January 1940:Weather May Be the Coldest in Dade

January 1940 Weather May Be the Coldest Ever in Dade

Historically Speaking

Jan. 27, 2016

Donna M. Street


Cold weather has been on everyone’s mind since they started talking about the big storm of  last weekend.  I have a love/hate relationship with storms and bad weather.  Stories of bad weather were object lessons about being careful.  One example was a tale from 1940 of an accident on Highway 11.


When I first moved to Sand Mountain in 1978, my dad and I began a running dialogue of weather that continued until his death last year.  “Leave you water dripping!”. . . “How many inches of snow do you have?”. . . “Did you feel the earthquake this morning?” and so on.   One day it snowed and I went across the road to the Mountain View Garden Center to visit  friends, Lloyd, Trish and Sanford Stephens.  Sanford and his young protégé, Luke Gray, were about to have some fun on Brow Road in the snow and I went along.  There were no cars but lots of open space and sliding down the road behind a truck.  We had fun and I walked home cold, warmed up and called mother and daddy and regale them with my tales of the day.  I quickly received an upbraiding from Daddy about the dangers of playing in the snow on the highway.  I have never thought of playing in the road in the snow again.


The tale that he told was of an accident that happened in January 1940 and critically injured Robert A. Ryan, Sr.  I talked to Bobby(Robert A. Ryan, Jr.) about the incident and he and I disagreed about the date. After some research for articles about weather, I found the facts of the 1940  accident.  I was so thrilled to win an argument with Bobby.  Not in a haughty way, just a fun-loving poke in the ribs that Bobby was wrong and I was right.  It may never happen again.  Anyway, the following is the article (Thursday, January 11, 1940 ) about the accident.

Sleigh Riders Are Injured Sunday, One Seriously

Robert Ryan, of Morganville, is in a Chattanooga hospital with a fractured back, and Miss Bettye Oliver, also of Morganville is suffering from a broken arm, as a result of an accident occurring Sunday afternoon when an automobile collided with a crowd of sleigh riders on the highway at Morganville.

Ryan,  it is said, must remain in the hospital for come three or four months and though his injury is considered serious, it is thought by examining physicians that he will be  “all right” within that time.  The young man’s spine was not injured, it is said.

George “Cobb” Oliver, an eye witness of the accident said some twelve or fifteen young people were riding sleds tied on behind the automobile driven by Frank Kenley.  “There were five sleds tied on, ” Oliver said, “and they met a car as they passed one parked on the side of the highway near Morganville church-house.”  The approaching car, it is said skidded and collided with the “train” of joy riders.  The driver of the approaching car, it is said, must have applied his brakes, which on the frozen surface, caused the machine to swerve.  The name of the driver was not learned but the machine bore New York licenses.

Several other member of the party, including Dabbs Doyle, suffered from shock.

The good news is that Robert Ryan did recover from the accident and lived a long and productive life.  According to both Bobby and Donald Street, the sleds were really car hoods.  That might have been the reason for the caution from my father about playing in the snow attached to a vehicle.

On January 23, 1940, it snowed 8.2″ which according to Nick Austin, Meteorologists at WRCB and was the seventh largest amount in the area. His article was written on January 11, 2011, which was tied as the sixth highest amount of snow 8.4 inches in the nine decades. This of course was the recording at the airport in Chattanooga and could frequently be different in Dade.

On Feb. 1, 1940 the DCTimes reported that such cold weather–never before seen in our lifetime–in Dade County. 

There was hardly a day in January of 1940 that the temperature was above freezing.  Four days still hold the cold record for the day.  On Friday, January 19, the low was 0 degrees.  On Friday, January 26, the low was 1 degree. On Sat. January 27, the low was 2 degrees.  On Sunday, January 28, the low was 4 degrees.  It may be the coldest month ever recorded in the Chattanooga area.

I found the following article in the January 20, 1988 issue of the Sentinel and thought it was appropriate in this tale. If you remember the weather had just kicked us with more than 8 inches of snow.

1940 Was Cold Year

For those of you who are trying to remember when there was as much snow on the ground or colder temperatures in the area as experienced during recent days, a notebook was kept by E.R. Ryan who penned the following records:

            January 26, 1940, the area woke up to 11 inches of snow on the ground.

            January 26, 19400, the temperature in Dade County dropped to 4 degrees below zero; 12 degrees was the official reading at Lovell Field with 18 degrees below zero reading in other places throughout the area.

            January 27 and 28, 1940, 18 degrees below zero temperatures were recorded both days at Morganville.  On the same day, Lookout Creek froze to a 4 inch thickness and the Tennessee River froze over. 

            On January 30, 1940, area residents skated on Lookout Creek.

My mother remembers that they missed about three weeks of school during this month. That may the most amount of time out of school until the ice storm of 1960 (another record breaking weather event).  It is my plan to write about some other of those record breakers.  I can remember five of the eight that Nick Austin listed and plan to do more research.  If you have any thoughts on the weather in 1940 or have a diary for that time or any other weather tales, then contact me at donnam.street@gmail.com or 657-7305.  If anyone has pictures of anyone skating on Lookout Creek or cars driving on the Tennessee River, I would love to copy them.

I am grateful that my parents have lived so long and have shared the details of their lives with us.  I really like people who note what is happening with the weather in this community.  At some time I will study the articles by Kevin Wall, who writes weekly for the Sentinel in the New Home column.  In future years, some other research hound will look back on Kevin’s articles to see what was going on with the weather.

One last note, many of you remember Jewel Smalley who wrote for the Sentinel for many years in the last three decades.  Many of the articles which I have been reading about the storms in the 80’s and 90’s were written by her.  She has been severely ill and in the hospital  and is slowly improving.  Please keep her in your thoughts and prayers for a steady and prosperous recovery.










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