When Extreme Weather and Football Collide

With football season well underway, many people are not only enjoying the return of the game itself, but also the return of “football weather”. Here are a few examples of when weather got a little too extreme during football games.

Ice Bowl

Dallas Cowboys vs. Green Bay Packers – December 31, 1967

This football game remains one of the most brutal in terms of weather conditions. Air temperatures plummeted to -14°F at one point during the game with a wind chill ranging from -33°F to – 37°F. According to the NFL, the wind chill that day dropped to -48°F, but this was using an older version of the way the National Weather Service determines a wind chill value. We now measure wind chill at 5 feet or “face value” as opposed to the pre-2001 measurement of 33 feet or 10 meters. In such dangerous temperatures, it takes anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes for frostbite to set in on a calm day, and less than 10 minutes on a windy one. According to the National Weather Service-Green Bay, this game proved deadly for one elderly fan that died from exposure to the cold. In addition, referees could not use their metal whistles and had to shout all of their calls.

Photo Courtesy: Packers.com

Another cold weather playoff game deserving of attention was between the San Diego Chargers and the Cincinnati Bengals on January 10th, 1982. Air temperature dropped to -9°F with a wind chill as low as -34°F. One of those moments I’m sure the Chargers (and possibly many of the Bengals) were kicking themselves that they didn’t secure home-field advantage.

Fog Bowl

Philadelphia Eagles vs. Chicago Bears – December 31, 1998

This one was fascinating to see or try to see on TV. High pressure sat over the region bringing sunshine and relatively mild late December temperatures in the mid-to upper-30s that afternoon. During the morning, fog developed over the 32°F Lake Michigan water. As the sun warmed the ground, a lake breeze developed as air rose over land due to daytime heating. This helped push the foggy air inland, replacing the rising air. As the fog enveloped Soldier Field, CBS was forced to use on field cameras to give the TV audience a better view of the game. The visibility was so low, the Soldier Field Public Address Announcer had to get play-by-play results via a two-way radio so he could offer down and distance after each play.

Photo Courtesy: ESPN.com

Snow Bowl

Detroit Lions vs. Philadelphia Eagles – December 8, 2013

There are so many great examples of immense snowfall and football. I’ll focus on a more recent event and one which involves my Detroit Lions (who did not fare well in this game). It was the great set-up for a heavy snow in Philadelphia as a large, potent area of low pressure trekked from the Southern Plains to the Northeast. This system had a history of heavy snowfall where more than 23.3” of snow fell in Duluth, Minnesota. There was also a treacherous icy side to the storm which caused power outages in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. As the system moved south of Philadelphia, temperatures stayed around the freezing mark all day. In addition, abundant low-level moisture was available thanks to the proximity of the Atlantic Ocean. The snowfall started slowly then began to pick up before game and fell too fast for stadium crews to clear off the field. The snow was so deep; the coin toss had to be done twice as the first flip landed sideways in the snow. Officially 8.6” of snow fell in Philadelphia that day as the Eagles won 34-20.

Photo Courtesy: NFL.com

“Monsoon” Bowl

Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Carolina Panthers- September 25, 2011

One of the wettest football games in NFL history was called by an incorrect name by the media: “Monsoon Bowl”. The word “monsoon”, simply put, is a seasonal change in the wind. I’m going straight to the National Weather Service for the proper definition:

A thermally driven wind arising from differential heating between a land mass and the adjacent ocean that reverses its direction seasonally.

When it comes to monsoons, you’ve got to have a change in seasonal winds in order to bring the rainy period. It was not a monsoon in Charlotte when the Jaguars played the Panthers week 3 of the 2011 NFL season. It was a deluge. The game began dry and ended dry, but for a period of less than an hour, it was absolute chaos from the sky. Nearly 4″ of rain fell over Bank of America Stadium from the second quarter through halftime. Field conditions went from grass to neighborhood pool by the time the third quarter started. Interesting weather side note: this day did not officially break a rainfall record at Charlotte International Airport, as this band of intense rain missed that area. During the second quarter rain, the game had a wonderfully odd score of 5-3 until the Jaguars got a touchdown on the last play of the half. The Panthers, however, went on to win 16-10.

Photo Courtesy: Panthers.com
Photo by Bob Leverone – Associated Press

Record High Temperatures

In terms of officially recorded high temperatures via the National Weather Service, the 2000 week 1 game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys had a game time temperature of 109°F (which remains a record high DFW for September 3rd). There is a big difference, though, between officially recorded temperatures and field temperatures. According to a 2002 study from Brigham Young University (“Synthetic Surface Heat Studies” by C. Frank Williams and Gilbert E. Pulley ), artificial turf absorbs heat much faster than natural grass and other surfaces. In some cases, artificial turf could be 40+°F hotter than surrounding areas. Even with this knowledge, it is still tough to find the “hottest game” in the NFL. I was able to find reports of a 130°F field temperature from the 1971 season opener between the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams, played on artificial turf at Tulane Stadium. I’m sure field temperatures today can reach as high as the 1971 game due to materials like ground rubber in FieldTurf. More studies need to be done with this, but I could only imagine how suffocating it must feel for an outdoor football game in early September, especially for Eagles’ running back Duce Staley. He ran for 201 yards on 26 carries that afternoon.

Photo Courtesy: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Looking back at these extreme weather events that have happened during football games, I have to wonder what the Philadelphia Eagles did to deserve playing in a lot of them… If you remember any other time where weather impacted a sports game, add it in the comments below!


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4 Comments


  1. What about the Freezer Bowl of January 10, 1982? Cincinnati Bengals v. San Diego Chargers for the AFC Championship (back when the Bengals were good and won playoff games!) Air temp -9 with a wind chill of -37.

  2. What about the famous “The Drive” game played in Cleveland in bitter cold on January 11, 1987? That performance by Elway against a very good Browns defense ranks as one of the NFL’s most memorable playoff games (unless you’re a Browns fan, of course).
    The “tuck rule” game between the Raiders and the Patriots played in driving snow was another memorable playoff game too.