Ohio’s Coldest December Ever Was a Crippling Force

Written by Tracy Farnsworth
Published: December 8, 2023
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Bone-chilling cold is something many Ohioans grow up with, but some Ohio winters are far colder than others. The frigid air seeps through layers of clothing, leaving you yearning to sit in front of the fire with a steaming cup of hot chocolate. Years ago, Ohio’s coldest December temperatures surprised residents and made for a very cold Christmas. Take a trip back to the Great Blizzard of 1983 and the arctic temperatures of as low as -12º F that made that month so very cold.

The Days Leading Up to Ohio’s Great Blizzard

Sunlight emerges after a wintery storm dumps snow along the shores of Lake Erie at Edgewater Park in Cleveland, Ohio.

The open waters of the Great Lakes played a key role in the Christmas Blizzard of 1983.

©Dee Browning/Shutterstock.com

Before the snow even started to fall, it was arctic cold temperatures that set everything into motion. Not only did these cold temperatures create Ohio’s coldest December, but they also set the stage for lake effect snows in Northeastern Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Cold air created dangerously low windchills that led to cases of frostbite, and as that wind whipped over the Great Lakes and picked up moisture, heavy snow started. Some areas got as much as 20 inches from this blizzard, but the high winds and heavy snow also created drifts up to 15 feet high according to the National Weather Service.

How Cold Did It Get?

Thermometer in the snow

Ohio’s low temperatures dipped well below 0º F for over a week.

©Leonid Ikan/iStock via Getty Images

Weather Underground’s historic data shows just how cold temperatures plummeted before and during Christmas week at the John Glenn Columbus International Airport in Ohio. Averages each day in December reached the mid-20s until Saturday, December 17, when they slowly started to fall. On December 22nd, the average temperatures dove to 15.85º F before they reached an average of -6.95º F two days later and a two-day low of -12º F. For the remainder of December, the average daily temperatures wouldn’t climb higher than 16º F.

What Impact Did This Blizzard Have on the State?

Agriculture, Barbed Wire, Cloud - Sky, Deep, Farm

Snow drifts up to 15 feet high impacted travel in Northeastern Ohio.

©PBouman/ via Getty Images

During the blizzard, the bitter cold temperatures in Ohio and heavy, drifting snow shut down many cities. Cleveland’s streets had little traffic, and roads east of Cleveland were shut down completely, which impacted holiday travel. Situated on the shores of Lake Erie, the coastal city of Ashtabula called in the National Guard for help, and the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport grounded flights.

Ohioans Weren’t Alone

December ended up being a cold month for much of the nation. As reports rolled in from news outlets and weather stations, 74% of the country saw snow from this blizzard and bitterly cold temperatures from this arctic front. A total of 29 states experienced record lows, however, families still gathered and celebrated, and shoppers still went out to ensure their loved ones had a wonderful holiday together despite the cold.

Within one month of the coldest December temperatures in Ohio, January’s average temperatures were in the 30s and 40s. December weather in Ohio took residents on a roller coaster ride, but January proved to be much more seasonable.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Coral Sand and Assoc/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Tracy Farnsworth is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on New England's nature, bodies of water, and mountains. She's been writing and researching these topics for more than 20 years while taking care of a parent with Alzheimer's disease. She certified in project management. A resident of Vermont, Tracy enjoys reading, gardening, and spending time with her family, which includes her rat terrier and American shorthair.

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