The Five Coldest Recorded Temperatures in American History

“*the sound of a human sized block of ice shattering after dropping to the ground*”

~Americans this winter

frozen lighthouse

This week, America has been experiencing an event known as a “Polar Vortex” which apparently is not the name of an albino porn star, but rather some science term that means “it got really fucking cold everywhere except for southern California, who spent a whole week bragging about how warm it was while people in the Midwest were actively freezing to death.”  As subzero temperatures swept across the nation, seeing wind chills as low as 50 degrees below zero, the nation collectively (except for southern California.  Fuck you guys) bundled up in every article of clothing they owned and exclaimed a single, extended, “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu…”

Schools closed, roads ground to a halt, residents of Chicago decided that “Chiberia” was the best pun they could come up with after the cold cut off much of the circulation to their brains, and people who remember commercials from 1998 started imagining Wendy’s Spicy Chicken Sandwiches in a futile attempt to warm themselves.

Now some people, when faced with a bleak and cold environment, like to think of warm, happy thoughts.  A comfy blanket.  A hot bowl of soup.  Slowly but enjoyably suffocating to death between Dolly Parton’s boobs in 1973.  Us?  We just get whiskey drunk and look at places that are even colder so we can try to convince ourselves to stop being such goddamn pussies over this goddamn negative 15 degree weather.

That’s why we’re going to show you a list of cities from five states in America where, and we’re just guessing here, it’s too cold for fire to even exist.

The Five Coldest Recorded Temperatures in American History (by state)

 frozen car

Only one state in all of the nation has never recorded a temperature below zero, and that state was Hawaii, which doesn’t even count.  Otherwise, every American has likely, at one time in their life, had to go outside when it’s been cold enough to realize what your snot feels like when it starts to freeze, though only the (un)lucky ones have been able to spend time in the kind of weather that can turn a cup of boiling water into snow instantaneously.

Anyway, the point being, all of us have had to weather impossible cold, and most of us have just finished thawing off from the last batch of awful weather (shut up, So Cal) but no matter how bad things got in your neck of the woods, you can be thankful you were never at these places.

5- Maybell Colorado: -61 °F on February 1st, 1985

 colorado elk

Located in the northwest corner of Colorado, Maybell is an unincorporated town with a population of 72, or roughly as many people as you’ll see on a single New York Subway car at 11 PM on a Tuesday.  Located at an elevation of slightly under 6,000 feet, Maybell has wildly fluctuating seasons with surprisingly hot summers paired with frostbitten winters, and it’s closest call to a claim of fame is the fact that once a year 700 or so horses are led through the town on the way to where they actually want to go.

Sure, it’s nothing overly exciting, but it’s quaint, and as far as places populated by a meager 72 people go, it’s definitely one of the more preferred claims to fame.  The worst claim to fame, of course, would be having a population of 72 serial killers.  And only slightly preferable to that would be “oh yeah once it got so cold in our town that animals exploded from the cold (probably) (actually probably not) (but could you imagine if that was a thing?).”  And that’s what happened on February 1st, 1985, when the residents of Maybell, Colorado faced temperatures of 61 degrees below zero without taking wind chill into account, because every so often God wants to find a way to tell his children that the universe is random and without meaning and in the end we all die cold and alone.

Think that went to a dark place?  Strap yourselves in, things are only gonna get worse.

4- Moran, Wyoming:   –63 °F on February 9th, 1933

 wyoming cold

When temperatures dip below freezing in major American cities, people freak out.  Even though it’s 2014, and we live in an age where people have both invented lifelike silicon sex dolls and the concept of society actively shunning someone for purchasing a lifelike silicon sex doll, we still are terrified of the cold.  We stock up on food and blankets, we make sure to leave our faucets dribbling to ensure our pipes don’t freeze, and we set up dozens of space heaters, which we then attach to the same power strip, because if we’re lucky our apartment will catch fire and then we won’t be cold anymore.  Again, that’s in 2014, in parts of the country that have the most advanced infrastructures in the history of mankind.  We want you to keep in mind when you think of suffering through minus 63 degrees in the 1930s.

Here is an incomplete list of essential things that hadn’t even been invented in 1933.  Microwaves.  Vinyl records.  Tractors.  Color television.  Canned beer.  The Colt revolver.  Ballpoint pens.  Cake mix.  Your mom (assuming your mother was born after the year 1933).  None of these existed when Moran, Wyoming had to face colder temperatures than the surface of Mars.

Moran, Wyoming is an unincorporated community that is known as the state’s coldest continually inhabited place.  It also is one letter away from being called “Moron” which might be a subtle damnation against those who choose to live there willingly.  Larger than Maybell, Moran has its own elementary school, and a cursory google search shows that there are currently at least four families looking to sell their Moran, Wyoming homes and flee before the icy tendrils of Jack Frost smite them.  We don’t blame them.  Even with modern inventions such as “not living in 1933 in a goddamn ice bowl” we can’t imagine wanting to spend too many winters in that kind of weather.

3- Peter Sinks, Utah:  69 °F on February 1, 1985

 Peter Sinks

Peter Sinks is a natural sinkhole in northern Utah, and it’s responsible for the second coldest temperature ever recorded in the continuous United States, which is probably one of the more terrifying sentences we’ve had to write on this site.  It gets worse, reading through the Wikipedia article of Peter Sinks offers such terrifyingly matter-of-fact statements as, “even in the summer, the bottom of the sinkhole rarely goes four consecutive days without freezing,” “It is so cold near the bottom of the hole that trees are unable to grow,” and, “the difference between the cold air ‘lake’ and the warmer air above the valley can be different by as much as 70°F.”

You know how the movie Gravity began by saying “In space, life is impossible”?  We’re pretty sure that was just a typo, and the movie all took place in Peter Sinks.

No one knew Peter Sinks existed until 1983, when meteorological student Zane Stephens discovered it.  He ended up working with the Utah Climate Center to place measuring instruments in the valley the following hear, and when temperatures dropped to 69.3 degrees below zero on February 1st, 1985, he went there himself to confirm the temperature personally, and while everything we’ve read seems to imply that he took measurements, left, and continued his long and fulfilling career with the Utah Climate Center, we also just saw the words “69 degrees below zero” and “he went there himself” so we’re just going to assume he froze to death right then and there and are going to start the twitter campaign for #RIPZaneStephens.

And for you astute readers that might have noticed, yes, this was the exact same day that Maybell, Colorado hit negative 61 degrees.  So basically, if you’re a fan of not freezing to death like the end of a fucking Jack London story, maybe being alive and outside on February 1st, 1985 would not be for you.


2- Rogers Pass, Montana:  -70 °F on January 20th, 1954

 rogers pass



1- Prospect Creek, Alaska:  -80 °F on January 23rd, 1971

 prospect creek

Prospect Creek is a currently uninhabited settlement that used to be home to numerous mining expeditions, and is the current location of Pump Station 5 of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS).  Over 40 years ago, while a group of what we can only assume are White Walkers were working on constructing TAPS and the Pump Station, when they measured a temperature of minus 80 degrees, as in an eight, followed by a zero, as in, if you took the age of each of the two main characters of “This is 40” and added them together, and converted that to degrees, and then cryogenically froze Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann you still wouldn’t be able to fathom how skull-fuckingly cold negative 80 degrees is.  If that happened today, and someone tried to measure the temperature with a digital thermometer, it would read, “Fuck you, I’m out,” and then explode in your hands so that, for a brief second, both you and the thermometer might feel just a hint of warmth.

When you live in Alaska, you probably have to be used to some pretty cold winters, but this figure is truly mind-boggling.  Just thinking about it made us want to drink a lot of whiskey, and after we did that we asked google the following question.

at what tempurature does your eyeballs freezes

We never got an answer, but if we had to guess, we’d say…minus 80 doesn’t sound wrong, now does it?

And there you have it.  The coldest temperatures in America.  You may now go back to trying desperately to make yourself feel warm.  Might we recommend opening a can of chicken noodle soup, pouring out the soup, rinsing the can, and filling the can with whiskey?  That little nugget of advice is on the house, stay safe out there.

One response to “The Five Coldest Recorded Temperatures in American History

  1. Zane Stephens

    Sorry… dead yet! Yes, I came up with the concept of studying cold air valleys in northern Utah along with another meteorogist buddy Mike No man. Yes…I did discover Peter Sinks in 1983 and Mike, MY TV in Salt Lake, Gail Bingham (then Utah State Climatologist) and Gaylan Ashcroft (Assistant State Climatologist) confirmed the temperature and had the thermometer calibrated and checked by the US Bureau of Standards. Thus the official temperature. There is nothing official with the Tiger’s Pass temperature which is likely bogus. No, I’m not dead and no I don’t work at the Utah Climate Center, but I do work full time in meteorology…….no I’m not RIPZaneStephens…..not yet anyway!

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