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Winter Weather Awareness Week: The Ice Bowl, 50 years later

Fans watch the Green Bay Packers play the Dallas Cowboys during the NFL Championship Game, Dec. 31, 1967, at Lambeau Field. (AP Photo/File)

GREEN BAY (WLUK) --This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 NFL Championship Game, a game you may know better as the Ice Bowl.

To this day, it's still the coldest game in NFL history.

Fifty years ago this winter, the coldest game in NFL history kicked off at Lambeau Field on December 31, 1967. Kickoff temperature: 13 degrees below zero. Wind chill: 36 below zero.

The mercury was as low as the stakes were high for the 1967 NFL Championship, known now as the Ice Bowl.

The game and its arctic cold will never be forgotten, but it was the extreme that cold nearly made it impossible for any footage of the game to survive.

"The colder it got the more likely the film was to crack in half. You had to delicately thread the film through the camera so the scare was that something big would happen while you were doing this, or your hands would freeze. Either way," said Bob Schulze, a former FOX 11 reporter.

Schulze wasn't alone in braving the cold.

More than 50,000 fans attended the Ice Bowl and the bitter cold was actually something of a rude surprise.

The winter of 1967 ended up being a rather typical one, temperature-wise. And in terms of snow, it is actually the second-least snowy year on record in Green Bay. Earlier that month, the weather had been fairly normal. Balmy, even, at times.

But just the right combination of factors came together at just the wrong time for Titletown, and the coldest air of that winter season descended up on the city the day of the Ice Bowl. That was due in part to the upper air pattern. We had been in what's known as a split flow. On Dec. 16, one branch of the jet stream to our south, and another to our north. The northern branch had been keeping the bitter cold arctic air at bay.

Two weeks later, that had changed drastically by Dec. 30, the day before the Ice Bowl. The jet stream had consolidated and formed into a huge trough, dipping down well into the central U.S.

There was nothing stopping bitter cold air from moving in, and sure enough, it'd been a little chillier in the week leading up to the Ice Bowl.

But it would take one more thing for the very coldest of the arctic air to invade.

On Dec. 28, a disturbance began moving across northwestern Canada, riding the jet stream south. By the afternoon of the 29th, the cold front associated with that storm had already blown through Canada, and was pushing through Minnesota.

On the eve of the Ice Bowl, the front swept through Wisconsin, and that arctic air had truly arrived behind it.

The rapid movement of the front caught forecasters off guard. Forecasts the night before had called for a highs in the 20s the next day. But from 9 p.m Saturday to 9 a.m. Sunday, the temperature dropped nearly 30 degrees, from 13 above to 16 below zero. Factor in blustery winds at 10 to 15 miles per hour, and wind chill dropped to 36 below zero at kickoff.

To this day, no game in NFL history has dethroned the Ice Bowl as the coldest game every played.

Not only was the game dangerously cold, but many people in attendance weren't even dressed for that cold.

Later this week, FOX 11 Meteorologist Katy Kramer will have a look at how far the technology of staying warm has come in the last 50 years.

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