by Max Brantley
A late spring snow is in the offing for a big part of the Central U.S. and some of those flakes could fall in Arkansas, in the far northwestern corner. If so, it would be a record.
John Robinson of the National Weather Service provides the historical context:
Since we've had a lot of questions about Arkansas snows in April and/or May, here are some statistics worked up by Brian Smith, one of our senior forecasters...
Latest accumulating snow: 0.2 inch at Corning on April 24, 1910
Latest snow: Trace at Fayetteville, Gravette, and Harrison on April 30, 1903
For Little Rock:
Latest accumulating snow: 0.8 inch on March 30, 1987
Latest snow: Trace on April 19, 1983
We've gotten e-mails and seen comments online about people saying they had seen accumulating snow at various places in Arkansas in May. While it's important to remember that weather records are taken from official observing stations only, the dates and years that people have said they saw snow in Arkansas in May would have been virtually impossible.
Also, It is important to note that, at various times over the years, there was a requirement that hail be reported as "snow" (technically, frozen precipitation) so there will be records from some years that show "snow" in the summer months.
Here is something I worked up last night in reply to a media e-mail. I had Brian Smith look this over, as well:
This is what we had heard: Snow fell sometime early in May, 1975, in Little Rock and Stone County.
Records for May, 1975, do not show snow recorded at any station in Arkansas. Storm Data also has no mention of any snow. During the first week of May, 1975, both Mountain View and Little Rock recorded highs in the 70s or 80s every day and lows never got below the 40s at either station. There were some hail storms in the state during that time. We're thinking there may have been a lot of graupel (small hail) in places, and it may have piled up on the ground. Yesterday, I went to the Arkansas History Commission and went through the microfilms of the Stone County newspaper and the two Little Rock newspapers for the first 10 days of May, 1975. There was no mention of any snow, but some hail was mentioned.
No sooner did I get back to the office than I got an e-mail saying there was measurable snow in North Little Rock in May, 1976, and the woman said she remembered it because it broke the limbs on a plum tree, which were loaded with blossoms. Once again, records showed no station in Arkansas receiving snow in that month, and there was no mention of snow in Storm Data. Little Rock's high temperatures ranged from the mid 60s to lower 80s and, once again, lows never got below the mid 40s. I wrote the woman back saying that nothing could be found in the records for May, 1976, and she replied that maybe it was April! (Also, it would strike me as really odd that fruit trees in central Arkansas were just blossoming in early May.)
So, I think all we've found so far is some faulty memories.
I've found that things always seem to grow in scope the further away in time that you get from the event. I don't know how many times I've heard that the Arkadelphia tornado was F5; it was actually F4. The Beebe tornado was supposedly F4; it was actually F3 (as rated separately by us and wind engineers). A couple of years after the Arkadephia tornado, a newspaper in northwest Arkansas wrote an editorial (reprinted by several other newspapers)about tornado sirens and stated that no warning was in effect for Arkadelphia. This was 100% false. In fact, the warning was in effect for so long there was even some discussion as to how much lead time is too much.
By the way, all the temperatures and precipitation records for Arkansas are available for anyone to see on the National Climatic Data Center's Web site (ncdc.noaa.gov and look for "Climatological Data Publication"). Storm Data is available at the same site. All this data is now available for free viewing. Up until a year or so ago, it was not free to the public.