A Cold Start to 2010 and the Winters of the Late 1970s

Pat Guinan
State Climatologist
Commercial Agriculture/University of Missouri Extension

The cold snap from January 1-10, 2010, was the coldest 10-day period in over a decade for most of the Show-Me State. Similar cold periods occurred from Jan 9-18, 1997, and Jan 27-Feb 5, 1996, and the much below normal temperatures we experienced earlier this month are a frigid reminder of how winters can be in Missouri.

An example of cold Missouri winters occurred for three consecutive years in the late 1970s. During this time an icy, wintry grip had taken hold over the central and eastern United States. Record cold temperatures and snowfalls were commonplace for many locations from Kansas City to Boston and numerous records remain today. The statewide average temperatures for the winters of 1976-77, 1977-78 and 1978-79 ranked as the 7th, 2nd and 1st coldest winters on record for Missouri, respectively.

Missouri also had its share of record temperatures and snowfall events during these three winters, though some of the records established in the late 1970s were broken by cold outbreaks in later years. Defining a winter season as the months of December, January, and February, the following is a listing of the number of daily winter minimum temperature records set during the late 1970s and that still stand today for some Missouri communities:

  • Conception: 7
  • Hannibal: 10
  • Kansas City: 11
  • Columbia: 11
  • St. Louis: 5
  • Springfield: 12
  • Caruthersville: 8

Breaking down these three cold winters and ranking them for Columbia, Missouri, provides a perspective of how cold and snowy they were.

Columbia, MO*

Winter Season
(Dec, Jan, Feb)
Total Snow**
Temp (°F)
1976-77 35.0 9th 24.6 5th
1977-78 54.9 1st 24.3 1st (tied with winter of 1904-05)
1978-79 40.4 5th 24.4 3rd (tied with winter of 1917-18)

* Weather records for Columbia began in Sept. 1889
**Snowfall totals include the months of November, March, and April for the winter season.