“The Oklahoma Deep Freeze of 1983″
The first three weeks of December 1983 were actually quite pleasant as far as Decembers in Oklahoma go. High temperatures were near of above normal for most of that time with just a few intrusions of cold air to speak of. The state’s first snowfall of any significance fell on the 13th but temperatures were too warm for the snow to last. Temperatures the next day rose into the 40s, obliterating the last traces of the frozen precipitation. A cold front late on the 15th combined with an upper-level low traveling from the west across Oklahoma to produce snowfall amounts of up to 8 inches along the Red River.
Little did Oklahomans know that the cold front and snow were just the beginning of their wintery trouble.
Yet another cold front on the 17th brought a reinforcing blast of cold air to Oklahoma with more snow. The temperature at Guymon had dropped to 7 degrees by
5 p.m. and winds of up to 40 mph produced wind chills down to 20 degrees below zero. The 18th saw the cold air spread statewide with high temperatures struggling into double digits across most of the state. Strong winds dropped the wind chills down to 35 degrees below zero in some areas. As if the cold was not enough of a hardship for Oklahomans, Mother Nature gave them a good dose of freezing rain on the 20th as an exclamation point. The southern half of the state became a skating rink and travel was treacherous, resulting in many accidents.
High Temperatures on December 19, 1983
Yet another surge of arctic air arrived on the 21st that sent temperatures plunging once again. Oklahoma City broke its record low temperature with a mark of 2 degrees below zero, and wind chills in some parts of the state were as low as 40 degrees below zero. The high temperature at the Great Salt Plains reservoir on the 22nd was 4 degrees below zero after a low temperature of 5 degrees below zero. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day saw Santa bring Oklahoma another blast of cold air and wind chills of 50 degrees below zero. Low temperatures across most of northern Oklahoma were below zero and high temperatures were in the low single digits. A warm up into the relatively balmy 20s occurred for several days before a final-yet-brutal blast of cold air late on the 27th provided the state with its coldest temperature of the event; 17 degrees below zero was reported from the far western Panhandle town of Kenton on the 29th. A reading of 16 degrees below zero was recorded at Hulah Dam in Osage County the following day. Travel was discouraged on the 27th and 28th after nearly every road in the state was left covered with snow and ice.
Low temperatures on December 29, 1983
New Year’s Eve marked the end of the arctic transformation with temperatures rising above freezing for the first time since the first frigid blast on the 17th. Within days, temperatures were in the 60s across much of the state, putting the final nail in the coffin of the event. The month ended as the coldest December on record statewide with an average temperature of 25.8 degrees, 13.2 degrees below normal. Only four months have been colder in Oklahoma than December 1983, and all occurred in January: 1918, 1930, 1940, and 1979. The temperature in Oklahoma City was below freezing from 3 p.m. on the 18th to 10:45 a.m. on the 31st, the longest such stretch ever recorded.
Nine daily records were also set in Oklahoma City – five for coldest high temperature and four for coldest low temperature.
Statewide average December temperatures since 1895 for Oklahoma http://ticker.mesonet.org/archive/20131210/december-statewide-1895_2012.png
The event left more than just a populace chilled to its bones, however. More than 20 deaths were blamed directly on the cold weather, mostly from traffic accidents, carbon monoxide poisoning, and exposure. Infrastructure also took a hit due to the arctic chill. Frozen water pipes left thousands without water for days, and when those pipes did thaw, hefty plumber bills ensued. Fire departments in Oklahoma City became emergency water distribution points for those with frozen pipes. And the misery was not confined to Oklahoma, of course. Most of the eastern half of the nation was gripped in the wintry weather’s hold for a similar duration. Nationally, more than 500 deaths were attributed to the cold weather, as well as the destruction of infrastructure and crops. The Red River in Shreveport was reportedly clogged with the most ice since 1895, and damages in Texas alone were estimated at over $100 million.