Tennessee Valley White Christmas History
Are you dreaming of a white Christmas? If you live in northern Alabama or southern middle Tennessee, the unfortunate truth is that your dreams are rarely going to translate into reality. Christmas Day 2012 was no exception, as a storm system brought heavy rainfall to the Tennessee Valley and portions of Southern Middle Tennnessee instead of any snow or other frozen precipitation. Of course, it’s not impossible to get a White Christmas here. In this article, we'll take a look back at the area's past White Christmases (and some nearly White Christmases).
First, let's define the term “White Christmas”. When creating a “White Christmas” climatology for the United States, the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) used the following definition: “a snow depth of at least 1 inch observed on December 25th.” Based on this definition, here is a probability map created by the NCDC. Most of our area has a less than 5% chance each year. However, there is a 5%-10% chance in the higher terrain along the southern Cumberland Plateau in middle Tennessee.
Now, here's a list of the White Christmases and close calls that have affected the NWS Huntsville CWA. At least, these are the ones of which we are aware.
2010: This was the first widespread snowfall event on Christmas day on record for the area. Most previous snowfall events consisted of snow that fell prior to Christmas and lingered on the ground through the holiday. The exception was the Christmas snowfall in December 1989, but that only occurred across eastern portions of the area. In the early hours of Christmas morning 2010 as an upper level system moved across the mid-South, a band of heavy snow set up across portions of the region. Light rain began to change over to snow as temperatures began to fall early in the morning, with accumulating snowfall reported as early as 4 am in Franklin County, Tennessee. As colder air continued to filter into the area from the north and west, temperatures eventually fell to freezing, with minor snow accumulations reported in northwest Alabama before dawn. The snow reached peak intensity just after sunrise, with finall accumulations generally around 1 to 3 inches across the area. However, higher amounts around 4 to as much as 7 inches were reported mainly in the higher terrain areas of northeastern Alabama and southern Tennessee. Officially, 2.8 inches was recorded at Huntsville International Airport, with 2.4 inches at Muscle Shoals. The highest totals were 7 inches, reported by media on top of Monte Sano Mountain in Madison County and by the Police Dept in Sewanee in Franklin County (TN). Amazingly, another light snow fall occurred later that night, with Muscle Shoals adding an additional inch of snow.
1963: Amazingly, a few areas in the Tennessee Valley experienced their second consecutive White Christmas. Freezing rain and sleet began to fall in the afternoon hours on December 22nd. Precipitation transitioned to all snow on the 23rd and mostly ended during the daytime hours in most areas. There were occasional snow showers on the evening of the 23rd and again on Christmas Eve. In an unusual turn of events, parts of northeast Alabama that might typically expect to receive the most snow instead saw much less than their neighbors to the west. Storm total accumulations included 9.2″ at Madison, 8″ at Waterloo, 6.5″ at Coldwater, 6″ at Florence and Muscle Shoals, 5.5″ at Huntsville and Fayetteville, 4.5″ at Russellville, Moulton and Athens, 3.7″ at Hodges, 3″ at New Market and Red Bay, at least 3″ at Belle Mina, 2″ at Decatur, 0.6″ at Fort Payne, and a trace at Guntersville and Collinsville. After the snowfall, temperatures remained below freezing until Christmas Day, and fell as low as the single digits during that time period. This allowed snow to stay on the ground in most areas. 3″ was still on the ground Christmas morning at Muscle Shoals. 1″ was still on the ground at Huntsville and Decatur.
1929: From what little data we have, it appears that most of the Tennessee Valley had an inch of snow on the ground Christmas morning 1929. Heavy snow fell across the entire area on the 22nd and 23rd. Storm total snowfalls include: 10″ at Albertville, 8.3″ at Bridgeport, 7.5″ at Cullman, 6″ at Guntersville, 5″ at Florence, Madison, Sewanee, and Coldwater, 4″ at Decatur and Tuscumbia. Snow remained on the ground until the 27th at most locations. The one site that was reporting snow depths on subsequent days, Florence still had an inch of snow on the ground Christmas morning. Considering that some areas saw twice as much snow, it’s probably safe to assume it was a White Christmas area wide.
1989: Light snow began on the night of Christmas Eve and continued into early Christmas morning. Whether it was an official “White Christmas” everywhere or not, people in many locations across north Alabama and southern middle Tennessee woke up to a dusting of snow. And for the record, parts of Sand Mountain did get an official White Christmas. (Note: Muscle Shoals officially reported a snow depth of 1″ on Christmas Day, but this is only because snow depths are reported in whole inches. In reality, only a half inch of snow fell, so that is the most that could be on the ground.) The following snowfall totals were reported: 2″ at Crossville, 1/2″ at Muscle Shoals and Boaz, 3/10″ at Huntsville and Moulton, 1/10″ at Belle Mina, Hanceville and Fayetteville, and a trace at Falkville, Guntersville, Fort Payne,and Winchester.
1969: It was a very typical Tennessee Valley winter weather event, with a mixed bag of rain and snow. Northern parts of the area had the most snow, with Fayetteville reporting an inch on the ground Christmas night. Most areas farther south only saw a brief period of snow Christmas night. Trace amounts of snow were reported at Waterloo, Muscle Shoals, Moulton, Madison, Huntsville, New Market, and Albertville.
1962: Sleet and light snow fell across the Tennessee Valley on Christmas Eve. Snow accumulated to 5″ at Fayetteville, 4″ at Coldwater, 3.3″ at Huntsville, 3″ at Florence, Moulton and Waterloo, 2″ at Madison and Decatur, 1″ at Red Bay, 1/2″ at Belle Mina, and a trace at Redstone Arsenal. In most valley locations, the snow changed to a cold light rain on the afternoon of the 24th. This melted much of the snow in those area before Christmas Day, making it just a cold, raw day. But some stations still reported snow on the ground Christmas morning, including Coldwater and Decatur. With temperatures lingering in the mid 30s, it’s probable that precipitation could have remained in frozen form in the highest terrain in the Huntsville CWA, giving those locations a White Christmas.
1915: Snow fell across southern middle Tennessee and northeast Alabama on Christmas Day. Sewanee received 2″ of snow with a snow depth at the observation time of closer to an inch. Only trace amounts were reported at Scottsboro and Valley Head.
1913: Light snow fell across much of the area on Christmas Day. Snowfall totaled an inch at Sewanee. Elsewhere, a trace of snow was reported at Florence, Decatur, and Valley Head.
1909: Once again, Sewanee is the only site to take the prize. 2″ of snow fell Christmas Day in the small town on the Cumberland Plateau. Elsewhere, 0.3″ of snow was reported at Scottsboro, and only a trace fell in Guntersville and Madison, where the observer reported the snow melted on contact.
1899: Snow fell over parts of southern middle Tennessee and northeast Alabama Christmas Eve night into Christmas Day. Sewanee reported an inch of snow. Elsewhere, only trace amounts were recorded at Coldwater, Scottsboro, and Valley Head.
1998: This wasn’t technically a “White Christmas”, but looking outside, you may have not been able to tell the difference. In fact, it was an “Icy Christmas”. The ice storm began late on the 23rd as a mixture of snow, sleet, and freezing rain, before switching to all freezing rain. The freezing rain ended from northwest to southeast on Christmas Eve, but not before leaving an icy mess across almost all of north Alabama and southern middle Tennessee. The hardest hit area was northwest Alabama and parts of southern middle Tennessee, where up to an inch of ice accumulated on trees, power lines, and roads. Several roads were closed, including I-65 and briefly I-565. Unfortunately, there were still several traffic accidents, some of which caused injuries and fatalities.
1985: Scattered snow showers moved across the area Christmas Eve night and Christmas Day. Accumulations were minor in most locations, but isolated locations in the higher terrain could have received an inch. Total snowfall reports we received include 1/2″ at Belle Mina, Moulton and Fayetteville, 4/10″ at Huntsville, 1/5″ at Boaz, and a trace at Muscle Shoals, Athens,Falkville, Hanceville, Bridgeport, and Winchester.
1980: A cold front brought light rain showers to the region on Christmas Eve. Behind it, temperatures fell below freezing on the evening of the 24th, and light to moderate snow showers affected the area for several hours Christmas morning. The wind-blown snow dusted the ground in some areas such as Huntsville, the Shoals, and Valley Head. Athens reported a light accumulation of 3/10″. It’s not out of the question that some of the higher elevations received an inch of snow.
1966: Light rain began on the morning of December 23rd, then switched over to light snow in the late afternoon and evening hours. The snow tapered off in the early morning hours of the 24th. Snowfall totals were light in most areas, but some locations received an inch of two. Storm total amounts included 2″ at Moulton and Hodges, 1″ at Fayetteville, Decatur, Florence, Waterloo and Coldwater, 0.8″ at Red Bay, 0.7″ at Huntsville, 0.5″ at Belle Mina, Guntersville and New Market, 0.3″ at Cullman and Falkville, 0.1″ at Madison, and a trace at Albertville, Collinsville, Fort Payne and Muscle Shoals. Though temperatures remained cold through Christmas Day, with temperatures as low as the single digits in a few areas that morning, much of the snow evaporated. It’s possible isolated locations had an inch of snow on the ground Christmas morning, mainly over areas of northwest Alabama that saw the most snowfall. However, there are no observations to confirm this.
1935: Light snow fell across much of the area on December 22nd. Snowfall totals included 4.5″ at Fayetteville, 4″ at Tuscumbia and Coldwater, 3.5″ at Florence, 3″ at Decatur and Sewanee, 2″ at Madison, 1.8″ at Albertville, 1.4″ at Cullman, and 1″ at Bridgeport and Guntersville. Snow depth observations at Florence and Decatur indicate that snow melted before Christmas Day. However, at Sewanee skies remained cloudy through Christmas Day with temperatures staying below freezing for the majority of the time period. It’s possible there was still snow on the ground in some areas, especially in the higher elevations.
1920: 2.2″ of snow fell at Florence on December 23rd. Snow depths weren’t reported on subsequent days, but with temperatures ranging between the mid 30s and upper teens through Christmas Day, it’s possible there was still snow on the ground at that location. No other locations reported snowfall.
1914: On December 22nd and 23rd, up to 3 inches of sleet and snow fell across north Alabama. Florence picked up 3″, Tuscumbia 2.5″, Decatur 1.5″, and Cullman 0.5″. Some observer reports indicate precipitation may have been mostly in the form of ice over northeast Alabama. There, Scottsboro only received 0.2″ of frozen precipitation, and Bridgeport only measured a trace. Unfortunately, there is no record of the snow depth at some of these locations, so it’s difficult to say whether or not snow was on the ground Christmas Day. Temperatures ranged between the upper 20s and lower 40s, so it’s conceivable there was still snow on the ground in parts of northwest Alabama on the 25th. It’s less likely there was still an inch of snow.
1903: 7/10″ of snow was reported in Decatur on Christmas Day. Oddly, no other surrounding sites reported frozen precipitation.
2009: Snow flurries fell on Christmas morning across much of the Tennessee Valley. In parts of northwest Alabama, there were brief snow showers which caused a brief light dusting of snow on decks and vehicles. Officially, a trace of snow was reported at Anderson (Lauderdale Co), Madison, Muscle Shoals, and Winchester.
2002: Snow flurries fell on Christmas Eve night and early Christmas morning at a few locations around north Alabama and southern Tennessee, including Huntsville, Moulton, Valley Head, and Winchester.
1995: Light snow fell across parts of the Tennessee Valley on Christmas Eve. A few locations, such as Hanceville and Valley Head, received a dusting that remained on the ground Christmas morning.
1993: A brief period of light snow fell in the late morning and early afternoon hours across the Tennessee Valley. Only Valley Head reported more than a trace, with 9/10″. Trace amounts were reported at Muscle Shoals, Moulton, Belle Mina, Fayetteville, Huntsville, Cullman, Hanceville, and Scottsboro.
1992: Light sleet fell in a few areas on Christmas morning. Muscle Shoals was the only official observing site to report frozen precipitation.
1983: Although, this wasn’t exactly a classic White Christmas, it was definitely a frigid one. Temperatures fell to around zero (yes, Fahrenheit) across the Tennessee Valley. Snow showers fell on the night of Christmas Eve and in the early morning hours of Christmas Day. Locations that reported a trace of snow included Huntsville, the Shoals, Fayetteville, and Bridgeport.
1981: Much like the previous year, a cold front moved across the area Christmas Eve. Light rain began on the 24th, then tapered off in the early morning hours of Christmas Day. In a few areas, including Moulton and Valley Head, the rain briefly changed over the snow flurries as it ended.
1970: Scattered flurries brought trace amounts of snow to mostly northeast Alabama and southern middle Tennessee, including Fayetteville, New Market, Bridgeport, Valley Head, and Collinsville.
1961: For the first time since the late 1940s, winter weather affected the Tennessee Valley on Christmas Day. However, only snow flurries were reported, and they mostly fell Christmas Eve overnight into early Christmas morning. A trace of snow was reported at Huntsville, Decatur, Madison, Russellville, Moulton, Cullman, New Market, Fort Payne, Valley Head, and Collinsville on December 24th and 25th.
1948: Snow flurries fell across the area. Both Decatur and Muscle Shoals reported a trace of snow.
1943: Light icing took place across parts of the area. Decatur reported sleet on December 24th, Scottsboro reported a glaze on the 24th, and Albertville reported a half inch of glaze on Christmas Day.
1939: The Decatur cooperative station reported that sleet fell during the early morning hours of December 26th. So it might have been a “Sleety Christmas” (Night) for some parts of the area.
1928: Scottsboro reported a trace of frozen precipitation for the 24 hour period preceding 6am on December 26th. It’s possible a few flurries fell Christmas night.
1906: A trace of snow was reported at Florence on Christmas Day.
1897: A trace of snow fell in parts of northwest Alabama. Newburg in Franklin County reported 2/10″ and Florence reported a trace.