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35 Years Ago - Winter of 1976-1977 Brings the Coldest Temperatures Ever to the Area

While this winter has been a far cry from a typical winter in the Ohio Valley, a look back at mid-January through mid-February of 1977 makes us realize how lucky we've been with the warm temperatures and infrequent snowfalls.  

The period of  January 10th through February 8th 1977 represents the coldest 30-day period ever recorded in Cincinnati, Columbus, and Dayton when considering the average daily temperature (average of high and low over a 30-day period). This brutal stretch of weather has been  the measuring stick for any Arctic outbreak since, and so far only a similar brutal stretch in January 1978 comes close to matching the bitterly cold temperatures for such a long duration of time.

CityColdest 30-Day Avg Temperature Ever (F)PeriodColdest Minimum Temp During Period
Columbus10.4Jan 10th - Feb 8th 1977-19
Cincinnati11.4Jan 10th - Feb 8th 1977-25
Dayton10.6Jan 10th - Feb 8th 1977 -21

The -25F for a morning low temperature at Cincinnati referenced above occurred on January 18th, 1977, and represents the coldest morning low temperature in official records. In fact, the previous morning (January 17th 1977), Cincinnati dropped to -24F, tied for the second coldest low temperature in official records for the Queen City.

Below are more interesting stats from this frigid 30-day stretch..

City# of Morning Lows < 0 (F)Avg. SnowdepthSnowfall During Period
Columbus16
10"16.5"
Cincinnati189"16.1"
Dayton1512'14.6"

Weather Pattern

What led to this extreme period of cold temperatures?  A very amplified pattern, meaning troughs of low pressure and ridges of high pressure at all levels of the atmosphere were far stronger than normal for the time period. The Ohio Valley, unfortunately resided underneath an extremely strong and deep trough of low pressure, what was in fact a very displaced Polar Vortex, which is a feature common in most winters over higher latitudes in Canada. Below is a chart of the average deviation from normal of the 500mb surface through this period. Hues of purple indicate that these 500mb heights were significantly lower than normal, in some cases over 200 meters below normal. These values are extremely significant and rare when considering a 30-day average.  This overall weather patten is the ideal setup for outbreaks of frigid air in the eastern United States.  A west coast ridge of high pressure (yellow hues) and extreme blocking (very strong ridge of high pressure in red hues) just off the east coast of the United States near Greenland.


The pool of Arctic air was just as impressive - and as you can see in the image below of 850mb air temperatures deviations from climatological normal (about 5kft above the surface of the Earth), the core of the coldest air in comparison to normal (purple hues) was centered directly over the Ohio Valley.


The Ohio Historical Society has compiled a brief, but very interesting webpage on this period.

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

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Page last modified: Jan 26, 2012.
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