The Freezing of the Ohio River

Crossing the Ohio River on foot - Photo courtesy of Richard Hines
Crossing the Ohio River on foot – Photo courtesy of Richard Hines

“That’s Louisville weather for ya!” is one of the phrases we hear a lot of during the winter.  We haven’t seen temperatures remain in single digits for an extended period of time in Louisville for a few years now.  What a lot of us don’t understand is that most people just call this “weather”.

This year some Louisvillians are having to replace their home heating units because of three consecutive days  below 10 degrees.  I woke up 3 days in a row with an in-home temperature of 52 degrees.  That is not sexy.  But I
can’t say that it’s unprecedented.  If you’ve lived in Louisville for long, or you like to be a nerd like me and read about it, you will know that the Ohio River has actually frozen over on multiple occasions.  Yes, a large, swiftly flowing body of water at low altitude is an unlikely candidate for freezing over, but it happens.  The earliest record of this is from 1856.  Then you can fast forward 61 years to 1917 for another Ohio River freezing.  Next time this happened was…yep, 61 years after that in 1978, where they recorded 28 straight days below ZERO!

1917 Ohio River freeze - Photo courtesy of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County
1917 Ohio River freeze – Photo courtesy of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

Weather is cyclical, and my expert opinion says that a lot of these cycles repeat themselves every 60-ish years.  But 20140108_094703instead of acknowledging these cycles, we blame some of the most ridiculous things, like our local meteorologists, the Ohio River, and even global warming.  No doubt, Louisville has a particularly unique position on the Ohio River in a low-lying valley about halfway between the northernmost and southernmost points in the Eastern U.S.  It is to be expected that we experience some interesting conditions here since Kentucky acts as the weather fulcrum between the North and South U.S., however it’s always entertaining to hear people talk about it in the winter months.  People in Louisville act shocked when we get a few 65 degree days in the middle of December and January, yet it happens all the time!

Skating on the pond at Cherokee Park Golf Course | 1/8/14
Skating on the pond at Cherokee Park Golf Course | 1/8/14


I figured that today I would share some images from an old Ohio River freezing as well as some new images from our own Cherokee Park Golf Course.  I was driving by this morning and I saw a man skating on the pond, so I had to stop and get some shots.  Don’t worry though, if my calculations are correct, the Ohio River won’t freeze over again until 2039.  And that is my prediction.  We will talk about this again in 25 years. Until then, stay warm.  The temperature is supposed to be back up in the 50s later this week, anyway.

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