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Weather History: January 21: Record temps, storms, ice, snow, wind & tornadoes

Meteorological events that happened on January 21st:


This was the coldest day of the famous California cold winter when Sacramento, CA dropped to 19°.


A severe coastal storm dropped heavy rains on the Fredericksburg area. It rained for 30 hours, dropping more than two inches, making mud so deep that mules and horses died attempting to move equipment. The rivers became too high and swift to cross, disrupting the Union Army offensive operation in the ill-famed "Mud March". The total rainfall in Washington from the 20th through the 22nd was 3.20 inches.


Record snows fell across west Texas. Lubbock broke their single storm snowfall record with 16.8 inches. Plainview, TX recorded 18 inches. Dalhart, TX picked up 15 inches of the white stuff.


Temperature rose 83 degrees at Granville, ND over several hours, from a morning reading of -33° to 50° by the afternoon.


Snow flurries fell at San Diego, CA. Trace amounts stuck to northern and eastern parts of the city. The high temperature in Las Vegas was 28°. This tied the record for the coldest high temperature ever recorded and was one of only three times that the high temperature remained in the 20s.

Elko, NV set their all-time record low of -43°. Locations that reported daily record lows included: Winnemucca, ND: -36, Flagstaff, AZ: -24, Salt Lake City, UT: -11, Las Vegas, NV: 13, Bakersfield, CA: 19, Fresno, CA: 19, Eureka, CA: 25 and Downtown Los Angeles, CA: 32.


Across the Atlantic, the country of Wales reported their coldest night on record as Rhayader Powys dropped to -9.9°.


A storm affected important winter vegetable areas of Broward and Palm Beach Counties in Florida. Although area of destruction limited, many observers reported 6 to 9 inches of rainfall in several hours. Several points reported rainfalls of near 21 inches in less than 24 hours, with one report of 15 inches in five hours. Rainfall caused flooding of several truck crop fields; water completely covered some mature and growing crops. Most water removed was from fields by pumping, but not until considerable damage done. Sunny and abnormally warm weather following the storm was conducive to the development of disease and further general lowering of crop quality. Hail accompanying this localized storm activity caused crop damage of $1 million dollars.


A winter storm produced 8 to 12 inches of snow across the northern third of Illinois. Further south, a 70 mile wide area, from Jerseyville to Danville, received a half to one inch of ice accumulation. Thousands of homes were without power for several days. This was described as the worst ice storm in Springfield, IL since 1942, and the worst in Champaign, IL in at least 50 years.


Much of southwest and south central Oklahoma was hit with heavy snow for the second time in two days. Snowfall totals on this day were from 4 to 6 inches along the Red River, from near Hollis, to Altus, and east to Waurika, OK. Similar totals fell in these areas two days earlier. Snowfall totals for both storms included 11 inches at Waurika, and 10.4 inches at Altus, OK.


Up to an inch of solid ice was reported over sections of southwest Virginia. Numerous trees and power lines came down causing extended power outages. Some localities were still without power a week after the storm. Pittsylvania County reported $1 million dollars in damage to trees. Utility damages were in the millions of dollars. Damage also occurred to homes and vehicles from trees falling on them.


A winter storm hammered parts of South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota for the third weekend in a row through the 24th. Rain and freezing rain began over southwest Iowa during the evening and spread northeast. Heavy snow fell over the north, with 18 inches recorded at Sioux City and 14 inches at Mason City. Strong winds blew the snow into drifts of 15 to 20 feet and reduced visibilities to zero. Southern Iowa was covered with a thick layer of ice. Most roads and schools were closed. Roofs of poultry houses and cattle sheds collapsed under the weight of heavy snow killing numerous chickens and cattle.

Conditions were no better in Minnesota. Minneapolis set a single storm snowfall record with 18.5 inches. Incredibly, the record that this storm broke had just been set two days earlier when 17.4 inches buried the Twin Cities. This totaled nearly 36 inches of new snow in just over three days.


The southeastern U.S. was in the deep freeze due to an Arctic blast. North Carolina’s coldest temperature was measured as Mt. Mitchell dropped to -34°. South Carolina also recorded their coldest temperatures ever as Caesar’s Head dropped to -19°. Locations that reported all-time record lows included: Knoxville, TN: -24°, Bristol, TN: -21°, Richmond, VA: -17°, Nashville, TN: -17°, Asheville, NC: -16°, Chattanooga, TN: -10°, Raleigh, NC: -9°, Rome, GA: -9°, Greensboro, NC: -8°, Charlotte, NC: -5°, Norfolk, VA: -3°, Pensacola, FL: 5°, Cape Hatteras, NC: 6°, Apalachicola, FL: 9°, Daytona Beach, FL: 15° and Orlando, FL: 19°. Plumbers were busy answering calls from worried residents who had no water, a sure sign of frozen pipes.

Across Florida, temperatures ranged from 4° to 20° in north Florida, 17° to 25° in central Florida, and 20° to 30° in south Florida. Six people died of hypothermia and nine others died of fires associated with space heaters. One fifth of the citrus crop, two-thirds of vegetable crop, and one third of grazing pastures were lost.

Three days of snow squalls at Buffalo, NY finally came to an end. The squalls, induced by relatively warm water on Lake Erie, produced 34 inches at the airport, with up to 47 inches reported in the suburbs of Buffalo. Many counties were declared disaster areas.

It was the coldest Inauguration day in history as President Reagan was sworn in for a second term. After a morning low of -4°, the high of just 17° combined with gusty winds resulted in wind chill readings of -30°.


Low pressure over Minnesota produced high winds in the Northern Plains. Winds gusted to 70 mph at Belle Fourche, SD and reached 66 mph at Rapid City, SD.


Pressure gradience from high pressure over northern Nevada and low pressure off the coast of southern California combined to produce high winds to the southwestern U.S. Wind gusts in the San Francisco area reached 70 mph at Fremont. Further south, gusts reached 80 mph at Grapevine and 60 mph at Ontario. Power poles, road signs and big rigs were knocked down in the Inland Empire. In San Diego County, six people were injured, roofs were blown off houses, trees were toppled and crops destroyed. A barn was demolished and a garage was crushed by a giant tree in Pine Valley. 20 buildings were destroyed or damaged at Viejas. Avocado and flower crops were destroyed at Fallbrook and Encinitas, respectively. Seven beach swimmers were missing and four were presumed drowned in large surf.

Severe thunderstorm winds flipped over an airplane at Leesburg, FL. At Umatilla high winds overturned four trailers causing five injuries. A tornado struck Ormond Beach, FL destroying a home and downing trees and power lines. Three people were injured.


A gale center that exhibited subtropical storm characteristics formed in the coastal waters east of Cape Canaveral, FL then moved slowly northeast. Sustained winds of 40 to 50 mph with gusts near 75 mph downed many trees, signs and power lines, and caused window and roof damage to several homes across Brevard, Volusia, Flagler, St. Johns and Indian River Counties. High waves caused moderate beach erosion. Tens of thousands of homes were without electric power for up to 12 hours. Rainfall amounts of 4 to 6 inches caused ponding of water in low-lying areas, which damaged several homes and motels and caused many traffic accidents.

Cold and snow prevailed in the northeastern U.S. Up to 13 inches of snow was reported between Woodford and Searsburg in Vermont. Montpelier, VT reported a wind chill reading of -42°.

Miami, FL reported a record high of 85°.


Unseasonably warm weather prevailed across Florida. Many cities reported record heat. Naples, FL tied their January record high with 88°. Locations that reported daily record highs included: Devils Garden, FL: 88°, La Belle, FL: 87°, West Palm Beach, FL: 86°, Vero Beach, FL: 86°, Canal Point, FL: 86°, Moore Haven, FL: 86°, Sarasota-Bradenton, FL: 86°, Miami, FL: 85°-Tied, Miami Beach, FL: 84°, Lakeland, FL: 84°, Orlando, FL: 84°-Tied and Daytona Beach, FL: 83°-Tied.

Rain in southern New England changed to freezing rain, to sleet, and then to heavy snow during the late morning. Most of Massachusetts was blanketed with 6 to 10 inches of snow.


Another strong low pressure system moved inland on the west coast of the U.S. Along the Sierra crest near Lake Tahoe, CA winds were measured sustained at 122 mph with a peak gust to 176 mph. Wind gusts reached 80 mph in the Reno, NV area. Further east, Cheyenne, WY reported a gust to 73 mph. Thunderstorms with frequent lightning were reported at Blue Canyon, CA and the Sierra Ski Ranch was buried under 21 inches of new snow in 24 hours to raise its snow cover to 163 inches.


Frigid conditions persisted over the Northeast. All-time record lows were established at Harrisburg, PA: -22°, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, PA: -21°, Williamsport, PA: -20°, Erie, PA: -18° and Allentown, PA: -15°.

Livermore Falls, ME and Grafton, NH recorded morning lows of -40°. The morning low in Worcester, MA was below 0° for the 7th day in a row to establish a new record.

On this date through the 22nd, Colliers Creek, New Zealand recorded 26.9 inches of rain over 24-hours.


Heavy rains and melting snow due to record warmth resulted in some of the worst flooding ever in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia.


87 tornadoes were reported across the South, establishing a one day January record for the country. Eight people were killed and 150 others injured in Arkansas and Tennessee as twisters ripped through parts of both states. 30 tornadoes tracked across 15 counties in Arkansas. Homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed in areas like Little Rock, Beebe, McRae, and in areas farther north and east. Hardest hit were Beebe, AR, Little Rock, AR and Clarksville, TN. 163 tornadoes were reported in January shattering the old mark of 52 set in 1975. Further north, large hail, up to golf ball size, fell just south of Mattoon, IL. The hail covered the road, causing several vehicles to skid off the highway. No injuries were reported.

Strong winds across the California desert gusted to 80 mph in the Salton Sea area, up to 70 mph in the Coachella Valley, 47 mph at Palm Springs and 36 mph at Thermal.


A powerful ocean storm off the coast of New England developed an "eye" as the central pressure fell to 954 millibars or 28.16 inHg. This was the equivalent of a Category 3 hurricane.


A winter storm left Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada with a record 18.7 inches of snowfall.


Tokyo Japan’s first snowfall of the season totaled 3.5 inches, their heaviest accumulation in 8 years.


Temperatures dropped well below zero in extreme northern Maine. Van Buren plunged to -34°; Presque Isle bottomed out at -27° and Allagash fell to -26°.


On this date through the 22nd, a large storm moving eastward over northwest Africa dropped cold, soaking rain that pelted the northernmost Sahara. El Oued, Algeria recorded 3.3 inches of rain, more than the normal yearly rainfall of about 3 inches. The storm whipped up widespread dust storms over Algeria and snow along its Tell Atlas Mountains.


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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