News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

January 6, 2014

Arctic Blast 2014: ‘Definitely a rarity’

Sub-zero temps, high winds, heavy snow etch a place in local history

TERRE HAUTE — Frigid temperatures. Powerhouse wind gusts. Relentless snowfall.

The fierce storm that cut through the Wabash Valley on Sunday and Monday makes you wonder how pioneer families survived brutal winter blasts.

Forewarned by 21st-century weather reports, people in the Terre Haute area stocked up on groceries, generators and fireplace wood as the three-pronged storm approached Saturday. The predictions indicated that folks’ routines might get disrupted. As picturesque, silver-dollar-sized snowflakes began piling up Sunday, Facebook friends shared photos of kids building snowmen and snow-ice-cream recipes, bundled-up homeowners used shovels and snowplows to clear driveways, and motorists gassed up, just in case the ominous forecast proved true.

It did.

Though the storm didn’t exceed the doozies, such as the fabled Blizzard of ’78, it altered lifestyles and etched itself a spot in local weather history. The Terre Haute area felt its triple whammy of cold, wind and snow.

Such a combination is “definitely a rarity,” said Mike Koch, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Indianapolis.

Monday’s low temperature in Terre Haute hit 12 degrees below zero at 9 a.m., breaking the record for Jan. 6. The previous mark, 7 below, was set in 1924, said Lindsey Monroe, meteorologist at WTHI-TV.

That would’ve been tough enough for residents to deal with, but the winter storm also delivered an official count of 10 inches of snow and wind chills of 33 degrees below zero. Hundreds of churches had to cancel Sunday services. Schools closed Monday, when classes were to resume for many following the holiday break, and they remained closed today. Businesses and public services shut down. Pipes froze in homes. Power outages occurred, and many residents sought warmth in shelters or hotels. Snow drifted as high as 4 feet, according to the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department.

The central Indiana snowfall, recorded by the National Weather Service in Indianapolis, amounted to the second-heaviest of any day in history. The Indy calculation of 11.4 inches was topped only by 12.1 inches of snow that fell in March 19, 1906.

The storm rekindled memories of the Blizzard of 1978, but didn’t match its combined force. That year, 15.6 inches of snow fell, swirled and drifted between Jan. 25 and Jan. 28 in central Indiana, Koch said. (The multi-day snowfall record actually occurred Feb. 16-17 in 1910, when 16.1 inches fell.) Terre Haute’s lowest recorded temperature ever happened on Jan. 19, 1994, when the mercury sank to 31 degrees below zero, according to Tribune-Star archives, with wind chills nearing 60 below. (The Blizzard of ’78 actually revved up in December of ’77, when temps dipped to 24 below.)

One facet of this weekend’s storm mirrors that blizzard. Students missed long stretches of school days then. The cancellation of classes by the Vigo County School Corp. on Monday and today extended a winter break that began Dec. 20 — 18 days ago. By concluding that stretch with two days holed up at home, kids (and parents) are probably ready for school to resume.

Though their return date was not yet determined, as of Monday afternoon, the forecast hinted at fairer weather later this week.

Today’s high temperature should climb to 10 degrees and the fierce winds should subside, Monroe predicted. By Thursday, temperatures should top the freezing mark, but just barely, hitting 33 degrees, she said.

In the meantime, check on elderly folks, help clean a neighbor’s sidewalk, and with any luck, the milk, bread and eggs will hold out a little longer.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

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