Historic Cold Settles Over Virginia

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Blanket weather. Albemarle County Public Schools were delayed one hour on January 3, the first day back from winter break, due to bitter cold. Low temperatures were in the single digits to start the new year. Photo: Mike Marshall.

On the very first morning of 2018, bitter cold gripped much of the United States.  98% of the country was below freezing, with 33% below zero degrees. Only Hawaii, southern Florida, and parts of the desert Southwest were spared.  We had a low of 8 degrees at our house.  This comes after what was a rather mild 2017 in Crozet.  Much of December was mild, too, until a cold wind blew in on Christmas day.

So how does this cold snap stack up against the record books?  We looked at ten-day periods back to the year 1900 to find the coldest of the cold snaps.

  1. January 21, 1994: 16.8
  2. January 18, 1982: 16.9
  3. January 13, 1912: 17.7
  4. December 25, 1989: 17.9
  5. February 18, 1979: 18.1
  6. February 4, 1918: 19.3
  7. December 29, 1935: 19.9
  8. December 17, 1917: 20.1
  9. January 28, 1961: 20.4
  10. January 19, 1977: 20.4
  11. February 24, 2015: 20.5
  12. January 3, 1900: 20.8
  13. February 18, 1958: 20.8
  14. January 13, 1981: 20.8
  15. January 7, 2018: 21.1

The coldest ever was the period January 12-21, 1994 with a ten-day average temperature of just 16.8 degrees. This cold snap, by comparison, has been 21.1 degrees, good enough for 15th place in 117 years of records.  Another way to look at it is that we get this cold about once every eight years.  Yet another way to think about it is that it is warmer 99.7% of the time than it has been since Christmas. All of these bitter cold snaps happened between mid December and mid February.

We were even colder three years ago in February 2015.

Chart courtesy Roscoe Shaw and Heidi Sonen.

Despite the wicked cold, no snow has fallen.  The only snow so far this year was a wet three inches on December 9.  Snowfall in central Virginia depends on a combination of factors coming together and cold is just one part of it.  Usually, when we are extremely cold, the air is too dry to produce significant snow.

2017 Recap

By contrast, 2017 was a very warm year for us.  Temperatures averaged 1.5 degrees above the long-term average.  Fortunately summer wasn’t bad.  Most of the warmer-than-normal weather was in February, April, and October.  We measured 38.73 inches of rain, which was significantly below the average of 46.

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