National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Remembering the Arctic Outbreaks in January 1977 and 1985

for Birmingham


January, 1977, and January, 1985,  will long be remembered in Birmingham, and across all of Central Alabama for that matter, for the extreme cold that occurred.  January 1977 was so cold across the Southeastern U.S. that snow fell all the way to South Florida, as far south as Homestead, and snow flurries were even observed in the Bahamas, as the cold weather reached its peak from the 19th to the 21st. January 1985 will be remembered for the subzero temperatures in Birmingham.


Let’s take a look at some temperature statistics at the Birmingham Airport for January of 1977.  Cold weather was persistent throughout all of the month in Birmingham.  There were only 5 days in which the high temperature reached 50 degrees or greater. The highest temperature for the month was only 60 degrees, and that did not occur until the 27th and 28th.  In contrast, there were seven days in which the thermometer failed to climb above the freezing mark. On twenty four days, the low temperature fell to freezing or below, and on fourteen days, the low temperature was in the teens or single digits, with five of those days at or below ten degrees.


The cold weather peaked from the 15th to the 20th, when the temperature remained at or below freezing for 110 consecutive hours, the second longest such period in Birmingham’s records.  During this period, the lowest temperature of the month occurred on two days, the 17th and the 19th, when morning lows bottomed out at three degrees above zero.


For the month, the average high temperature was 41.1 degrees, the average low temperature was 22.1 degrees, and the average daily temperature was 31.6 degrees. This averaged out to 12.6 degrees below normal for the month.


Not to be forgotten, however, is the arctic outbreak of January, 1985. During that outbreak, the temperature at the Birmingham Airport fell below freezing the evening of the 19th. This followed an afternoon high temperature of 56 degrees earlier in the day.  As the cold arctic air poured into the area overnight, the temperature continued to plunge, and had fallen to seven degrees by 9 AM on the 20th.  The temperature remained in the single digits throughout the day in Birmingham with a brisk northerly wind, and then dropped below zero after dark. By 3 AM on the 21st, the temperature dropped to six degrees below zero at the Birmingham Airport, and remained there through 6 AM.   The afternoon high on the 21st was only seventeen degrees, and it was not until after noon on the 22nd that the thermometer climbed back above the freezing mark. 


So, will January 2015 be similar?  There are some indications that we could be in for a change to a colder weather pattern as we move into the New Year, but it is too early to predict how severe or persistent this might become.  Stay tuned!