National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Remembering the Great Arctic Outbreak of February 1899

 

As we look ahead to a potential outbreak of very cold arctic air this weekend and again during the middle of next week, it brings to mind a historic February outbreak of frigid arctic air that engulfed much of the nation, including Alabama, with many all-time record low temperatures and snowfall in places that rarely experience it.

 

The stage was set for the very cold conditions in February, 1899, by a series of cold high pressure systems that moved southward out of Canada during the first two weeks of the month. The cold finally culminated the morning of February 13th as a final massive arctic high brought frigid temperatures to Alabama and the Gulf Coast. 

 

Prior to the arrival of the massive arctic high, cold air was already entrenched in the northern Gulf Coastal states the morning of Sunday, February 12th.  At the same time, a developing low pressure system was located in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico with a stationary frontal boundary extending eastward from it across north-central Florida into the Atlantic Ocean.  Meanwhile, the leading edge of the final and most frigid air mass was pushing into the central portions of Alabama with the center of the  massive arctic high pressure system located in eastern Wyoming.  During the day Sunday, the low pressure system moved eastward across the Northern Gulf of Mexico, with snow falling to the north of it from Southeast Louisiana northeast across portions of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and the Florida Panhandle, with near-blizzard conditions seen along parts of the Gulf Coast.  As the low moved eastward, the very cold arctic air plunged southward behind it.

 

By the morning of Monday, February 13th, the low pressure system was located off the mid-Atlantic coast, and the center of the arctic high had settled southward to the Texas and Louisiana border.  Strong northerly winds between these weather systems had sent the frigid air all the way southward down the Florida peninsula, with measureable snowfall occurring in the Florida peninsula as far south as the Tampa area.  Across Alabama, which was now covered by a blanket of fresh snow, temperatures had plunged to below zero all the way to near the Gulf Coast.  Some low temperatures (in degrees Farenheit) in Alabama that morning included:

 

Station

Low Temperature

Station

Low Temperature

Valley Head

-17 degrees

Scottsboro

-13 degrees

Birmingham

-10 degrees

Talladega

-10 degrees

Uniontown

-6 degrees

Montgomery

-5 degrees

Thomasville

-5 degrees

Mobile

-1 degree

Evergreen

0 degrees

 

 

 

 

Even in the Florida Panhandle, temperatures dropped to near or just below zero in the interior sections, with DeFuniak Springs dropping to 0 degrees and Tallahassee to -2 degrees.

 

So, even though we are looking at some cold conditions during the next few days, we can take some comfort in knowing that it should not be like that brutally cold morning in February, 1899.