30 YEARS AGO: Christmas coastal storm snows out Cape Fear

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1989 snow in Wilmington. (Photo: WWAY)

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — The largest snowstorm in history for the Southeast US coast hit just before Christmas 1989. 30 years ago, this storm broke all-time snowfall records in many places including here in the Cape Fear.

The storm started on December 22, 1989 and didn’t stop until Christmas Eve. Areas like Wilmington reported 15 or more inches of snow.

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The Wilmington International Airport recorded 15.3 inches. Longwood in Brunswick County had the highest snowfall total in the area at 19.5 inches.

Click the map for a larger version with totals from Virginia through Florida, December 22-24, 1989. Data from NWS & FAA stations and NWS cooperative observers. (Photo: Tim Armstrong/NWS Wilmington)

Measurable snow fell as far south as Jacksonville and Tallahassee, Florida, and snow flurries were reported in Tampa and near Sarasota.

The storm was a result of a rare set of ingredients to get a Christmas snow in North Carolina. A coastal storm system from the Florida region merged with arctic air that was set in place across the Carolinas. That combination created the perfect conditions for snow.



In addition to record amounts of snow unprecedentedly cold temperatures accompanied the storm. All-time record lows were smashed across coastal North Carolina with temperatures falling to -4 in New Bern and to 0 in Wilmington.

Arctic air flooded south into Florida as well with record lows observed all across the peninsula. Even Key West, FL reached 44 degrees tying the coldest December temperature ever seen in that nearly-tropical location.

Read more about the 1898 storm.