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30 Years Ago - Bengals Play the "Freezer Bowl"

On January 10, 1982, the Cincinnati Bengals and the San Diego Chargers squared off in the AFC Championship Game, in  arguably the most brutal football weather in NFL history. The high temperature on January 10, 1982 was officially -4F, and the low -14F.

An analysis of hourly observations from KCVG (Greater Cincinnati International Airport across the Ohio River a few miles from Riverfront Stadium), during the presumed game-time hours is below, making the assumption that the game kicked off at 1 PM EST and terminated around 4 PM EST.

TimeAir Temperature (F)Wind (mph)Wind Chill** (F)
1 PM-823 Gust 31-34
2 PM-623-31
3 PM-423-29
4 PM-523-30

**In 2001, the NWS adopted a modified equation that is more scientific and realistic, leading to warmer reported wind chill values. Using the old NWS equation that was in effect in 1982, wind chills would have been reported to be around -55F.

Based on air temperature, this day goes down as the 6th coldest day in Cincinnati history considering the average temperature (average of  high and low). Below is a table of the top 6 coldest Cincinnati days based solely on air temperature:

Avg. Temperature (F)Year
-12.51/20/1985
-12.51/18/1977
-12.51/17/1977
-11.51/19/1994
-10.01/18/1994
-9.01/10/1982

Even more interesting is the fact there was only about an inch of snow on the ground - typically such severe Arctic outbreaks and frigid temperatures are enhanced by a deeper, more uniform snow cover than this.

The images below depict the weather pattern in place (at the surface) that led to the frigid day.  In the top image is surface pressure (black contours) and surface pressure anomalies (differences above/below climatology for a normal January 10 - shown in hues of blue/orange/yellow).  When meteorologists analyze these "standardized anomalies", any value exceeding +/-3 are typically very rare to historic events.  This event is certainly no exception, as the massive 1056 millibar Arctic high pressure (near 31.25" of mercury on a home barometer) center over the northern High Plains is 3+ standard deviations above climatology, a very rare and strong pressure anomaly even for January.

The resulting pool of Arctic air is just as impressive, with 2-meter surface temperature anomalies a staggering 3.5 to 4.0 standard deviations below climatology.  These values for temperature are almost always indicative of a rare, record-breaking, or historic event.

Amazingly, a hardy 46,000 fans showed up for this game, though it remains unknown how many had left by halftime, and how many gallons of hot chocolate had been consumed.

The Bengals handily defeated their warm-climate counterparts on this day, 27-7, but went on to lose the Super Bowl to the San Francisco 49ers, 26-21.

- Seth Binau, Science and Operations Officer (seth.binau@noaa.gov)

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Page last modified: Jan 10, 2012.
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