December 1983. Ronald Reagan was president. Michael Jackson's Billie Jean made the Hot 100 No. 1 singles list. And the Red River turned to ice.
At zero degrees, tap water in an ice tray, only needs to be in the freezer for a few hours to change into ice cubes. But, it takes a little bit longer for a river to freeze over. In the winter of 1983, the Red turned to ice after several days of temperatures at or below freezing.
"It was a record cold air mass. It was pretty well forecast," said C.S. Ross, a hydrologist at the National Weather Service in Shreveport. He said it was the perfect storm for ice formation on the Red River.
"You have to have three conditions. Long periods of at or below freezing temperatures. The Red River had to of been at low water with very little current. The Red was only about 8 feet of stage. And also very little wind in the period as well. That's what it takes to make ice on the Red River. Cross Lake. Duck Pond. Any body of water here in Shreveport," Ross said.
And that's exactly what happens.
An Arctic high pressure formed over the Northwest Territories of Canada and spread dry Arctic air into the southern United States during the period of Dec. 20-21, 1983 and resulted in record low temperatures throughout the Christmas period as well as into New Year's Eve.
The icy arctic air did not lessen it's chilling grip quickly. The ArkLaTex endured 138 hours of temperatures at or below freezing. And that resulted in signs of the ice blockade to come. Before Christmas Day, there were ice flows coming down the Red River and forming along the banks.
According to the weather service's records, ice started coming down river around Dec. 21 or so and pretty much froze over around Christmas. It continued from after Christmas all the way to the new year.
And according to Billy Andrews, author of the book "Outstanding Weather Phenomena in the ArkLaTex," Christmas Day was beyond the realm of our normal cold around here. That was the coldest Christmas ever with a morning low of 8 degrees and a high of only 20 degrees.
Normally when you think of ice freezing, it's nice and smooth and almost glassy freezing. But the Red froze in chunks. Why?
The Red River was at low water but it still had enough current in it to result in heaves and thaws. And was not a smooth ice surface, but kind of rough. A curious sight to behold by the locals.
There were people out there walking on it. There were people with tripods and cameras And all of this was going on and the water was still moving underneath the ice.
Fortunately, the record cold didn't last a record length of time. After New Years day of 1984, the temperatures warmed back up and resulted in the Red thawing.
According to Ross, the region have a rough winter this go-around, comparable to 2011 but hopefully not quite as icy as '83.
For more information on the 1983 cold wave, just go to www.ktbs.com.