The temperature hit a record-low 24 degrees below zero the morning of February 24, 1963. That was the official low at the National Weather Service (NWS) site near Negaunee. Undoubtedly, other locations were much colder. It??s likely that U.P. residents were either getting used to the cold or were getting pretty sick of it; probably a combination of the two. It was the sixth day that winter with record-low temperatures of 20 below or colder at the NWS. Two days later it went to 27 below for the seventh and last sub-20 below zero morning of the long cold winter of 1963.
On February 19, 1963, Arthur J. Myers, chief meteorologist at the Sault Ste. Marie Weather Bureau, declared Lakes Superior, Huron and Michigan virtually ice-covered. It was an occurrence he deemed ??most unusual.?? A Coast Guard icebreaker reported ice three inches thick with several inches of snow on top from Port Huron all the way to Detroit.
Extensive ice formed as one of the coldest winters of the 20th century continued. The bitter weather began the day after Christmas when the high temperature struggled to only 6 above zero in Marquette; the low that morning was a bitter 10 below. Mild, tranquil weather covered Upper Michigan the first week and a half of 1963. Persistent warmth whittled away a good deal of the thin snow cover. Then, in time-honored fashion, a healthy snowstorm hit Upper Michigan on January 12 followed by a bitter cold wave. Marquette recorded its coldest temperature since 1936 on January 15, with 18 degrees below zero. Locations away from the warming influence of Lake Superior dropped even lower. Iron Mountain and Escanaba both registered 22 below and Menominee plunged to 24 below zero.
On January 22, the mandatory cold weather story in the local paper began with this dramatic opening: ??Severest cold wave in decades raged on today with bitter west winds ripping pedestrians like razor blades.?? The next day, Iron Mountain recorded its 11th straight day with temperatures below zero; it bottomed out there at 30 below. Outlying areas in Dickinson County had readings as low as 40 below zero. Most schools in the U.P. were closed due to the brutal cold. A thermometer at the Herman post in Baraga County registered 43 degrees below zero. Farther east, it also plunged to 43 below at Wetmore in Alger County. At the foot of Lake Superior, Sault Ste. Marie checked in with 30 below and Marquette endured its coldest January day in recorded history on the 23rd with a high of 8 below and a low down to 21 below zero.
The cold spread southward during late January 1963. Atlanta recorded its first subzero temperature of the 20th century late in the month, and Chicago experienced its coldest month in history; registering 19 consecutive days below zero in January 1963.
Like some of the exceptionally cold winters of the past, North America shared the bitter siege with the Old World. The ??Great Cold of 1963?? spread ??death, misery and chaos?? across much of Western Europe. The Thames River froze from bank to bank at Kingston for the first time since 1895 (Image above). It would be the only time in the 20th century the river froze to such an extent. At Southampton, fish reportedly froze where they swam, sticking their heads out of the ice. Seabirds then skated along the ice and picked at them. In central Italy, the Venice lagoon was reported covered with ice. In Salonika, Greece, drifts up to five feet deep were reported, while snow piled up on Italy??s Adriatic Coast. The phenomenon there was declared ??a rare sight.?? Farther north on the Oresund, the strip of water separating Denmark from Sweden, some Danes walked halfway across it, while others ??rode bicycles on the sea?? and got in the way of icebreakers
January 1963 ended 10.3 degrees below average, while February came in 8 degrees below the long-term standard. Even close to warmer Lake Superior in the city of Marquette the two months had 29 days with below zero lows. The total for the winter was 35. At the NWS, the record for low temperatures of zero or below was set at 59.
We have at least a shot at that mark this year. To date, the NWS has 48 days with zero or below. The next five days should have zero or below temperatures; that will put us at 53. Unlike 1963, it appears that March 2014 will continue the very cold pattern??at least through mid-month. While the winter of 1963 featured more extreme cold (this winter has only 1 day with 20 below or colder at the NWS site), this winter will be known for persistent, consistent cold weather. Each winter month will come in over 7 degrees below average and March could end several degrees below average, too.
Incidentally, the winds of the last several days really did a number of Lake Superior ice cover. The ice broke significantly and to such a degree that a heavy band of lake-effect snow formed on Saturday night over the central portion of the lake and moved inland over northern Luce and northwest Chippewa Counties. A foot of snow was reported at Tahquamenon Falls State Park. The gaps in the ice cover will fill in late in the week as arctic high pressure with its light winds and bitter cold temperatures descend on the Lake Superior region.