Nancy's Almanac, Dec. 27, 2013: An Omaha wind chill of minus 72 degrees in 1983? -
Published Friday, December 27, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 2:24 pm
Nancy's Almanac, Dec. 27, 2013: An Omaha wind chill of minus 72 degrees in 1983?

World-Herald readers who endured December 1983, the coldest in the nation's history, particularly remember the brutal wind.

Journalist and former colleague Terry Anderson recalls a Saturday morning in Omaha when the wind chill hit 72 degrees below zero. Postal carrier Ron Van Cleve recalled delivering mail that day. Others shared similar stories.

That day happened to be Christmas Eve.

The wind chill reading, while accurate for its day, wasn't based on the wind chill index in use now. The National Weather Service revised its index in 2001.

By today's standards, the wind chills that Anderson and Van Cleve experienced were around 50 degrees below zero, according to the weather service.

Still jaw-dropping.

The week that ended Dec. 24, 1983, was the coldest on record in Omaha, according to the National Weather Service. The temperature averaged 11.9 degrees below zero that week.

For nearly the entire week, the wind chill in Omaha didn't rise above 20 degrees below zero. Often it was 30- to 40-plus degrees below zero.

“It was a terrible week,” Van Cleve said.

The Postal Service told its carriers on the morning of Christmas Eve that year to stop delivering mail because the wind chills had become so dangerous.

At nearly 50 degrees below zero, people could get frostbite on exposed skin within 10 minutes of being outdoors.

Van Cleve said he and co-worker Gene Kraft were able to finish their routes in the 120th Street and West Dodge Road area because they delivered mail inside apartment complexes.

He said he drove his Jeep from one apartment building to the next, and stopped occasionally at the clubhouse to warm up. Apartment residents also invited him in for coffee or cocoa to warm up.

The wind chill index was changed in 2001 when improved scientific techniques made it possible.

Previously, the weather service had been using a wind chill index based on research done in 1945 by Antarctic explorers. Those explorers hung a container of water outdoors on a pole to assess when it froze. The index, based on that standard, over- and understated the effects of cold and wind on humans.

The index put in place in 2001 was based on research using human subjects. People wearing heat sensors on their skin were placed in a cold wind tunnel, and the results were analyzed to develop the new wind chill index.

Read more on the wind chill index.

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Weather Service-Valley

Current conditions and forecast

Contact the writer: Nancy Gaarder    |   402-444-1102    |  

Nancy writes about weather, including a blog, Nancy's Almanac. She enjoys explaining the science behind weather and making weather stories relevant in daily life.

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