The Alabama Climate Report

Brought to you by the Office of the Alabama
Climatologist

Volume 10, Number 10 - January 2020

Statewide, the weather of January 2020 was warmer and wetter than usual.  The two often go hand in hand as the storm systems that bring moisture northward from the Gulf also bring the accompanying warm air and clouds that keep nights toasty.  This time the temperature averaged 4.2 °F above the average, being tied for 22nd warmest since 1895.  January 1950 was the warmest being a colossal 13.8 °F above the long-term average. 

Three stations tied with 82°F at mid-month for the warmest daily reading, Headland, River Road Farms (Houston Co.) and our usual hot-spot, the Andalusia-Opp Airport.  On the other end of the scale, several stations sank into the teens around the 22nd of the month with one of the automated stations near the Tennessee border in Madison Co. bottoming out at 12 °F.  Several stations reported a few flurries around that time, but no station in the state had measurable snow.  Every Alabama station except Dauphin Island dipped to 32 °F or below this month.

As noted, we also saw a rainier than average month, 7.31 inches or 2.13 inches above normal - 18th wettest in the past 126 Januaries.  Though the state as a whole was wetter than usual, the distribution was not even, as the north was soaked and the south was relatively dry.  Eighteen stations, mostly in north Alabama, exceeded 10 inches of rain this month with Winfield (north of Fayette near the Mississippi line) taking honors with 12.43 inches.  A fairly narrow streak of heavy rain did go through the south though bringing Aliceville, Atmore, Brewton and Andalusia-Opp above the 10 inch mark.

It’s been a few years since we’ve had a true Arctic air outbreak that pushes temperatures in the north to below zero – usually in January, but can also happen in December of February.  It was in 2015 when Addison dropped to -2 °F that we saw such weather.  This was not too remarkable compared with the record -27 °F on 30 January 1966 when Lucile Hereford, New Market’s Postmistress, trudged through about a foot of snow to the thermometer shelter and read 27 below.  I interviewed Ms. Hereford around 1990 to hear her tell the story.  She said she couldn’t believe what she saw, so asked a friend passing by to check.  He read it as -28 °F, but she stuck with -27 °F.  Unfortunately, because the handwritten records back then were not clear, the official number digitized by the federal government was -17 °F (the 2 looked like 1).  It wasn’t until years later that a reporter in Birmingham dug up the truth and had the record set straight. Until that time, Russellville, which dipped to -24 °F that same morning, was listed as the state’s coldest reading.

Below is a portion of the image of New Market’s original record from January 1966.  Note on the 30th the indistinct “-27”, the daily low, to the right of the “14”, which was the daily high.  Also note the last column which is depth of snow – 12 inches!  That was a day to remember.

- John Christy
The Alabama State Climatologist