Is it going to get cold, really cold this winter with lashings from Blue Northers, Arctic Blasts or even a Siberian Express?
They’ve invaded the county in the past, bringing sudden temperature drops that stunned fish so that they could be scooped out of the bay. There are tales of ice skaters on a frozen Sabine Pass and boats frozen in the harbor.
Such a scenario is not likely this year, weather experts say, but they say it cautiously.
“It’s probably not happening this year,” said Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas state climatologist, speaking from his office at Texas A&M University. “But it’s not impossible that it could happen again sometime.
“We have global warming, and that has raised the temperature one or two degrees, but a really cold arctic blast can be 30 or more degrees below normal, so one or two degrees isn’t going to make much difference.”
Stan Blazyk, The Daily News’ weather blogger and author of “A Century of Galveston Weather: 1900-1999 People and the Elements on a Barrier island,” studies weather patterns and computer models daily. He also does not see an ice floe in Galveston’s future this year.
“I’d be very surprised at this point,” he said. “But I’m not ruling it out.
“I never say ‘never’ in weather. I just don’t see enough evidence to get all excited about it at this point by any means.”
Blazyk well remembers the winter of 1983, when weather reversed from warm to frigid cold at Christmas time.
“People had burst pipes and flooding,” he said. “It was the most remarkable December cold spell ever.”
The Rosenberg Library’s Galveston and Texas History Center reveals reports in The Daily News of bay ice formations in 1886, 1899, 1962 and 1983.
The winter of 1899 saw temperatures fall below zero degrees in several Texas cities, and down to 8 degrees in Galveston.
“I’d like to see that again sometime,” said Nielsen-Gammon, who enjoys chilling forecasts.
He has tracked Blue Northers long enough to describe them in laymen’s terms.
“When you get a really sharp drop in temperature, what happens is the cold air heads south and tries to turn to the west, but it runs up against the Rocky Mountains, so it piles against the mountains and shoots down the Great Plains toward the Gulf of Mexico because that’s the only place it can go,” he said.
For this winter, the long-range forecasts look tilted toward above-normal temperatures, rather than arctic blasts, he said. But he’s open to sudden changes in the wind.
“All it takes is one good storm forming in the right place to trigger a wave of the jet stream to bring some cold air down on top of us,” he said.
Arctic blasts from the past:
Winter 1821, a blizzard hits Bolivar Peninsula. Jane Long, called the mother of Texas, waited out the storm with her newborn, 5-year-old and servant. Long told of temperatures so low that the bay nearby froze. Stunned fish pulled through the ice by a servant helped the family survive.
February 1895, a severe cold front hit the Upper Texas Coast, with snow falling in record amounts in record time — 15 inches in 24 hours in Galveston, according to the USA Weather Almanac. The blistering north wind hit thousands of head of cattle on Jackson Ranch land on the north side of East Galveston Bay.
“As the storm struck, the some 6,000 head of cattle that were pastured on the Jackson Ranch turned tail to the driving snow and started drifting south with the wind,” wrote James Jackson in his book, “Home on the Double Bayou: Memories of an East Texas Ranch.” “The cattle walked off into the warmer waters of the bay and drowned by the thousands — dead cattle lying so thick in the shallow waters along the shore that a man could walk for several hundred yards out into the Bay on the bodies of the dead cattle.”
January 1886, temperatures fell rapidly as a cold wave swept in, bringing a snowstorm that The Daily News called “the greatest the city, state or even the lower South has ever witnessed.”
February 1899, a five-day freeze drove temperatures below 8 degrees in Galveston. Ice was reported west of Galveston from the barrier island to the mainland.
December 1983, Galveston experienced the coldest Christmas season ever, with days of freezing temperatures and a low of 14 degrees recorded on Christmas Day. Pipes burst, power failed and ice patches developed in the bay. Some 30 million fish were killed, according to a report by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Temperatures dropped 30 degrees overnight and trapped trout and other fish in shallow water with no way to escape.
Rosenberg Library Galveston and Texas History Center, www.rosenberg-library.org
“A Century of Galveston Weather: 1900-1999 People and the Elements on a Barrier Island,” by Stan Blazyk. Find a link to order at galvnews.com.