53 years ago: Alabama’s coldest day

NEW MARKET, Ala. (WHNT)– It’s hard to imagine temperatures below zero in Alabama, but 53 years ago (January 30), the coldest temperature ever recorded in Alabama was measured in New Market.

Lucille Hereford, postmistress and town volunteer weather observer, recorded a minus-27 degree temperature on the morning of January 30, 1966.

Alabama State Climatologist Dr. John Christy interviewed Ms. Hereford by phone in 1988 to get her story. The following account was published in the December 2010 Alabama Climate report:

I interviewed Ms. Hereford by phone in 1988 to get her story. She remembered that the sun was out on the morning of Jan. 30, 1966, and the ground was covered with 8” of new snow (Huntsville measured 7.3”). It was terribly cold. She walked out to the instrument shelter and opened the door. She couldn’t believe what she saw so she called an acquaintance who happened to be trudging by and asked him to read the little indicator that rested at the coldest temperature since it was reset the day before. He said it looked like -28° Fahrenheit, but she thought it was closer to “only” 27 below. Since she was the official reader, the observation was reported as -27° F – Alabama’s coldest ever recorded temperature.

The official story has a twist: For some reason the value was officially recorded as -17° that morning, not -27°. That was a bit warmer than the -24° F reported at Russellville that day.

Alabama had the coldest temperature in the lower 48 states that day, so it was reported nationwide that Russellville, at -24° F, was the coldest spot in the nation. A U.S. Army officer serving in Vietnam remembers hearing the news that day that his hometown of Russellville earned the coldest-spot honors.

That distinction was not to last, however. Years later a Birmingham reporter was digging for a news story on Alabama’s coldest periods. This was back in the day when official reports were all on paper, often buried in dusty archives. He discovered the mistake and the National Climatic Data Center corrected its records to show Alabama’s record low temperature was -27° F set at New Market on Jan 30, 1966.

Do you have a memory of the brutal cold in January 1966? Email the weather team— we’d love to hear from you.

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