50th Anniversary of the New Year's 1963/1964 Snowstorm

Snow accumulation map for December 31, 1963 through January 1, 1964.
(Click on the image above for a higher resolution image)
University of the South, Sewanee, TN following Dec. 31 1963-Jan. 1 1964 Heavy Snowfall. Picture courtesy of University of the South Library and Archives. (Click on the  image above for a higher resolution image).  

A Snow Surprise

From the Huntsville Times on December 31, 2003.

New Year's Eve snow shocked city back in '63

By John Anderson, Times Staff Writer

Forty years ago this morning North Alabama partygoers-to-be woke up to a typical National Weather Service forecast for early winter here: cold rain throughout the day, possibly mixed with sleet.
It was not a forecast for the ages.

About noon the rain turned into snow as cold air slid farther south than expected. By the stroke of midnight 12 hours later, 15.3 inches of snow smothered the city. That's the most snow ever recorded here by the weather service, which opened its Huntsville office in 1958.

But even old-timers said then the New Year Eve's snowstorm was the worst since 1899.

It snowed so much that Huntsville had the dubious distinction of recording the most snow of any weather service station in the continental United States that last day of 1963.

"Huntsville Crowned Nation's Top Snow-Getter for New Year," The Times headline proclaimed New Year's Day, 1964. Another two inches or so fell after midnight, bringing the total snowfall in this part of the Heart of Dixie to over 1.5 feet.

The result? Bedlam.

In a town that goes nuts when a dusting falls, a Times reporter described Huntsville as a "paralyzed, helpless city."

"Traffic jams involving thousands of cars backed up on Memorial Parkway and other major and side streets as the wintry blast reached its peak last night. Hundreds of vehicles were abandoned and still stranded today," the reporter wrote.

Another Times story reported that the Civil Defense revived a man found unconscious as his car's motor continued running after he plowed into a snow bank on U.S. 431 near Big Cove School late New Year's Eve, and police rescued a family of seven - including five children - stranded in their car on Leeman Ferry Road.

The snow was so heavy it squashed shrubs and tore awnings off store fronts.

So impressive was the storm, John Gordon, chief weather service meteorologist in Huntsville, is gathering as much data about it as he can to help train his staff on the rare, but always possible, mega-winter storms in North Alabama. He's even asking anyone with photos of the snowstorms to e-mail them to the local weather service's Web site.

"We're going to do a case study," Gordon said Tuesday afternoon. "We're using it as a learning tool."
Gordon said the '63 New Year's Eve storm vividly rebuts the misconception that North Alabama's severe weather consists only of thunderstorms, tornadoes, and flooding. "Everyone thinks that Huntsville is just tornado alley, that we don't get any (severe) winter weather. That's nonsense," he said.

Gordon also warned that the last few mild winters shouldn't lull residents into believing it's just one six-week cold rain from Christmas until daffodils begin blooming by Valentine's Day. "We've been very fortunate," he said, "but it's going to happen again."

It won't happen this New Year's holiday, though. Today's highs should reach the upper 50s, and approach 60 New Year's Day. There's a chance of showers New Year's night through Monday with continued mild temperatures.

The big snowfall 40 years ago did produce one benefit on the roads, according to the Times' cop reporter: "There obviously weren't any speeding citations issued," he drily noted in the annual roundup of New Year's Eve traffic stops.

Snow Pictures (Cick on images below for a higher resolution image) 

This picture is taken on Homewood Drive in Huntsville by Bill and Ruthe Ragsdale, who were on their way back from a New Year's Eve party. (Courtesy Bill and Ruthe Ragsdale) Snow covers US 72 west of Huntsville. Click on the image for full resolution. (Courtesy Walter Langley) Snow covers everything in northeast Huntsville. Click on the image for full resolution. (Courtesy Helen Medlin)
Snow covers everything in northeast Huntsville. Click on the image for full resolution. (Courtesy Helen Medlin) The Bagley family plays in and shovels snow at their home on Monte Sano Mountain. Click on the image for full resolution. (Courtesy H.D. Bagley) The Bagley family plays in and shovels snow at their home on Monte Sano Mountain. Click on the image for full resolution. (Courtesy H.D. Bagley)


Weather Synopsis/Summary

After a cold air mass pushed into the southern Gulf on December 29th , cold air advection filtered around high pressure in the Midwest and into the Deep South. The upper level trough amplified and on December 30, 1963, a wave developed on a front in the central Gulf. The frontal wave matured and moved northeast into northern Florida on the 31st. At this time, the upper level trough developed two closed lows along the northern Gulf coast. Most of the snow fell in Huntsville between noon and midnight on the 31st as the surface low moved across northern Florida. As the low made its way up the Eastern seaboard, snow from wrap-around moisture continued to fall through the morning hours of January 1, 1964.

-William R. Schaub, Jr. (former WFO Huntsville senior meteorologist)

Weather Maps

A surface weather map from midnight New Year's Eve. At this point, the surface low is still position over the southern Gulf of Mexico and precipitation is south of the area. Click on map for full resolution. A surface weather map from noon on New Year's Eve. The surface low has strengthened and advanced into the northeastern Gulf of Mexico. Precipitation is now spreading north across the Tennessee Valley. Snow has just begun at Huntsville. Click on map for full resolution.
A surface weather map from midnight New Year's Day. The surface is now tracking along the Atlantic seaboard and has deepened further. Snow continues to fall over north Alabama and southern middle Tennessee, but is beginning to move out of the area. Click on map for full resolution. A 500mb map from New Year's Eve night. A significant negative-tilt trough is positioned over the southeastern United States, providing more than enough upper-level support for strengthening of the surface system. Click on map for full resolution.

 

Snowfall Totals

Here is a listing of snowfall totals, as reported by cooperative observers across north Alabama and southern middle Tennessee.
Location County Amount
Huntsville Madison 17.1"
Madison Madison 15"
Muscle Shoals Colbert 15"
Russellville Franklin (AL) 15"
Falkville Morgan 13"
Red Bay Franklin (AL) 13"
Moulton Lawrence 12.5"
Decatur Morgan 12"
Garden City Cullman 12"
New Market Madison 12"
Fayetteville Lincoln 11"
Hodges Franklin (AL) 11"
Coldwater Lincoln 10.5"
Bridgeport Jackson 10"
Albertville Marshall 9.5"
Cullman Cullman 9"
Guntersville Marshall 9"
Crossville Dekalb 8"
Valley Head Dekalb 7"
Collinsville Dekalb 6"
Fort Payne Dekalb 6"

 

Weather Observations

The following are hourly weather observations at the Huntsville-Madison County Airport.

Date Time Sky Condition/Weather Temperature (°F) Dewpoint (°F) Wind (mph) Visibility (miles)
31st Midnight Overcast 28 13 NNE @ 13 10
31st 1am Broken 27 15 N @ 14 10
31st 2am Overcast 26 14 NNE @ 15 10
31st 3am Overcast 27 14 NNE @ 12 10
31st 4am Overcast 28 15 NNW @ 9 10
31st 5am Overcast 28 15 NNE @ 10 10
31st 6am Overcast 28 17 NNW @ 9 10
31st 7am Overcast 29 17 NNE @ 9 12
31st 8am Overcast 30 17 Calm 10
31st 9am Overcast 31 18 NE @ 9 8
31st 10am Overcast 32 19 NNE @ 14 8
31st 11am Overcast 32 19 NNE @13 8
31st Noon Obscured/Light Snow 32 20 ENE @ 15 2
31st 1pm Obscured/Light Snow 30 27 N @ 10 3/4
31st 2pm Obscured/Light Snow 29 27 N @ 15 3/4
31st 3pm Overcast/Light Snow 30 28 N @ 14 1
31st 4pm Obscured/Snow 30 28 NNE @ 16 1/2
31st 5pm Obscured/Snow/Light Sleet/Fog 29 28 NNE @ 29 1/4
31st 6pm Obscured/Snow/Light Sleet/Fog 29 27 NNE @ 30 1/4
31st 7pm Obscured/Light Snow/Fog 28 26 NNE @ 29 1/4
31st 8pm Obscured/Light Snow/Light Sleet/Fog 28 25 N @ 26 3/4
31st 9pm Obscured/Light Snow/Light Sleet/Fog 28 25 NNE@ 24 1
31st 10pm Obscured/Light Snow/Light Sleet/Fog 29 28 NNE @ 14 1/4
31st 11pm Obscured/Light Snow/Fog 28 27 NNE @ 15 1/2
1st Midnight Obscured/Light Snow/Fog 28 27 NNE @ 16 1/2
1st 1am Overcast/Light Snow/Fog 28 26 NW @ 12 3
1st 2am Obscured/Light Snow/Fog 27 24 NNW @ 12 1 1/2
1st 3am Obscured/Light Snow/Fog 26 24 NNW @ 10 3/4
1st 4am Obscured/Light Snow/Fog 26 23 NW @ 9 1 1/2
1st 5am Obscured/Light Snow/Fog 25 23 NW @ 9 1 1/2
1st 6am Overcast/Light Snow/Fog 25 23 WNW @ 10 2 1/2
1st 7am Overcast/Light Snow/Fog 25 22 WNW @ 9 5
1st 8am Overcast/Light Snow 25 22 W @ 7 8
1st 9am Overcast/Light Snow 26 22 W @ 12 7
1st 10am Overcast/Light Snow 28 24 WNW @ 10 2 1/2
1st 11am Overcast/Light Snow 29 25 WSW @ 14 2 1/2
1st Noon Overcast/Light Snow 30 24 WSW @ 14 5
1st 1pm Overcast/Haze 31 24 W @ 13 6
1st 2pm Scattered 33 23 W @ 8 7
1st 3pm Thin Scattered 34 23 W @ 8 10
1st 4pm Thin Scattered 33 23 SW @ 5 10
1st 5pm Thin Scattered 29 22 SSW @ 6 10
1st 6pm Clear 28 17 WSW @ 8 10
1st 7pm Clear 27 17 SSW @ 7 12
1st 8pm Clear 21 16 SE @ 12 12
1st 9pm Clear 20 15 SSE @ 8 10
1st 10pm Clear 23 15 SSE @ 8 12
1st 11pm Clear 22 14 SSE @ 6 12
2nd Midnight Clear 21 14 SSE @ 7 12

 

Feedback

Do you have memories from the New Year's storm of 1963/1964? If you have stories or photos from the winter storm that you're willing to share with us, we'd love to hear from you! For more information on how to contact us, visit this page.


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