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Our infant son recently endured his first stomach virus. In the grand tradition of stomach viruses, it hit him at the worst possible place and time. My wife was driving him home from grandma's house when he threw-up all over the car seat. Not a pretty sight.

It reminded me of a particularly bad stomach virus I experienced over Christmas vacation back in the 1980's. I stayed in bed for nearly a week, so dehydrated I could barely walk. It was especially frustrating because I was missing a rare snowfall just outside my bedroom window. It wasn't often that we received two feet of snow in Mount Olive, much less over Christmas. Then again, 1989 was an unusual year for winter weather in southeastern NC.

Like most big Carolina snowfalls, the Christmas snow of 1989 started as a coastal storm. An intensifying area of low pressure traveled northward from the coastal waters of Florida. By the time the system reached our coast, bitterly cold arctic air was being channeled by a strong high pressure system near New England. The end result was 15+ inches of snow in places that don't usually get big snowfall- including Wilmington.

The 1989 snow was a "pretty" snow. In other words, there was not a lot of ice accumulation to cause problems with power outages. Most residents never lost electricity during the event- extremely fortunate since the storm lasted nearly 3 full days. Snow started falling on December 22nd and really kicked into high gear on December 23rd and 24th. By Christmas Day, the sun was out- but temperatures didn't recover.

Christmas morning of 1989 was the coldest on record in Wilmington. Temperatures reached 0 degrees in the city. That's actual air temperature, not wind chill. Jacksonville recorded sub-zero temperatures in the days following the storm. The cold air stayed in place most of the week, slowing the melting process considerably.

Since reliable weather records have been kept (all the way back to the 1870's), no other local event has matched the '89 snow. It was truly  "once in a lifetime".


By: Jerry Jackson