For at least the second time this winter, following Atlanta's snowfall this week, snow was on the ground in every state of the Union except Florida. Clearly a most unusual winter. It's not that we have had extreme low temperatures, quite the contrary. It's just the persistence of below-normal temperatures on average and, until now, the lack of the mild spells Atlanta normally sees during the course of a winter.
Also, like last winter, the frequency of snow or ice events and threats of them for a close call have been far more numerous than average. Since 1895 statewide December and January were the third coldest on record in Georgia just behind the winters of 1917-18 and 1976-1977. December was the coldest statewide in the Peach State in 116 years.
This makes the current warm spell all the more welcome for those with both cabin fever and spring fever. Of course, we know there will be more cold snaps to come as I've already blogged about in recent weeks. We typically see "furnace and fireplace" weather come back a time or two well into April in most years. And we all know that March is no stranger to snow, there have even been a few April snows that come and go quickly. Be that as it may, I believe we have broken the back of winter and the worst of winter is behind us now.
Since 1930 the average annual snowfall in the city of Atlanta measured at the official national weather service site for each year is 2 inches. Half the years have less than one inch and half the years had more than one inch. The last three years really stand out as being much snowier each year than the long-term average.
But we can look back in history and find some other stretches with back to back to back snowy winters. The period of 1893-1895 saw 29 inches #1, #2 1884-1846 had about 22 inches. The winters of 1982-84 #3 had 19 inches, while 1934-36 #4 had 16 inches. The most recent snowy period comes in tied at #4 with 16 inches just ahead of 1991-1993's 14 inches of snow and/or sleet. This winter 2010-11 has officially recorded 7 inches to date. Since 2000 five years have had a dusting or less and six have had over one inch. But the past 3 winters have seen above normal snowfall following 2007-08's 1.4 inches.
Georgia Climate Summary for December-January 2010-2011
Prepared by Pam Knox, Assistant State Climatologist
Frigid weather and a rare White Christmas were featured highlights of Georgia's weather in December. Lower than normal precipitation across the state led to the continuation of drought conditions in all but the northeast corner of Georgia.
Temperatures across the state were significantly below normal everywhere in Georgia this month. In Atlanta, the monthly average temperature was 38.3 degrees F (7.1 degrees below normal), in Athens 37.4 degrees (7.4 degrees below normal), Columbus 42.8 (6.3 degrees below normal), Macon 40.9 (6.9 below normal), Savannah 43.7 (7.7 below normal), Brunswick 47.1 (7.1 below normal), Alma 43.8 (9.8 below normal), Valdosta 44.6 (6.7 below normal) and Augusta 39.4 (7.5 below normal).
Many record low temperatures were broken during the month at locations across the state. Temperatures were particularly low on December 14, when low temperatures broke records in Atlanta (14 degrees, beating the old record of 15 from 1917), Athens (14 degrees, old record 15 from 1942), Macon (18, old record 20 from 1960) and Augusta (10, old record 15 from 1960). Record lows were also broken at Athens on the 8th (16, beating the old record of 20 from 2006), Macon on the 10th (19, old record 20 from 1995), Augusta on the 8th (16, old record 18 from 1954) and Brunswick on the 8th (30, old record 31 from 1954).
Georgia was drier than normal across the entire state in December. The wettest areas were along a strip inland from the coast, several counties east of the Atlanta metro area, and Rabun County. The driest area was in the far southeastern corner of the state near Brunswick.
The highest monthly total precipitation from National Weather Service reporting stations was 3.21 inches in Valdosta (0.45 inches below normal) and the lowest was in Brunswick at 0.65 inches (2.18 below normal). Athens received 1.92 inches (1.79 below normal), Atlanta 1.62 inches (2.20 inches below normal), Alma 1.42 (2.25 below normal), Columbus 1.56 (2.84 below normal), Macon 1.08 (2.85 below normal), Savannah 1.63 (1.18 below normal) and Augusta 1.17 (1.97 inches below normal).
Several precipitation records were set in December. Atlanta reported a daily record rainfall of 2.11 inches on December 1, surpassing the old record of 1.89 inches set in 1880. Atlanta reported a record snowfall of 0.1 inches on December 26, the first time measurable snowfall has been observed on that date. Athens reported a snowfall of 1.3 inches on the 26th, beating the old record of a trace of snow from 1953, and 2 inches on the 25th, passing the old record of 0.2 inches from 1993. Columbus also reported a trace of snow for the first time on the 26th and Macon reported 0.1 inches of snow on the 25th, the first time for that date.
The highest single day rainfall from CoCoRaHS stations was 3.30 inches near Carnesville in Franklin County on December 1, continuing the heavy rain from the last day of November. An observer near Riverdale in Clayton County reported 3.24 inches on the same day. An observer near Dillard in Rabun County reported the highest monthly precipitation for December at 5.76 inches, including the water equivalent of 5 inches of snow.
Two stations near Rabun Gap reported over 6.5 inches of snow on December 26, the highest one-day values for the state in December. This was the first White Christmas for many areas in northern Georgia since 1882. Measurable snowfall was observed everywhere north of a line from Troup County on the western border to Elbert County in the northeast, and flurries were noted at a number of more southern locations.
There was no reported severe weather in December in Georgia.
Black ice associated with the record-setting cold temperatures on December 14-15 led to thousands of accidents in northern Georgia. Ice accumulations of up to 1/4 inch were reported in the northern suburbs of Atlanta on the 15th..
Due to a combination of very cold temperatures, high fuel prices, the poor economy and the lack of Federal funding many people went without heat in December. The federal Low Income Home Energy Program funds for heating assistance in Georgia were reduced from $11 million last year to 5.5 million this year. Over 98,000 people were provided with help in heating costs in 2009; this year in the counties around Athens alone more than 3000 people were on the waiting list for funds, hoping that more money would be released by the federal government. In Marietta, hundreds of people lined up to fill out applications for assistance on December 1.
Cold temperatures and heavy snow crippled northern parts of Georgia during January 2011. In spite of heavier than normal snowfall, the precipitation amounts across the state were below normal, increasing drought conditions across the state.
Temperatures across the state continued to be significantly below normal everywhere in Georgia this month. In Atlanta, the monthly average temperature was 40.2 degrees F (2.5 degrees below normal), in Athens 39.7 degrees (2.5 degrees below normal), Columbus 43.6 (3.2 degrees below normal), Macon 42.0 (3.5 below normal), Savannah 45.1 (4.1 below normal), Brunswick 49.1 (2.6 below normal), Alma 44.9 (6.8 below normal), Valdosta 47.3 (2.6 below normal) and Augusta 41.7 (3.1 below normal).
If colder than normal temperatures continue into February, this winter could be close to setting records for the coldest winter ever in some parts of Georgia.
Record low temperatures were set at Macon, Savannah and Alma on January 14. Macon reported 16 F, breaking the old record of 19 F set in 1970 and Savannah and Alma reported 18 F, surpassing the old records of 20 F set at both locations in 1964.
Dry conditions from December continued into January, leading to an increase in the severity and expanse of drought across Georgia this month. The only area that was above average in rainfall was a small area in the far southeastern part of the state.
The highest monthly total precipitation from National Weather Service reporting stations was 4.93 inches in Valdosta (1.44 inches below normal) and the lowest was in Augusta at 2.11 inches (2.39 below normal). Athens received 3.32 inches (1.37 below normal), Atlanta 2.63 inches (2.40 inches below normal), Alma 2.29 (2.54 below normal), Columbus 3.15 (1.63 below normal), Macon 2.79 (2.21 below normal), Savannah 2.46 (1.49 below normal) and Brunswick 3.10 (0.76 inches below normal).
Athens reported a daily record snowfall of 4.3 inches on January 10, surpassing the old record of a trace observed in several previous years. The storm total of 8.8 inches on January 9-10 set an all-time record for a 24-hour snow total in Athens. Brunswick also set a daily precipitation record of 1.96 inches of rain on the 25th, passing the old record of 1.68 inches set in 1966.
The highest single-day rainfall from CoCoRaHS stations was 2.41 inches near Lafayette in Walker County on January 1. An observer in St. Mary's in Camden County observed 2.30 inches on January 26. The highest monthly total precipitation of 6.72 inches was measured at Lake Park near Valdosta in Lowndes County. The highest monthly snowfall measured by a CoCoRaHS observer in January was 14.4 inches in Blue Ridge in Fannin County, followed by 11.2 inches in Ringgold in Catoosa County.
There were no official reports of severe weather in Georgia in January. However, a massive oak tree was blown down by the wind on January 26 in Athens near the Five Points intersection, injuring one pedestrian and cutting off power to about 800 people for several hours, including parts of the University of Georgia campus.
The extensive winter storm of January 9-10 caused widespread school and business closings and multiple traffic accidents as well as scattered power outages across north Georgia. Thousands of flights were canceled across the eastern US. Several thousand people were affected by the lack of power, but most power was restored relatively quickly. It was estimated that $300 million dollars was lost in unrecoverable retail sales by businesses and restaurants due to the lengthy clean-up period. Some schools in north Georgia were closed for an entire week due to the lack of snow removal equipment and the frigid temperatures following the snow and ice storm, which hampered clean-up efforts and melting.
The US Department of Agriculture reported that pastures continued to be in very poor to fair condition across most of the state this month. Harvest of soybeans, cotton, sorghum, pecans and peanuts continued to wrap up, and Vidalia onion shoots were transplanted as expected.