Special Story About a Big, Big Snowstorm

| December 14, 2006 @ 9:22 am | 30 Replies

(First in a series of feature stories issued at various times)

The snow began in Alabama on the morning of December 31, 1963 and it did not end until the morning of January 1, 1964.

The snow accumulated over most of the state but not the extreme southeast.

It became known as the “New Year’s Eve” snowstorm and it was quite an event.

I can’t remember if we were still called the U.S. Weather Bureau or the National Weather Service at that time but we were stationed at Birmingham Airport.

At the time, I lived at the corner of Second Avenue, North and 73rd Street in the East Lake Section of Birmingham, by far the closest to the airport than anyone else on our staff. I was about two miles from work. I was scheduled to work the midnight to 8 am shift but I got called in early.

It took me a long time to drive west on 75th street and onto Airport Road not only because of the deep snow but I had to slowly work my way around abandoned automobiles. Looked more like a used car lot. By then there was about 1/2 foot on the ground.

The onset of this snowstorm was under forecast. Our office had to pretty much play “catchup” with several revised forecasts.

Our phones were not on voice mail at that time so we had wall-to-wall calls. I will never forget two of them. We had one gentleman that called daily for several years. Every call was exactly the same, “How high is the wind?” We would answer 8 mph or whatever and he would reply “thank you” with no inflection in his voice and hang up. In the midst of that snowstorm he called and did not even mention the snow.

On another occasion he called just as a line of thunderstorms was passing through. He said, “How high is the wind?” My reply, it is NW at 32 mph with gusts to 48 mph.” He replied, “Whoooweee, thank you!” Only time I ever heard him with any excitement in literally hundreds of calls over the years.

Another person called in the midst of the storm and asked, “how many degrees is it?” Jay Shelly answered, “not many.” They said thanks and hung up.

Back to the snow! It continued to pile up and finally tapered off early on New Years morning. Officially, 8 inches was measured at Birmingham Airport but it was 14 inches deep on some of the ridges around town. One of those places was the Von Dales community That is where Bill Marshall, one of our forecasters lived.

Bill was scheduled for a 4 am till noon forecast shift. The snow was 14 inches deep at his house. Bill was driving a Volkswagen Bug. Finally, we got a call. He had tried numerous times to get out of his community but the VW was so close to the ground that the front simply plowed under the snow.

Some more notes about that historic storm:

* Literally hundreds of people became stranded at New Year’s Eve parties and had to spend the night with their hosts.

* As much as 14 inches of snow fell across West Central Alabama in South Pickens and North Choctaw County.

* About 5 inches fell in North Mobile County.

* Another zone of heavier snow included 10 inches in East Alabama from about Talladega to Heflin. Eight-inch amounts were common in Central Alabama.

* There was little or no snow from Troy southeastward.

* BUT…the heaviest snow of all was at Florence, in NW Alabama where 19.2 inches fell within 24 hours, a new record for Alabama.

I will include this story in my future book titled “Scatterbrains and Scattered Showers”

I want to write a story about Bill Murray soon.

NOTE: If you know how much snow fell at your place during that storm, I would love to know. Thanks…

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