Chattanooga Weather History: The 1983 Christmas arctic outbreak

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Christmas time in Chattanooga has had a wide range of weather through the years. For example, we had a snowy, White Christmas in 2010. But, we had a balmy Christmas Day last year in the 70s. But, in 1983, a major arctic outbreak of air invaded the United States including the Tennessee Valley. The result was a record cold Christmas Eve and Day.


Temperatures on Christmas Eve in 1983 steadily dropped throughout the day as the arctic air arrived. Check out these observations from Lovell Field. At 12:01AM December 24th,1983 the high temperature for the day occurred with 24 degrees. Again, that was the HIGH of the day!

By 8am, the temperatures dropped to 11 degrees. But, that was still not the low temperature of the day. By 4pm, the late afternoon temperature was only 7 degrees!!!! Can you imagine an afternoon here in the Tennessee Valley with temperatures in the single digits during the afternoon?

Before I go on with the even colder temperatures that followed. Let me share with you what I was doing that bitterly cold afternoon. I was 16 years old and working at my Dad's Ace Hardware in Chickamauga. We were scheduled to only be open through 4pm. However, due to the extremely cold temperatures we stayed open longer due to the high demand for kerosene and kerosene heaters. And, a lot of plumbing parts due to burst pipes.

I stayed at that kerosene pump for what felt like hours. We never ran out, but the last customer left just before 7pm. I had the thickest pair of coveralls on, but was still frozen.

Speaking of 7pm that evening, the temperature continued to fall. Just before midnight (as Santa began his flight!), the temperature was 2 degrees. That 2 degree reading is still the record holder for December 24th.


By sunrise on Christmas Day, the temperature was -2. That still holds as the record low! The day was sunny, but temperatures remained bitterly cold. By noon, the temperature was only 6 degrees. The high temperature ended up being only 16 degrees.

It was nice staying inside in a cozy house that day. But, around 8pm we received a phone call. The alarm system had been triggered at my Dad's other Ace Hardware in Ft Oglethorpe. It wasn't a burglary or fire. Instead, a frozen pipe burst inside the building. The water was ankle deep spread out over half the building near the front door.

My Dad and I plus other members of the Ft Oglethorpe Fire Dept, spent most of that evening with big Squeeges pushing the water out the front doubledoors. Oh, and then spreading salt afterward because of all the ice near the front door.

I'm sure many of you have your own memories of that arctic blast!


Even with a 74 degree Christmas Day last year, it was not the record. The record high for Christmas Eve 1964 was 75 degrees. That temperature was equaled on Christmas Day 1955 with a high of 75. And, like the arctic blast of Christmas 1983, those records have yet to be touched!

David Glenn

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