New Year’s Eve snowstorm shocked Huntsville back in 1963 with 10-20 inches of snow

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

From the Huntsville Times on December 31, 2003
By John Anderson, Times Staff Writer

Snow accumulation map for December 31, 1963 through January 1, 1964.

Snow accumulation map for December 31, 1963 through January 1, 1964.

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.

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.

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.

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.”