58ºF

On This Day: Historic cold of 1985 breaks out in southwest, central Virginia

The all-time state record low was hit on this day in 1985 when Mountain Lake fell to -30°F.

Historic cold on January 21, 1985

ROANOKE, Va. – The Flood of ‘85 is obviously a historic day in our area’s weather, but it was ten months earlier when Virginia’s weather history book was opened.

On January 21, 1985, the temperature dropped well below zero in our entire area. This set all-time record lows for most of us.

We reconstructed the map above to show just how low the temperatures dropped.

Below are some of the official recordings:


Snowshoe: -36°F

Mountain Lake: -30°F

Hot Springs, Wytheville, Lewisburg: -20°F

Covington: -19°F

Blacksburg, Pearisburg: -18°F

Pulaski: -16°F

Lexington: -12°F

Roanoke, Rocky Mount: -11°F

Lynchburg, Bedford: -10°F

Altavista: -8°F

South Boston: -7°F

Danville: -5°F


Mountain Lake’s morning temperature of 30° below zero is the all-time record low in all of Virginia.

This happened when an increasingly strong area of high pressure over north Canada sent the jet stream plowing southward into the United States. The farther south the jet stream dips, the farther south cold air can drop. This is shown at multiple different levels of the atmosphere in the chart below.

Reanalysis of historic cold on January 21, 1985

According to the National Weather Service in Wilmington, North Carolina, the polar vortex dropped into the Great Lakes on the 19th. This helped really force cold, Arctic air unusually far south.

This outbreak resulted in the deaths of 126 people, according to the National Weather Service in Morehead City, North Carolina. They go on to say that most of the citrus crop in Florida was destroyed by the freeze.

The inauguration for Ronald Reagan’s second term had to be held indoors.


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