Texas’s Coldest December Ever Turned the State into a Popsicle

Written by Tavia Fuller Armstrong
Published: December 4, 2023
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Texas is usually a relatively balmy place to be in the month of December. While the residents of many other states spend the holidays shivering, Texans often do their Christmas shopping in short sleeves. A terribly cold December rarely happens, and although it does snow in Texas, the white stuff usually doesn’t hang around very long. Let’s take a look at Texas’s coldest December ever recorded and just how cold it got.

Texas’s Coldest December on Record

Texas Winter

The coldest December in Texas happened in 1983.

©Lea Bouknight/Shutterstock.com

According to the National Weather Service, the coldest December on record for the state of Texas occurred in 1983. Texas’s temperatures in the central part of the state ran more than 12 degrees colder that month than the average December. In the panhandle, average temperatures were about 14 degrees colder than normal, and near the Gulf Coast, the average temperatures were off by more than 6 degrees. Weather charts for December 1983 resembled what meteorologists call a polar vortex today, with cold, Arctic air dipping far to the south across the United States.

How Cold Did Texas Get in December 1983?

Unusual snow in Downtown Houston with big and fluffy snowflakes fell on meadow grass at Eleanor Park. Snow is extremely rarely happen and it has only fallen in Houston 35 times since February 1895.

Even Houston fell below freezing for four days in late December 1983.

©Trong Nguyen/Shutterstock.com

North Texas was hit by seven consecutive cold fronts over the month of December in 1983. The jet stream plunged south, driving the state to temperatures it had never experienced in December. The fronts brought snow, up to 8 inches in some locations, in the middle of the month. The Dallas-Fort Worth area dropped below freezing on December 18, and didn’t rebound until late in the day on December 30. That equaled more than 12 days below freezing. Further south, Waco spent more than 6 days below freezing near the end of the month.

The Texas panhandle was particularly hard hit by the cold. Amarillo had an average temperature in December 1983 of just over 24 degrees Fahrenheit. The city barely made it above freezing just two times from December 15 to December 29. Five of those days the temperature in the city never rose above single digits.

Southern Texas saw extraordinarily cold temperatures as well. In the first half of December 1983, Houston saw high temperatures mainly in the 60s and 70s. But by the second half of the month, temperatures plummeted with lows dropping into the 30s. By December 22, even the daily high temperatures dropped to the 30s, and for four days straight the thermometer in Houston never rose above freezing.

Average December Weather in Texas

The high temperature in the Dallas area in the month of December averages around 58 degrees Fahrenheit, and the high in Waco averages around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Houston has an average December high of 66 degrees Fahrenheit, while Austin has an average of about 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Amarillo, which generally runs a bit cooler in the winter than most other Texas cities, has an average high in December of about 52 degrees Fahrenheit.

Record Cold Temperatures in Texas

Winter storm in Austin Texas. Cacti in ice. Freezing rain. Winter scene. Natural disaster

Record cold temperatures for the month of December froze nearly the whole state.

©Meyta/Shutterstock.com

Although December 1983 was Texas’s coldest December on record, January is usually the coldest month of the year. The coldest individual daily temperatures ever recorded across the state mostly occurred in the month of February.

Tulia, a little town in the Texas panhandle just south of Amarillo, set the record for the coldest temperature in Texas on February 12, 1899. The town survived a low of -23 degrees Fahrenheit. Seminole, Texas, another small town southwest of Lubbock, matched that record on February 8, 1933.

Coldest Winter Storm in Texas’s Recent History

Texas Flag Mailbox in Snow Scene 2022

The coldest December in Texas happened in 1983.

©Christine_Kohler/iStock via Getty Images

If you are young and you want to know what Texas was like in December 1983, you’ve probably lived through worse. The polar vortex that hit the United States in the middle of February 2021 pushed temperatures in Texas up to 50 degrees below average. Dallas hit a low of -2 degrees Fahrenheit during that storm, a temperature not seen for more than 70 years before. Power outages plagued the state and nearly 250 people died. The devastation of February 2021 makes December 1983 look almost like a cold and windy walk in the park.  

The photo featured at the top of this post is © cctm/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Tavia Fuller Armstrong is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on birds, mammals, reptiles, and chemistry. Tavia has been researching and writing about animals for approximately 30 years, since she completed an internship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Tavia holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology with a wildlife emphasis from the University of Central Oklahoma. A resident of Oklahoma, Tavia has worked at the federal, state, and local level to educate hundreds of young people about science, wildlife, and endangered species.

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