 64 mph was reported at Lindbergh Field in San Diego, their highest wind speed on record. Boats in San Diego harbor were damaged extensively. Apartment windows were ripped out in Imperial Beach, where damage was estimated at $1 million dollars. Trees were knocked down and debris was strewn all around San Diego and the zoo. The zoo was closed for the first time in 72 years to remove damage. Los Angeles reported an all-time record low barometric pressure reading of 29.25 inHg.


Strong Chinook winds along the eastern slopes of the Rockies gusted to 94 mph near Big Timber, MT and 90 mph near Rollinsville, CO. Heavy snow blanketed parts of the Upper Mississippi Valley, with 8 inches reported in Douglas County, Wisconsin.


Many cities across the southeastern half of the country reported record high temperatures for the date. Record highs included 61° at Williamstown, PA and 85° at Brownsville, TX.

Louisville, KY recorded 15.9 inches of snow in 24 hours for not only its greatest 24 hour snowfall ever, but also its greatest snowstorm ever up to that time, as a massive overrunning pattern developed over the frigid arctic air that was entrenched across the eastern U.S. Lucasville, OH was buried under 30 inches and up to 23 inches was reported in Robertson County, Kentucky. Freezing rain created half an inch of ice in central and southern Indiana the previous day. It then changed over to snow on this date and dropped over a foot of snow in some places. Harrison, Clark, and Floyd Counties reported 16 inches of snow.

The Northridge, CA Earthquake caused extensive damage to the San Fernando Valley. 61 people were killed and damage exceeded $15 billion dollars. Extensive damage to road systems resulted in traffic delays for months and led to expanded use of commuter rail systems.

The Japanese city of Kobe was devastated by a pre-dawn earthquake that measured 7.2 on the Richter Scale. It was the most powerful earthquake ever to strike a modern city directly. Over 6,300 people were injured and another 43,000 left homeless. The massive tremor and unbelievable destruction proved that Japan is not earthquake-proof.


Snowfall accumulations of 2 to 15 inches, high winds from 40 to 60 mph, and cold arctic air resulted in blizzard conditions and extreme wind chills from -40° to -70° across central, north central, and northeast South Dakota as well as west central Minnesota from the middle morning through the early evening of the 18th. Most schools, federal, state, and county offices were closed. Also, various activities were canceled. Travel was extremely difficult due to the near zero visibility with some vehicles stranded. Highway 12 from Webster to the Minnesota border and Interstate-29 was closed on the 18th. Hundreds of people were stranded with some people stranded in their vehicles. Some snowfall amounts included: 15 inches occurred at Wheaton, Clinton, and Graceville, 12 inches at Wilmot, Rosholt, and Ortonville, Minnesota, 10 inches at Eureka and Britton, 9 inches at Mellette, Aberdeen, and Redfield, 8 inches at Doland, 6 inches at Tulare, 5 inches at Mobridge, Presho, Roscoe, 3 inches at Pierre and 2 inches at Highmore. The extreme wind chills along with some blowing snow continued across central and north central South Dakota into the early evening of the 18th.

Strong winds blew into southwest Kansas during the afternoon pulling wind chill temperatures to -45°, downing tree limbs, damaging and lifting roofs, pushing semi trucks and trailers over and causing power outages and furnace problems. Peak wind gusts throughout the area ranged from 60 to 75 mph.

High winds behind the powerful low pressure system battered west Texas and parts of eastern New Mexico. Sustained winds hit 105 mph with gusts to 128 mph at Guadeloupe Pass, TX. Wind gusts reached 89 mph at White Sands, NM and 75 mph at El Paso, TX. One person was killed and 3 others were injured when the high winds collapsed a Supermarket roof in Anthony, TX. Another person was killed on the road. The Department of Public Safety report stated that visibilities were ranging between 20 feet and 1/4 mile with a visibility of 50 feet being common during the clean up of the accident. El Paso, TX recorded its lowest barometric pressure ever with 29.22 inHg.

An unusually strong storm system for so early in the year, produced several tornadoes over Arkansas and western Tennessee, killing 8 people and injuring 131 others. Damage totaled $40 million dollars. Hardest hit was Jackson, TN, where two separate tornadoes, an F3 and an F4 struck the northern and southern sections of the town killing six people. 200 homes were destroyed and 300 others damaged.


The high temperature at Toronto, Ontario Canada soared to 64°, their highest January temperature recorded since records began in 1840.

On this date through the 18th, the west coast community of Tofino on Vancouver Island, British Columbia Canada broke their daily rainfall record with 3.81 inches, then broke it again the next day with 7.76 inches. Down the coast, Port Renfrew was even wetter as it received a 2-day total of 13.46 inches.


Roseburg, OR received 2.21 inches of rain, almost an inch more than the previous daily record set in 1954.


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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