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Record Setting Winter: 100 Years Later - LEX18.com | Continuous News and StormTracker Weather

Record Setting Winter: 100 Years Later

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Before I get started, I want to encourage you to visit http://www.weather.gov/lmk/december_1917_january_1918 for an in-depth account of conditions that winter, put together by the NWS Office in Louisville.

It's been a century since Lexington recorded it's coldest and snowiest December and January ever. A combination of deep arctic air and perfectly times teleconnections resulted in a two-month stretch of brutal winter conditions for the State of Kentucky.

December-January 1917-18 Snowfall: 42.4”

December-January 1917-18 Average Mean Temperature: 22.6°F

The set up for the miserable winter started taking shape in the late summer 1917. Canadian high pressure centers started building and maintaining around August and leading into the winter. These cold air masses brought record cold temperatures early in the fall season.During these early-season cold spells an up and down temperature pattern took shape through the end of the fall and early December. After that,  the bottom finally dropped out. 

This drop in temperatures arrived with a strong low pressure system cutting the mid-west and southern states on the 8th of December in 1917. The air mass was so deep and cold that the rain ahead of the front turned to snow immediately as the winds shifted and cold air rushed in. That day, Lexington picked up 10” of snow while areas along the Ohio River had more than a foot of snow, including 16.4” of snow in Louisville.

Through the next week or so, travel was difficult or downright impossible through many areas. Fuel and supply shortages along with many business and school closings were the result of the heavy snow on the 8th.

Record-setting cold air funneled in with the high pressure behind the front and set up shop for over a week's time. For a period of about 9 days, temperatures below 0 were reported at at least one weather observation station in either Kentucky or Indiana each day.

Below are some of the coldest temperature recorded in Kentucky during that 9-Day stretch:

Downtown Louisville: -6° (12-9)

Berea: -9° (12-11)

Lexington: -9° (12-9 / 12-10)

Richmond: -9° (12-10)

Bardstown: -14° (12-10)

Junction City: -16° (12-12)

Loretto : -16° (12-12)

Shelbyville: -16° (12-9 / 12-11)

Frankfort: -17° (12-11)

Taylorsville: -20° (12-11)

(List Courtesy of the Louisville NWS Office)

Low temperature records in Lexington were set on the 8th through the 11th of December in 1917 and still stand to this day.

Saturday, December 8th: -4°F

Sunday, December 9th: -9°F

Monday, December 10th: -9°F

Tuesday, December 11th:: -2°F

Blinding snow with strong winds fell again as the date read the 11th of January 2018. This cold front was responsible for the next shot of brutally cold air that filtered into Kentucky. By the 12th of January, the coldest of the pool of air had made it's way into the state, and dropped temperatures below 0°F again; except this time, they didn't come back up! The temperature dropped to -14°F in Lexington the morning of the 12th and only warmed to -3°F by the afternoon. It is still one of only two days in Lexington's weather history that temperatures stayed below 0°F for the entire day. The other was on February 9th in 1899.

Temperatures were so cold in that stretch, that the Ohio River froze over and you could walk from Kentucky to Ohio on the ice!

(Images Courtesy: NWS Office in Louisville)

Some of the coldest temperatures recorded in Kentucky, January 10th through the 23rd:

Frankfort: -12° (1-12 / 1-21)

Richmond: -13° (1-12)

Bardstown: -14° (1-12)

Berea: -14° (1-21)

Junction City: -14° (1-12 / 1-21)

Lexington: -14° (1-12)

Downtown Louisville: -15° (1-12)

Loretto : -16° (1-12)

Shelbyville: -16° (1-12 / 1-13 / 1-21)

Taylorsville: -18° (1-21)

(List Courtesy of the Louisville NWS Office)

After that blast of cold air in mid-January, one more quick temperature dip arrived in the beginning of February. However, after that the temperature rebounded and remained mild through the rest of the month. Temperatures climbed high enough to break two high temperature records on the 14th and 28th of that February with temperatures of 70°F and 75°F respectively.

The higher temperatures in the latter part of the 1917-18 winter resulted in pushing Lexington up 1 spot in the rankings for coldest overall winter on record. While December 1917 and January 1918 go down as two of the coldest months in Lexington's weather history, the entire winter season ranks as the 2rd coldest.

Snowfall also dropped off significantly in February only recording 0.1” of snowfall on the 2nd of the month which added little to the 3” snow depth (the highest of the month) that lasted until the 6th. Still, even with the 0.1” of snowfall in the last month of that winter, it still ranks first for highest snowfall of any winter on record. Snowfall measured 42.5” that winter.

Almanac Data for Lexington (Dec 1917 – Feb 1918):

December 1917:

Total Snowfall: 19.4” (1st snowiest December on Record)

Highest 1-Day Snowfall: 9.4” (12-8)

Highest Snow Depth: 10” (12-11)

Snow Depth of at least 8” 10 days (12-8 through 12-17)

Average Mean Temperature: 25.5°F (3rd Coldest December on Record)

4 Low Temperature Records Set: (12-8 through 12-11)

January 1918:

Total Snowfall: 23.0” (1st Snowiest January on Record)

Highest 1-Day Snowfall: 5.3” (1-2)

Highest Snow Depth: 10” (1-2 & 1-22 through 1-23)

Average Mean Temperature: 19.8°F (2nd Coldest January on Record)

Record Low (1-12): -14°F

Record Lowest High (1-12): -3À°F

February 1918:

Total Snowfall: 0.1”

Highest 1-Day Snowfall: 0.1” (2-2)

Highest Snow Depth: 3” (2-1 through 2-5)

Average Mean Temperature: 37.9°F (42nd Warmest February on Record)

2 High Temperatures Records Set: (2-14 & 2-28)

Seasonal Stats for Winter 1917-1918

Total Snowfall: 42.5” (1st Snowiest Winter on Record)

Average Snow Depth Per Day 3.1”

Average Mean Temperature: 27.4°F (2nd Coldest Winter on Record)

Oh, and as a Lagniappe for sticking around during this long post, here's a graphic I made showing what was happening in the world during that harsh Kentucky winter...

Yea...I would've followed the birds south that winter...

-Meteorologist Seth Phillips

*All Data Used in this post was compiled from records kept between the years 1872-2017*

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