NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK
The winter of '83-'84 looked like it would beat all records. Heavy snows in November sent snowfall connoisseurs diving for the weather record file to try to be the first to predict a new record. December arrived with big snows and dire predictions for more. At the beginning of the month the claims came true. By late December the whole complexion of the winter had changed.
A numbing blast from the Arctic swept south across the northern states and froze the record year dead in its tracks. The air from the Arctic was both cold and dry and did not bring appreciable moisture to Rainier. It did bring some unusually low temperatures which came close to breaking records. During the Christmas period the low temperature for Longmire was -3°F. and the low for Paradise was -17°F. Bracketing these minimum temperatures were several lows in the range of 0°F at Longmire and -10°F. at Paradise.
At the prolonged low temperatures of late December the mechanical world slowly coagulated to a halt. Frozen and broken water pipes were reported from Longmire all the way to Seattle. Copper fittings and propane cylinders disappeared from local hardware store shelves. The water main at the Tahoma Woods housing area froze and broke. The Northwest broke all local records for power use. As shortages of electricity developed, parts of the electrical supply grid including Longmire, Ashford, and Tahoma Woods were simply switched "off" during December 24 and 25. At Longmire and Paradise heating oil thickened in the generator fuel tanks and prevented their normal operation. The low temperatures also prevented reliable operation of many of the oil heaters in Longmire housing.
The natural world was also stopped in its tracks, literally. For the period right around Christmas, there were few animal tracks observed, indicating that the normal functions of hunting and browsing had been subordinated to finding and remaining under cover. When the temperatures finally rose numerous tracks were observed including weasels, pine martens, snowshoe hares, ptarmigan and deer. It was a case of the animals being there all the time, but just under cover during the cold period.
As December rang out and the New Year came in, the weather records told the truth about '83-'84 being a potential record year. The figures show that as of the New Year, snowfall totals appear low when compared to the record year '71-'72.
PARADISE SNOWFALL IN INCHES
Snowfall alone doesn't tell the whole story, however. An examination of these same month's water equivalents and rain reveal that this year has been quite wet, when compared to '71-'72, but not from snow.
PARADISE WATER EQUIVALENT AND RAIN IN INCHES
As a post-script to the cold weather news came a very quick warm-up to a maximum of 40°F. at Longmire on January 5, 1984. At this same time Seattle experienced a record breaking high of 61°F which beat the old record of 55°F on that same date in 1969. In fact, Seattle was the warmest place in the country in the early morning of January 4, 1984.
With our unusual weather of late, a weather forecast by Mark Twain in 1876 for New England seems appropriate: "Probably nor'east to sou'west winds, varying to the southard and westard and eastard and points between; high and low barometer, sweeping round from place to place; probably areas of rain, snow, hail, and drought, succeeded or preceded by earthquakes with thunder and lightning." (Speech to the New England Society)
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