Dreaming of a White Christmas? A look back at Charleston’s greatest snowfalls

Local News

Photo from a News 2 broadcast during the 1989 snowstorm

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while Charlestonians get to wake up to a magical, wintry scene that’s straight out of a Hallmark movie.

Let’s take a look back at all the times snow (the kind that sticks) has fallen in Charleston.

The Great Blizzard of 1899

Just as the 19th century was drawing to a close, Charleston experienced its first measurable snowfall in February 1899. Dubbed ‘The Great Blizzard of 1899’, ‘The Great Arctic Outbreak of 1899’, and the ‘St. Valentine’s Day Blizzard,’ this snowstorm was part of a severe winter weather outbreak that saw temperatures plummet across the United States, particularly east of the Rocky Mountains. In Charleston, the blizzard brought about a mixture of sleet and snow totaling 4 inches and reported temperatures as low as 7°F.

The Great Southeastern Snowstorm of 1973

Charleston had to wait decades for the next signifcant snowfall, but the one that happened next is one for the record books. The ‘Great Southeastern Snowstorm of 1973’, as it was called, was one of the greatest snowstorms to hit the Southeast United States in history. Over the course of two February days, Charleston saw roughly 5.4 inches of snow in some areas, the highest recorded snowfall to date.

The White Christmas of 1989

Remember that record-setting snowfall in 1973? Well, just sixteen short years later in 1989, a new record would be entered into the history books.

It was the year that Hurricane Hugo hit the Lowcountry, leaving widespread destruction in its wake, and as Christmas neared many were still picking up the pieces and putting their lives back together. But, Mother Nature still had one more trick up her sleeve, a trick that some might call a Christmas miracle.

Chief Meteorologist Rob Fowler talks with News 2 Anchor Dan Ashley during the 1989 snowstorm.

Three days before Christmas, on Dec. 22, a front-carrying arctic air settled over the Lowcountry, bringing bitter temperatures with it. Light snow began falling by dusk that evening, but the most of it was still yet to come.

On Dec. 23, a low pressure system started making its way up the coast and brought a steady snowfall to the area that would continue for the next 24 hours. Early forecasts predicted only a couple inches of snow, but by the time the winter weather had passed, Charleston had recorded 6 inches of snow, the single greatest one day snowfall in history.

When Charlestonians arose on Christmas morning, the blanket of snow (roughly 4 inches) still covered the ground, creating a winter wonderland and giving Charleston its first ever (and only!) White Christmas.

The Winter Storm of 2018

We don’t have to go too far back to find the most recent snowfall to hit Charleston. That happened just a few years ago in January 2018 and it ultimately went down as the third-highest recorded snowfall.

Over the course of a couple of days in January, a mix of snow and sleet covered the Lowcountry in a thick, white blanket. By the time it was all said and done, Charleston had seen roughly 5.3 inches of snow, just shy of the record-breaking 1973 total.

The 2018 snowfall even earned a nickname by locals, “Snowmaggedon,” because of the impact it had on the community. Charleston International Airport was closed for five days and schools were shut down for several days, as well.

Will it snow in 2021?

The question on everyone’s mind: Is there a chance we could have a White Christmas this year?

News 2 meteorologist David Dickson explains that current temperature predictions indicate warmer than average temperatures for the rest of the month, meaning the chance of snow is low.

“The chances that we see snow are going to be minimal and the conditions have to be perfect for us to see snowfall in the Lowcountry,” he said.

David says that’s because we are currently in a weather pattern called La Niña, the opposite of El Niño. A La Niña winter typically means we see warmer, wetter conditions in the Pacific Northwest and warmer, dryer conditions in the entirety of the South, but especially the Southeast.

Even if we do see some flurries, David said it’s unlikely that it will stick.

“Things have been so warm here, the ground has been so warm so as we head into Christmas anything that falls isn’t going to stick,” he said.

David added that just because we may not see any flurries this year, we could still experience other winter weather like ice and freezing rain.

So the short answer: probably not.

Still, never say never, right?

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