The May Snowfall

Glen Conner
State Climatologist Emeritus for Kentucky

Jefferson County, Kentucky is fortunate to have two climate stations with long records. These stations, Louisville and Springdale, are both within the metropolitan area. Best of all, the Louisville record began the month after the Springdale record ended (December, 1872). When combined, the record extends from 1841 through 1997 missing only 20 temperature and 23 precipitation months of the 1,884 months during the period. Although the stations are technically incompatible, it is instructive to view them together on a single graph.

Fortunately, we don't have to wonder because the network of climate stations record daily observations. One such Washington County station was located in Springfield, Kentucky during May 1894.

The voluntary observer at Springfield was Miles Saunders who had made observations there since January 1893. A copy of his report is on the next page. The first six or seven days of the month are missing data entries. His note on the observer form says that he was absent. He doesn't say why he was absent but, at earlier times, he commented that he had been ill. Beginning on 9 May, the maximum temperatures were in the eighties and reached 92°F on the 17th. On the 18th, temperature dropped from a maximum of 83°F to the minimum of 35°F, a range of 48°F. Winter had returned! On the 19th and 20th, the maximum each day was 45°F.

On the 20 May 1894, Mr. Saunders recorded 5.00 inches of snow! Could that be? In the amount of precipitation column, he entered 1.48 inches. That is more than enough to produce the five inch snow with plenty left over for rain. In addition, the amount of snow is repeated in the Monthly Summary on the upper right of the form. He apparently understood that we might question his entry because he wrote remarks, somewhat hard to read perhaps, that would verify his observation: "On 19 & 20 rain all day & night of 20 Morn Heavy snow fell from 6 to noon & went off in drizzling rain - trees broke under the weight of snow About 5 or 6 inches fell - "

These remarks leave no room to doubt his observation. By 20 May, the trees were fully foliated and the limbs broke, unable to support the weight of the snow on all those leaves.

Was there a "big snow" in May? Indeed, there was, at least in Springfield! Rev. Miles Saunders, as he signed his November 1895 report, wouldn't lie.

Picture of his Observer's Records Observer's Record