Weather Analysis and Statistical Data of Winston County
Compiled By: Peter J. Gossett
The weather is a fascinating subject and one that is often talked about daily, as it affects everyone. The NCDC (National Climatic Data Center), a branch of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), has weather stations planted all over the country. For Winston County, five stations exist or once existed: Addison, Arley, Double Springs (1889 – 1978), Falls City/Black Pond, and Haleyville. All this data from stations all over have been transcribed and added to the Internet (for purchasing). I chose to purchase Haleyville since this station, located just inside Marion County, had the most data available. Once ordered, I went through the statistics and came up with the following facts. While the data goes back to 1902, there are only a small handful of months available from 1902 to July 1936. For all of the following, a data range from July 1936 to May 2009 was used.
The coldest temperature recorded was -19 degrees Fahrenheit on January 30, 1966.
The hottest temperature recorded was 107 degrees Fahrenheit on August 15, 2007.
The coldest winter on record was February 1958 with a mean average of only 18.29 degrees Fahrenheit. February 17, 1958 was the coldest day of that month with a low of -12 degrees, with the following two days dipping down to -10. The warmest day of February 1958 was the 25th at 68 degrees.
The second coldest month on record was January 1977 with a mean average of 18.48 degrees Fahrenheit. January 17, 1977 was the coldest day of that month with a low of -3 degrees. Six days of this month held single digit temperatures or below. The warmest day of January 1977 was the 23rd at 57 degrees.
The third coldest month on record was January 1940 with a mean average of 19.19 degrees Fahrenheit. January 26th and 27th, 1940 tied for the coldest days of that month at -3 degrees. January 14th was the warmest day of the month at 61 degrees.
The hottest month on record was August 2007 with a mean average of 99.29 degrees Fahrenheit. August 15, 2007 was the hottest day of that month with a high of 107 degrees followed closely by 106 degrees on August 23rd and by 105 degrees on August 16th. Sixteen days of August 2007 had highs 100 degrees and above. The coolest day of August 2007 was the 1st and the 31st, tied for 70 degrees.
The second hottest month on record was August 2000 with a mean average of 96.42 degrees Fahrenheit, cool compared to 2007. August 30, 2000 was the hottest day of the month at 105 degrees, followed by 103 degrees on August 18th, 19th, and 31st, the only four days of the month above 100 degrees. The coolest recorded temperature for August 2000 was 65 degrees, tied on the 15th and 16th.
The third hottest month on record was August 1998 with a mean average of 94.84 degrees Fahrenheit. The hottest temperature for this month was 99 degrees tied on August 24th, 25th, and 27th. While no temperature climbed above 100, a noteworthy mention is July 1952 with a mean average of 94.26 degrees. From July 24th to 30th of 1952 the high temperature was over 100 all seven of these days. Three days for August 1998 were tied for the coolest temperature of 67 degrees on the 14th, 27th, and 31st.
Again, by using mean averages of the available temperatures on record, concerning only the months of July and August for summer and the months of January and February for winter, with a data range from July 1936 to May 2009, the following facts are noted.
The warmest month of winter (January/February) was January 1950 with a mean average of 65.35 degrees Fahrenheit. The warmest temperature for this month was 76 degrees on January 25th, while the coolest temperature was 23 degrees on January 7th.
The second warmest winter month was February 1962 with a mean average of 64.14 degrees Fahrenheit. The warmest temperature for this month was 78 degrees tied on February 27th and 28th, while the coolest temperature was 19 degrees on February 7th.
The third warmest winter month was February 1976 with a mean average 63.93 degrees Fahrenheit. The warmest temperature for this month was 75 degrees tied on February 17th and 28th, while the coolest temperature was 12 degrees on February 2nd and 7th.
The coolest month of summer (July/August) was August 1975 with a mean average of 61.06 degrees Fahrenheit. The coolest temperature for this month was 57 degrees recorded on August 7th and 8th. The warmest temperature of this month was 92 degrees on August 13th.
The second coolest summer month was one year later in August 1976 with a mean average of 61.87 degrees Fahrenheit. The coolest temperature for this month was 52 degrees on August 9th. The warmest temperature this month was 93 degrees on August 14th, 15th, and 24th.
The third coolest summer month was August 1967 with a mean average of 62.16 degrees Fahrenheit. The coolest temperature for this month was 54 degrees on August 12th and 28th. The warmest temperature this month was only 90 degrees on August 1st.
For the same time period, we will now look at snowfall amounts. This writer has personal knowledge of significant snowfall in the 1950s, mainly in February of 1958 (see coldest month above). Apparently, snowfall amounts were not recorded in the 1950s, and therefore, this decade will not be included in the below statistics. However, through other sources we learn that a total of 15 inches of snow fell starting on Friday, February 14th, 1958. Here is an excerpt from the Haleyville Advertiser, on February 19, 1958: “Winston and Marion County residents, and especially those in the Haleyville area, since Friday night have experienced their worst siege of snow and icy weather in probably the last half century. A state of emergency prevailed in Haleyville and several rural areas from Friday night when a 15 to 16 inch snow covered the ground, through Tuesday night. The official weather station at Radio Station WJBB recorded an official 12 inches of snow Friday night, but even John Slatton, station manager, measured up to 16 inches in various parts of town. Saturday night the official temperature reading showed the mercury plunged to 5 degrees below zero and Sunday and Monday nights it went to 12 below – the coldest spot in the South. Damage to the property in this area alone, including crippling blows in the poultry industry amounted to tens of thousands of dollars…Communications were virtually at a standstill…National Guardsmen from Company A, 877th Engineer Battalion (Haleyville) were called to emergency duty and through Tuesday night maintained crews with vehicles to answer hundreds of mercy calls…One old timer recalled the temperature was 18 below zero in 1899 and snow was 24 inches deep in places in this area. Another said a 12 to-15 inch snow fell here 23 years ago.”
From recorded statistics at this weather station, the most significant amount of snowfall occurred over two days on February 13th and 14th, 1960 with 11 inches on the 13th and 2.5 inches on the 14th, for a total of 13.5 inches. The high temperature for the 13th was 37 degrees and 29 degrees on the 14th. The low temperature for the 13th was 25 degrees and 6 degrees on the 14th. The 15th and 16th both tied for a low of 5 degrees.
Next was December 1945 with a total of one foot of snow. On December 5th, 8 inches of snow fell, .5 inches on the 15th, and 3.5 inches on the 19th. Next was January 1940 with a total of 9 inches of snow over two days on the 23rd (6 inches) and 24th (3 inches). In January 1966, a total of 6.5 inches of snow fell over two days on the 26th (1 inch) and 29th (5.5 inches).
The last significant snowfall for month totals (over 5 inches) and making number five on this list was the Blizzard of ’93 occurring on March 12-13, 1993, where 6 inches of snow was recorded. No data are available on the 14th, though no snow fell. The high temperature on March 12th was 51, while the next two days the highs stayed at 32. The low temperature for March 12th was 31, the 13th at 23, and the 14th, at 13. Here is what the NCDC had to say about this event: “What most called the worst winter storm in Alabama history struck Friday afternoon and lasted until mid-day Saturday. Snow began falling over north Alabama Friday afternoon, then spread southward overnight, reaching all the way to the Gulf Coast. The storm was caused by a strong and massive low pressure system that moved from the western Gulf of Mexico into the Florida panhandle, and up the Eastern Seaboard. The heaviest snow began after midnight when northerly winds of 40 to 55 mph became common. Frequent lightning discharges occurred for several hours giving an eerie blue-tinged glow to the atmosphere. By mid-day Saturday snow had accumulated to 6 to 12 inches over North Alabama and 2 to 4 inches at the Gulf Coast. A 40-mile-wide band of 12 to 20 inches fell from the Birmingham area northeastward to DeKalb and Cherokee counties, generally following the Appalachian Mountains. High winds combined with the heavy wet snow, felled numerous trees and knocked down power lines over a wide area. Numerous roads became impassable, and hundreds of thousands of homes were without power. It was estimated that 400,000 homes were without electricity, and many remained so for several days. Compounding the snow and power problems, temperatures fell well into the single digits and teens across much of the state Saturday night. For example, the temperature at the Birmingham Airport fell to 2 degrees, the coldest March temperature ever recorded. Only 4-wheel drive vehicles could barely maneuver roads, and some roads in north Alabama remained impassable until the following Tuesday. The snow and high winds knocked many radio and television stations off the air, and severely hampered emergency personnel responding to fires, stranded motorists, and those in dire need of medical attention. As if the snow, high winds, and extreme cold were not enough, many large trees fell onto homes and businesses. Numerous awnings and roofs collapsed under the weight of the heavy snow. There were at least 14 deaths associated with the exposure or stress due from the storm. One person froze to death in their home. Six people died because of abandoned or disabled vehicles. Seven more people died outside due to exposure. One of the seven died while waiting in a bus shelter for a bus. Most of the damage estimates were at least $50 million. Some estimates ranged between $80 and $100 million.”
While mentioning snow, another event to include here would be the ice storm on December 23, 1998. The high that day was 70, and the low was 23. The high for the next day, Christmas Eve, was 32 while the low was 22. NCDC: “A winter storm brought a mixture of freezing rain, sleet, and rain to the northern half of Alabama. The northwestern quarter of Alabama was especially hard hit. The precipitation began in a narrow band across Fayette, Walker, Cullman, and Marshall counties around 2 am and then around 5am in the rest of the counties and lasted until early afternoon on the 24th. The northwestern quarter of the state saw temperatures at or below freezing for the majority of the event. Liquid equivalent precipitation ranged from one to three inches. Significant ice accumulations of one half to one inch were common across the area. Numerous trees were down across every county. Significant power outages were encountered in all counties and many locations did not return to service until the 26th or 27th. The National Guard was activated in a few northwestern counties to help with the cleanup duties. Numerous roads were closed during the event which included Interstate 65 and 565 in the Huntsville area. One fatality occurred in Huntsville when a homeless man died of exposure. Numerous multiple vehicle and single automobile accidents occurred due to the icy road conditions. These accidents resulted in at least 5 fatalities and numerous minor injuries. One fatality occurred during the cleanup effort when the worker came into contact with a live electrical wire.”
[UPDATE: On February 25, 2015, a record amount of 12 inches of snow was reported by the Haleyville station. It snowed from approximately 12:00 P.M. until 9:00 P.M.]
Still using the data range from July 1936 to May 2009, the following facts are observed concerning the most significant precipitation from the recorded data.
The wettest month on record is March 1973 with a total of 18.12 inches of rainfall. March 16, 1973 was the day with the most rain at 8.27 inches and was also the wettest day on record. The next wettest month is January 1949 with a total of 17.77 inches of rain (January 5th was the wettest day with 5.10 inches). Next is December 1990 with a total of 17.04 inches of rain (December 22nd had 5.75 inches). The next two wettest months are December 1951 (16.26 inches) and March 1980 (16.27 inches).
Using the data range from the year 1937 through 2008, with the exception of 1994 where five months of data is missing, 2001 was the wettest year on record with a measurement of 85.16 inches. The next wettest year was 1975 with 80.75 inches, followed closely by 1973 with 79.76 inches. With this data range and according to available statistics, the mean average yearly rainfall amount for these 71 years is 59.81 inches. On the other end of the spectrum, the dryest year on record is 2007 with 38.31 inches, in which there was a severe drought throughout the southeast. The next dryest year is 1952 with 39.44 inches followed by 1978 with 41.72 inches (note that two months of statistics are unavailable for 1978). Next was 1955 with 42.85 inches and 1965 with 42.95 inches.
While these statistics were being compiled, the author noticed that 2009 was becoming one of the wettest years, and with only January through May available, 33.76 inches of rain fell in those five months with torrential downpours and flooding throughout 2009. In January 2010, he contacted the observer at the Haleyville station and was surprised to learn that 87.30 inches of rain fell in 2009, making it the wettest year on record!
The drought of 2007 started in March 2007 and continued through May 2008, but it started lessening in early 2008. From NOAA: "The most extensive national drought coverage during the past 110 years (the period of widespread reliable instrumental records) occurred in July 1934 when 80 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in moderate to extreme drought. Although the  drought and others of the 20th century have been widespread and of lengthy duration, tree ring records indicate that the severity of these droughts was likely surpassed by other droughts including that of the 1570s and 1580s over much of the western U.S. and northern Mexico...Parts of the Southeast have been dry since December 2006. This dryness has been associated with a strong subtropical Bermuda High which stretched across the North Atlantic into the Southeast, deflecting tropical storm systems away from the region for much of the spring and summer. A strengthening La Niña during the last half of the year compounded the dryness. Regionwide, every month in 2007, with the exception of October and December, averaged drier than normal. This persistent lack of precipitation has resulted in a record dry March-May and December-September for the region. Several southeastern states had record or near-record dryness during 2007. Especially dry periods include: February-April, February-May, March-May, January-June, and March-August. The drought depleted soil moisture, dessicated vegetation, shrank rivers, and dried up wells. Many communities implemented water restrictions as municipal water supplies dwindled. Wildfires plagued Florida during March and April, and Lake Okeechobee's level fell to 8.94 feet by the end of May, breaking the record low of 8.97 feet set back in May 2001. Alabama Power, the state's largest utility, operated some of its coal plants at significantly reduced levels by summer to avoid raising water temperatures in the Coosa, Black Warrior, and Mobile rivers. The Tennessee Valley Authority shut down Brown's Ferry Number 2 nuclear power plant in August due to inadequate streamflow needed to cool the reactor."
"The Feats and Freaks of the Storms":
Swirling funnel-shaped clouds, flying debris, and a distinctive roar are the signs of a tornado, and Winston County has seen its share of them over the years. Many people can still tell you the exact time, place, and what they were doing on April 3rd and 4th, 1974, when the most destructive outbreak of these beasts occurred. Hundreds were killed across the United States, and Alabama was no exception. The town of Guin in Marion County was wiped out, and the most damage in Winston County happened in and around Delmar. This was the only recorded F5 in Winston County, killing five and injuring twenty-two. Even so, this was not the worst tornado in the county’s history!
April 20, 1920, was the day that two tornadoes struck Alabama, one killing nineteen and injuring at least fifty in the Falls City, Helican, and Arley areas. Comparing the 1920 and 1974 tornado, it is obvious that technology saves many lives, due to the inventions of radio, television, and Doppler radar, since the 1920 tornado was dubbed an F4 by NOAA. Also, this was the only recorded F4 in Winston County.
From the Monthly Weather Review, April 1920, by P.H. Smyth: “Information at hand shows two tornadoes to have struck in Alabama, one crossing the Alabama-Mississippi line into Marion County, 5 miles northwest of Detroit, Lamar County, and the other reported first in northeastern Fayette County. Moving northeastward in nearly parallel tracks about 40 miles apart they cut swaths ranging from 100 yards to nearly a mile wide for a combined distance of about 180 miles through the whole or parts of 10 counties in Alabama. Estimates based on all available information place the number killed at not less than 89 persons, the number injured at about 500, and the property damage done at approximately $2,000,000 in Alabama alone. In some cases the injured were not expected to survive, and in some counties, notably Winston, information could not be obtained from outlying districts, and the death list may exceed the above estimate. For the amount of destruction these tornadoes exceed any of record in this State…The feats and freaks of the storms were almost unbelievable. Houses were obliterated, forests in the centers of the paths of the tornadoes were literally swept clean, and objects in some instances were carried a distance of 75 miles. Slight earthquakes were felt just previous to passage of one of the storms. Casings were stripped from the wheels of an automobile during the passage of this storm, showing the rapid and extreme decline in pressure.”
“As illustrating the powerful force of the tornado that passed over Alabama last week, it may be related that an insurance policy from a home in Marion County was blown into Lauderdale…The distance traveled in the air was about 75 miles.”
“From northwestern Fayette County the storm traveled northeastward through northwestern Walker County, passing near Pocahontas and Saragossa to the north of Manchester, striking Winston County near Falls City. It continued across southeastern Winston County, devastating Arley and Helicon, passing into northwestern Cullman County, northeast of Helicon, and into Morgan county near Wilhite…Twenty were killed in Winston County, 1 in Cullman, and 25 in Madison.”
Extract from the Mountain Eagle, April 28, 1920: “Winston County among sufferers. Reports are continuing to come in. In the Bennet settlement north of Manchester, the homes of Fred Wilson, Denny Messer, and John Wilson were completely destroyed, and the barns of H.J. Bennet and Wash Lamon were blown away. Some cattle were killed, but fortunately no lives were lost. The Union Hill Church was destroyed. Fences, wires, and trees were blown down. In Winston County, near Arley, the 6-year-old son of Garrett Barnes was killed in the storm of last Tuesday, and many houses and barns were blown completely away, and people left without food or shelter. The small town of Helicon in Winston County was completely demolished; not a building was left standing, and neighboring orchards and farms were ruined…”
Extract from the Tuscaloosa News, April 21, 1920: “Bad storm did not reach this section but rain did damage. There in Tuscaloosa, when that black cloud was hanging over the city, many people became frightened, and supposed they were going to get a taste of the tornado, but fortunately it passed away without striking us. The black cloud as it appeared in the west looked exceedingly angry. The force of the wind would shoot great waves of cloud above other clouds, and made it look as if we would not escape the fury of the storm. There was darkness in Tuscaloosa for the period of about an hour. Automobiles turned on their headlights when driving through the pelting rain…It became so dark about noon that chickens went to roost. It was the scariest looking cloud that has hung over this city in many a day, some saying that they had never seen it so dark at high noon.”
Partial Winston County Tornado List (Courtesy of NOAA):
|Falls City/Helican||4/20/1920||Abt. 12 PM||19||50||F4|
|NE of Addison||3/21/1932||7:30 P.M.||8||25||F3|
|Double Springs||1/22/1999||5:15 PM||0||0||F1|
|Double Springs||2/27/1999||6:25 PM||0||0||F0|
|Poplar Springs||11/10/2002||7:31 PM||1||15||F3|
|Double Springs||9/25/2005||1:54 PM||0||0||F1|