The fall of 1993 had been largely uneventful and a bit warm after the Halloween Snowstorm. November had been quiet and the first 20 days of December averaged almost 6 degrees above normal with just a trace of snowfall. Temperatures gradually cooled through the 3rd week of the month and then went below normal by the 23rd with highs generally from the upper teens to mid-20s. Along with the colder pattern came persistent snowshowers that lasted the rest of the month, but it was nothing out of the ordinary. January was about to change that.
Two snowstorms struck the state in January, the first on January 3-4 and the second, larger event on the 16th and 17th. It was this storm that pulled in a vast reservoir of arctic air into the Ohio region. A very cold high pressure area had been parked just north of the US-Canada border beginning on the 14th, bringing highs in the single digits on the 15th and lows below zero from the 14th on.
WINTER PLUNGING CITY INTO FIRST DEEP FREEZE
Columbus Dispatch, The (OH) – January 14, 1994
Columbus will begin to slide into the deep freeze today with temperatures plunging below zero tonight and Saturday night. The wind chill will average 30 below zero during the cold spell.
The weather will be the coldest of this winter thus far – and the first time Columbus temperatures have fallen below zero since last Feb. 18 when it dipped to minus 2.
The cold spell won’t linger.
“We will start to notice a rebound in temperature, maybe not on Sunday but certainly on Monday,” said Ken Reeves, senior meteorologist for Accu-Weather.
The Accu-Weather forecast calls for temperatures in the midteens at 7 a.m. today and falling to the single digits by day’s end. The overnight low will be minus 5. Saturday’s daytime high will be about 4.
Saturday night the temperature will fall to minus 8, recovering to 15 above Sunday. The low Sunday night will be 11 above. Temperatures should be in the 20s by Monday.
The cause of the cold is a shift in the jetstream, which normally brings air from southern Canada. The shift will bring colder arctic air from northern Canada, which will plunge the Northern Plains, the Midwest and the Northeast into very cold weather. Minnesota and the eastern sections of North Dakota and South Dakota will have temperatures of 20 to 30 below zero Saturday.
Residents will need to dress warmly under the sudden surge of cold air here. Those with poor circulation, particularly the elderly, should be especially careful.
Layers of clothing provide the best protection because layers trap air, which serves as insulation.
“The more layers, the better,” said Reeves.
He said mittens are preferable to gloves, which isolate the fingers. Care should be taken not to cramp the toes by wearing two thick pairs of socks. Cramping can restrict circulation, which is needed to warm extremities.
“If you wear two pairs, don’t wear two thick pairs,” said Reeves. “The key is, you don’t want to slow the circulation. The blood supply is what keeps your hands and feet warm.”
Noses should be covered, and parents should make sure their children are properly dressed, he said.
Faucets should be left dripping in poorly insulated houses and homes where pipes are subject to cold-weather freezing.
Typically, extreme cold weather sends more people into shelters for the homeless. “It brings in the people who would normally try and rough it, the people who don’t like the shelter,” said Charles Oris, director of men’s services for Faith Mission.
Oris expected no problems providing shelter during the weekend for more homeless people. The mission can provide extra sleeping areas and has an overflow facility at the downtown YMCA at Long and Front streets.
As you can see, there was no mention of the snowstorm that would begin just a few days later. The following day, Saturday, January 15, 1994, the paper did mention the upcoming snowfall, but only 2-4″ were forecast. Even as the snow began on Sunday the 16th, the forecast remained 2-4″. Instead, by the end of the day on the 17th, 7.8″ had fallen at Port Columbus. Almost all the state had at least 6″, but 20″-30″ fell to the south and east of Columbus. During the height of the storm, Chillicothe reported a snowfall rate exceeding 5″ per hour! As this storm moved away, it pulled cold air directly south, which failed to warm over the fresh snowpack.
Temperatures in Columbus fell to 0 by midnight on the 17th and continued to drop throughout the next day. The NOON temperature on the 18th was -9 degrees, -13 by 7pm and -17 by midnight. The peak of the cold was reached at 6am on Tuesday, January 19th when the temperature at Port Columbus dropped to 22 degrees below zero. This temperature was the lowest official temperature ever recorded in the city, beating out the 3 times that the city recorded -20 (1879, 1884, 1899).
Across the state, temperatures were 20-35 degrees below zero, and these extremely low readings were more widespread than in any other previous arctic outbreak on record, securing its place in history as the worst arctic outbreak of all time for Ohio.
Coldest Readings January 18-19, 1994
New Lexington: -35