Community Curious Louisville

The weather has taken a turn for the frigid, and that got Curious Louisville listener Nick thinking about cold snaps of days gone by. He writes:

I am retired and have lived on the waterfront in Jeffersonville across from downtown Louisville for the past 10 years. Every morning I look out upon the river and in 10 years I have not seen much ice on the river.

I do have a vague childhood memory of riding across the Second Street Bridge in my parents’ car in the mid 1960s and looking out and seeing that the river was frozen over or almost frozen over. But I’m not sure if that is an accurate memory.

As it happens, WFPL reported on this very phenomenon in January of last year. Ja’Nel Johnson spoke with the National Weather Service and learned that the Ohio River froze over during the winters of 1976-1977 and 1977-1978, which were a couple of the coldest winters on record for Kentucky:

There were 28 days with negative-zero degree temperatures and a recorded temperature of negative-25 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. It’s believed the ice on the Ohio River was 12 inches thick.

Prior to the chilly late ’70s, the river had frozen between December 1917 and January 1918 (temperatures averaged 28.6 degrees that winter). Records say the river froze over its entire length until January 30, 1918.

And we know the river was frozen solid in 1856, too. That’s when Margaret Garner walked across the ice in Covington, Kentucky, while escaping from enslavement in Boone County. Her story was later the basis for Toni Morrison’s novel, “Beloved.”

Will we be able to ice skate our way out of RiverLink tolls any time soon? Don’t count on it. For a moving body of water to freeze, you need a prolonged period of below-freezing temperatures, and our current chill is predicted to lift by next weekend.

Have a question about weather, rivers, ice, or anything else? Ask us at CuriousLouisville.org!

Laura produces Recut, Curious Louisville, and other audio news stories and podcasts for WFPL.