The Alabama Climate Report

Brought to you by the Office of the Alabama

Volume 7, Number 12 - September 2017

We want to look a bit back into the records this month, to recognize the 50th anniversary of what was easily the coldest summer in Alabama's climate record.

It was the summer (and September) of 1967. During that September UAH celebrated its first anniversary of being UAH. (Before that it was the University of Alabama extension center in Huntsville.) NASA chose eight possible sites for a “moon port.” The news was keeping an eye on elections in Vietnam, where Nguyen Van Thieu was named president.

The civil rights movement was also in the news, as were reports of riots and other violence. A story in the Huntsville Times reported: Former Alabama Governor “George Wallace said his wife, Alabama Governor Lurleen Wallace, was considering use of ‘police power action in our state’ to reverse the school desegregation orders of the federal courts.”

But the weather news late that summer was the record cold combined with more rain than normal. June was cooler than normal, but didn’t set a record. July, August and September all went into the record books as the coldest of those months on record. The aggregate for all four months was a statewide average temperature that was 4.5° cooler than normal.

On Sept. 3, the Huntsville Times reported: “Northeast Alabama's cotton crop will be cut in half — as much as $13 million — unless weather during the next month remains warm and dry.”

That wasn’t going to happen, and on Sept. 29 the Times’ lead story had the headline:

Cold Snap Hits In Icy Surprise; Records Tumble

“Long standing low-temperature records were shattered in Alabama this morning, and scattered frost warnings and a low of 38 have been issued for tonight in Huntsville.”

One of the unique things about this cold spell is that it was tied to neither exceptionally heavy rain nor a tropical system, such as a tropical storm or hurricane. Generally speaking, cool summer temperatures are often linked to rain, as are the subsequent humid, muggy days and nights.

The statewide rainfall for June-September 1967, however, averaged 21.4 inches, which is only about 3.6 inches more than normal. That ranks 17th in the Southeastern Regional Climate Center’s 70-year climate record; 17th isn’t especially remarkable.

And Alabama was completely bypassed by hurricane and tropical storm action in 1967.

And despite having the coldest summer, and nine months of colder than normal temperatures (February and April through November), 1967 isn’t close to being the coldest year in Alabama’s climate record. That “honor” goes to 1976, which was 1.2° cooler than 1967; 1967 comes in only 15th in the ranking of coolest years.

Go figure.

Regarding the September just past, it looks like it will probably go into the middle of Septembers for both temperature and rainfall. It was warmer and drier than normal in both Mobile and Montgomery, but cooler and drier in Birmingham and Huntsville. Looking a bit more closely, we see the first half of the month was generally cool, while the latter half was warmer than normal — almost averaging out to normal for the month as a whole.

At the end of September, the year-to-date in all four major cities was either the warmest or second warmest first nine months in the SERCC climate records, based on average temperature. Rainfall is ahead of normal for all four, with Montgomery reporting its wettest Jan.-Sept. on record, and Birmingham its third wettest.


- John Christy