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The Historic New Orleans Snowstorm of New Year’s Eve 1963

The Historic New Orleans Snowstorm of New Year’s Eve 1963

New Orleans is not a city known for snow, but on the last day of 1963, it experienced a rare and memorable snowstorm that covered the city in 4.5 inches of white powder. The snowstorm was part of a larger weather system that affected much of the southern United States, bringing record-breaking snowfall to some areas. The snowstorm had an impact on the city’s culture, economy, and sports, as well as creating some beautiful and unusual scenes.

On New Years Eve of 1963, University of Alabama Head Football Coach “Bear” Bryant prophetically said that the only thing that could have messed up his team’s chances in the Sugar Bowl against Ole Miss in New Orleans, LA was a freak snowstorm. 

Well, that’s just what they got, as 4.5″ of the white stuff fell the day before the game. 

Groundskeepers clearing the snow before the Sugar Bowl at Tulane Stadium. Image: The Times-Picayune, NOLA.com

The snowstorm was caused by a low-pressure system that originated in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico and moved northward across the Gulf of Mexico. As the system approached the central Gulf coast, it encountered a cold air mass that was already in place over the Deep South. The cold air and the moisture from the Gulf combined to produce heavy snowfall from Louisiana to Tennessee over the New Year holiday.

According to NOLA, “a record-breaking snowstorm socked much of the South that day, with flakes starting to fall locally at 2:45 a.m., according to a story in The States-Item. By the time the city began waking up around 6, cars and trees were already coated in white. By noon, an inch had fallen. When the snow finally stopped a good 18 hours after it started, it measured 4.5 inches, the most the city had seen since before the turn of the century.”

The snowstorm was unprecedented for many locations in the South, especially along the Gulf coast, where snow is very rare. According to the National Weather Service, some of the highest snow totals were:

  • Huntsville, Alabama: 17.1 inches
  • Meridian, Mississippi: 15 inches
  • Bay St. Louis, Mississippi: 10.5 inches
  • New Orleans, Louisiana: 4.5 inches

The snowfall in New Orleans was the most the city had seen since before the turn of the century, and the third-highest on record. The highest snowfall in New Orleans was 8.2 inches, which occurred on February 14 and 15, 1895.

This often-reproduced postcard shows Canal Street after the snow storm of 1895, referred to above. The storm turned the city into a giant playground and brought streetcars to a halt all over town. (NOLA Library)

The snowstorm had a significant impact on New Orleans, a city that is not prepared for such weather events. The snow caused power outages, traffic accidents, and damage to trees and buildings. Three people died in the storm, and the total damage was estimated at $700,000 (1963 dollars).

Nonetheless, ‘Bama won the game the following day, by a score of 12-7. The snowstorm made the field wet and slippery, which favored Alabama, which had a stronger running game. Mississippi, which relied more on passing, fumbled 11 times. The game was considered one of the greatest upsets in Sugar Bowl history, and added to the legend of Bear Bryant.

The snowstorm of New Year’s Eve 1963 was a historic and memorable event for New Orleans and the South. Many people took photos of the snow-covered city, capturing the beauty and the novelty of the scene. Some of these photos were sent to the New Orleans Assessors, who required property owners to fill out a description form and mail it in with a photograph.

The snowstorm was also commemorated in songs, stories, and poems. One of the most famous examples is the song “Lonesome 77203” by Hawkshaw Hawkins, which was recorded on February 13, 1963, but not released until after his death in a plane crash on March 5, 1963. The song mentions the snowstorm in New Orleans as part of the narrator’s longing for his lover, who is in prison. The song became a number one hit on the country charts in 1963.

The snowstorm of New Year’s Eve 1963 was a rare and remarkable event that showed a different side of New Orleans, a city that is usually associated with warmth and sunshine. The snowstorm brought challenges and hardships, but also joy and wonder, to the people who experienced it. It was a snowstorm that will not be forgotten.

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