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BY GEORGE: The Big Snow

A storm system moving across the Florida peninsula and along the Southern Atlantic Coast produced high winds and record snows along the Carolina coast in 1989. On the evening of December 22, the developing offshore storm system began to produce snow in southeastern North Carolina. By early on the 23rd, the storm had intensified dramatically, producing 60 mph winds and waves as high as 34 feet in the near-shore waters. The tanker Benjamin Isherwood ran aground just off Corolla. Snow fell from the evening of the 22nd to about midday on the 24th.  Snowfall totals of 15 inches at Wilmington, NC and 13.3 inches at Cape Hatteras, NC were all-time records for those locations.  The final snow depth at Cape Hatteras does not account for about five inches of snow that melted when the snow changed briefly to rain on the 23rd.  Along the northern coast, snow amounts ranged from 10 inches at Manteo to one inch at the Virginia border.

Gusty winds piled snow drifts four to eight feet high all along the coast. Many towns were paralyzed. The snow shattered many snow records for the coastal areas. Gale force winds whipped the heavy snow into drifts up to 8 feet high. Elsewhere, two inches of snow fell at Savannah, GA while Charleston, SC picked up 3.9 inches.

The storm resulted in the first white Christmas on record from northeastern Florida to North Carolina. Snow fell in Tampa and Daytona Beach as Florida experienced its most widespread snowstorm in history and their first white Christmas in history as well. Snow and sleet fell as far south as a Sarasota to Melbourne line.

Extensive crop damage, including a loss of about 30% of the $1.4 billion citrus crop left tens of thousands of migrant farm workers unemployed. Winter vegetables, berries, nursery ornamentals and fish suffered heavy losses. Power blackouts hit hundreds of thousands of residents at various times during the holiday weekend. It was the first White Christmas on record for coastal North Carolina.

In the wake of the storm, Christmas morning low temperatures along the coast set all-time low records in many locations. Wilmington reached zero degrees F. Jacksonville reached minus 5 degrees. The cold produced widespread damage to subtropical ornamental plants and winter crops in the area. Large numbers of waterfowl and fish were killed in the sounds and estuaries. A Warsaw man was found dead in his home on the 27th.

On the backside of the massive arctic high pressure, which brought over 100 record lows across the U.S., Cheyenne, WY went from -28 on the 22nd of December to +47 on the 24th! Scottsbluff, NE hit -42 oon the 22nd, then warmed to +42 on the 24th! And how about rapid City, SD? They went from -29 all the way to +49 degrees two days later!

And you thought weather changed quickly around here.

By: George Elliott


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