Think this is the worst winter ever? Think again

ctruman@herald-leader.comJanuary 27, 2014 

  • Forecast leads to school-day delay

    Fayette County Public Schools are operating on a two-hour delay Tuesday. Officials issued a statement saying the decision was made because of "forecasts calling for dangerously cold temperatures and wind chills."

    Central Kentuckians will wake up to temperatures of minus-5 to 5 degrees Tuesday, but gusty winds will make it feel more like minus-10, said WKYT chief meteorologist Chris Bailey. He said temperatures would reach "high single digits and low teens," but "it will never feel that warm."

    By Thursday, Bailey said, temperatures might get up to around the freezing point, but more rain and snow could be on the way this weekend.

  • Winter in Kentucky

    BY THE NUMBERS

    Precipitation records:

    Snowfall: 13.4 inches, Jan. 27, 1943.

    Snow depth: 14 inches, 1978, 1917.

    Also notable: 1978 snow depth, Jan 18-24: 12 inches, 11 inches, 14 inches, 14 inches, 14 inches, 11 inches, 8 inches.

    Other big snow/cold messes:

    Snowfall: Jan. 17, 1994: 10 inches; Feb. 4, 1998: 11 inches.

    Snow depth (cumulative): Jan. 8, 12-13, 1996: 12 inches; Jan. 20-22, 14 inches; Feb. 7, 1998: 17 inches.

    High temperature in January: 80 degrees on Jan. 24, 1943.

    High temperature in February: 80 on Feb. 23, 1996.

    Low temperature in January: -21 degrees, Jan. 24, 1963.

    Low temperature in February: -20 degrees, 1899.

From the depths of the polar vortex, it seems that Lexington and environs are enduring the worst winter ever.

They aren't.

It's important to keep these chilly episodes in perspective, said meteorologist Tom Reaugh of the National Weather Service office in Louisville. Extreme variations of temperature and precipitation "have been there as long as there's been an atmosphere," Reaugh said.

Winters are going to be cold and snowy, some of them so much so that they go into the record books, freeze pipes, stall cars and cancel school for eons. Remember 1978 in Lexington?

That winter is remembered as one of the state's worst ever, with cold and repeated snowstorms that closed schools and paralyzed areas of Kentucky for weeks. National Weather Service records show that for the week of Jan. 18 to 24, 1978, snow depth in Lexington was no less than 11 inches and for three days was at 14 inches.

When you escape your home only to struggle to work and the kids have missed a bunch of school days, the last thing you might want to hear is that things have been worse.

But they have.

The Lexington area has a chance of getting a three-fourths-inch coating of ice once every 50 years, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. In 1951, an ice storm dumped 2 inches of frozen rain and sleet on Lexington, topped by more than 7 inches of snow, and then temperatures dropped to minus-8.

Then, 52 years later, Lexington got the ice storm of 2003 — which many Lexington residents considered The Big One.

"Glazed and dazed" was the Herald-Leader's headline the day after, and that pretty much took it all in: Trees fell, power went out and much of Lexington went for a week in darkness and chill, and patience wore thin as people waited for power to be restored.

Nonetheless, the 2009 ice storm was more widely felt geographically.

Other storms were less of a problem for residential living and more difficult on drivers.

In 1985, trucks were stuck on Interstate 64 when nine inches of snow fell early in February, and below-freezing weather kept it rutted on the interstate as late as Feb. 15, making a Mount Sterling IGA parking lot a little pop-up city of truck drivers who dared venture no further.

Then-IGA assistant manager Arnold Curtis, who had lived in the area for 58 years, said that week's storm ranked among the worst ever.

Your mileage quite literally varies on which is the worst winter ever: The 2013-14 winter has been notable for consistently low temperatures. But 1994, when 10 inches of snow fell on Jan. 17, followed by a low temperature of minus-20 on Jan. 19, also is a contender, as was 1998, with its 11 inches of snow on Feb. 4.

Although fewer Lexingtonians would remember it, the winter of 1943 also deserves a shot at the title: The high temperature was 80 on Jan. 24. Three days later, 13.4 inches of snow fell.

Cheryl Truman: (859) 231-3202. Twitter: @CherylTruman.

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