Recent Cold Snap Brings Back Memories Of The '80s

Bitterly cold temperatures were once common in Missouri.

Published on: Jan 27, 2014

It has been a few years since Missourians have endured a cold wave. Actually, University of Missouri climatologist Pat Guinan says residents have to remember the mid-to-late 1980s in order to find a cold spell that rival last week's bitterly cold temperatures.

In December of 1983, a historic cold wave hit much of the eastern two-thirds of the country. Many locations in Missouri had temperatures 10-20 degrees below zero on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Kansas City set an all-time record low temperature of minus 23 degrees on Dec. 23, 1989. Guinan says January 1982 and 1985 were very cold, averaging 6.4 and 7.3 degrees below normal, respectively. Then in February 1980, 1985 and 1989 there was more than 6 degrees below normal.

BUNDLE UP: Missouri is experiencing a cold spell not seen in more than 30 years. With temperatures below freezing and a wind chill making it feel below zero, farmers and ranchers had to bundle up to stay warm while getting out to do chores.
BUNDLE UP: Missouri is experiencing a cold spell not seen in more than 30 years. With temperatures below freezing and a wind chill making it feel below zero, farmers and ranchers had to bundle up to stay warm while getting out to do chores.

The state climatologist adds that cold weather could even be tracked back to the late 1970s. During that decade, there were three consecutively bitterly cold winters where temperatures dropped to 20 to 3- degrees below zero over parts of the state.

Until this year, Missouri has experienced warm winters in recent years

Guinan says most of these are just a memory as Missourians have been "spoiled" with warm winters in recent years.

"We've just had more mild winters over the past couple of decades," he adds. "If you look at weather records that go back to the late 1800s, four out of the top five warmest winters occurred since 1990."

According to Guinan's records, since 1990, there have only been two winter months that averaged more than 6 degrees below normal: December 2000, 11.7 degrees below normal, and February 2010, 6.8 degrees below normal. Then there was a short-lived but intense cold wave across the Midwest in early February 1996, but mild temperatures dominated the rest of the month.

Guinan says that this round of cold weather the state is experiencing is not a rare event, "Missourians got a reality check this year."

Still, he says, one unusual aspect of the recent cold air outbreak was high temperatures staying at or below zero in central and northern Missouri. Based on historical climate data, that's rare for the Show-Me State.

However, the southerly surging Arctic air masses through the middle part of the country, dropping temperatures well below zero is normal. It does not happen often, Guinan says, but it happens. He has seen many occasions where the Arctic Air Express drops all the way to the Gulf Coast.

Source: University of Missouri Extension