Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Great April 15 Snowstorm

Charlotte's near-freezing temperatures Thursday morning seemed like quite a shock after weeks of 70s and 80s in March and early April, but it could have been worse.

In fact, it has been worse.

Mecklenburg County commissioner Bill James, who has a real interest and a good understanding of all things meteorological, passed along an item he found in a history book of Mecklenburg County. It was an excerpt about a big snowstorm on April 15, 1849.

I found several other accounts of the same storm, and interestingly, it appears to have developed in a year much like 2012. Temperatures had been unseasonably mild in March and April, but very cold air spilled into the South in the second week of April. It's not clear exactly what happened, but based on the results, we can guess.

There are published accounts of a big snowstorm that struck April 14 and 15 in parts of Louisiana, Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. So we can assume that low pressure formed in the Gulf of Mexico and tracked across the Deep South, into the cold air that had pushed southward.

Mid-April snow in Florida? Just imagine that!

But the Carolinas took a hit.

The Mecklenburg County account, in the book that Bill James found, describes it this way:

"Everything in the way of vegetables was well advanced in the spring of 1849. The farmers were ready to give corn its first plowing when the snow came. It fell very gently, no crust on top.

"It was so piled up in the apple blossoms that they looked like snow balls. All vegetation was killed, no fruit that was in bloom escape being killed. The great crop of Mecklenburg blackberries alone escaped, of all our fruits.

"It was not until mid-summer that the trees made a respectable shade, or the cattle could make a tolerable living in the range at large."

That account says 5 inches of snow fell.

Meteorologist Don Sutherland, who has published a number of books and blogs, notes an account of the storm in the Camden (S.C.) Journal:

"It commenced with a slight fall early in the morning (April 15) and continued to increase in quantity until 2 or 3 o'clock in the afternoon, when it fell in large flakes, as in mid-winter ... The housetops were covered with snow, which had not melted on Monday morning (April 16). A mid-winter scene in early spring is a sight that we do not remember to have seen at any former period."

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources says 6 inches of snow was measured in that storm in Columbia.

So it appears the April 15, 1849, event was a storm that hit South Carolina and the southern edge of North Carolina.

The National Weather Service's records for Charlotte go back only to the winter of 1878-79. Since then, the record snow in April was 3.5 inches, on April 9, 1880.


Anonymous said...

Bill James!

Right on, baby!

Right on, right on, right on!

Word to your Mother!

Anonymous said...

What a nice fantasy, considering how we're bound to have 30 days of temps over 100 this year.

Anonymous said...

Now if we could only bury Bill James in that snow...

Anonymous said...

And we all know that if such a freak event happened this year, the greenies would be calling it climate change instead of weather.

Komodoman said...

Anon @3:19 - Climatologists base their opinions on careful analysis of data and trends. Your simplistic insult is typical of those who have no factual data to support their claims.

Anonymous said...

Steve, what do you know about Dr. Denis O'Donoghue, who came to Charlotte in the late 1800s to run the weather bureau? I believe he was also a physician.

Unknown said...

Thank you Steve, for another good weather story. I remember an early April snow storm in 1984 or 1985, can't be sure which year. I have a photo of my kids playing in it. Mother Nature is a great trickster!

Anonymous said...

My memory says it was about April 15, 1983 and the ground here was covered. We prepare tax returns so I remember the day well. The next day, I traveled to work at a power plant in PA and there was about a foot of snow there.

I'm A Robot said...

Irregaurdless, it's going to be in the 80's within a couple of days.

Anonymous said...

Yup, global warming is absolutely will destroy us all. So let's ruin our economy because it is coming real fast. We certainly should stop coal mining and all oil exploration since those are all contributing....then the rest of the world continues to use fossil fuels unabated and we are the only ones to get excited and ruin our future.
Yup, when we repeat it the appropriate number of times it becomes a fact.