Sampson County’s Improbable Winter of 1931-1932

As we in Sampson County find ourselves in the throes of a severe February arctic blast, I hear some older citizens talk about how this type of weather pattern was commonplace back in the “old days”.  They rail about snow constantly covering the ground and bitter cold in their childhoods.

Part of this is accurate as the National Weather Bureau will verify.  A minus 4 degree F on February 1st, 1936 and a number of lows in single digits in the winters of 1917 and 1918, in the midst of the great flu epidemic, caused many jars of fruit and vegetables to burst.  Close to 30 inches of snow was recorded in Sampson County on March 1st, 1927.

What is often overlooked is the winter of 1931-1932, the likes of which have never been seen before or since in Sampson and surrounding counties!  This winter is the most unique recorded in our county. It is hard to imagine field peas (cow peas) being picked fresh on Christmas Day 1931 or cotton fields blooming in February 1932 from the last summer’s crop. This happened on our farm and others where the 1931 stalks had been left.

My parents and some of their contemporaries often recalled this and a tenant farmer, Lonnie Sessoms, on our farm tended both crops.  This was possible because cotton is, by nature, a perennial, if temperatures stay warm.

This uncommonly warm weather occurred in a broad band from Fayetteville eastward.  The coldest snaps, by sheer chance, were tempered by unmoving cloud covers such that killing frosts were averted.  All this had a downside for rural folks.  Much hog meat spoiled because when “hog killings” were done based on predicted freezing temperatures, cloud covers prevented freezing.  Then the temperatures quickly climbed and much meat spoiled.  This happened several times that winter to some families.

Thus a winter unlike any other in our recorded history occurred in 1931-1932.