A “cold winter” is a relative concept. Californians and Floridians shiver at 40ºF while a Minnesotan shrugs off zero degrees. But with a few exceptions, the Midwest region tends to dominate when it comes to perilously cold winters. Frequent ice and snow storms and sub-sub-zero temperatures close roads, deteriorate cars, and keep residents housebound or swathed in multiple layers of outdoor winter-wear.
The five most freezing cities were all located in the Midwestern states of Minnesota and North Dakota and averaged from 9.0ºF to 11.7ºF with minimum temperatures ranging from -19ºF to -40ºF.
Grand Forks, ND
You could say that the city of Grand Forks was established due to cold weather. During the winter of 1870-1871 steamboat captain Alexander Griggs and his crew were forced to stay when their cargo flatboats froze in place on the Red River, according to the Grand Forks County Historical Society’s website. Griggs liked the area so much that he took out a land claim for present-day downtown Grand Forks and officially planted the town site in 1875. Grand Forks may have grown to be the third-largest city in North Dakota, but it still boasts bone-chilling winter weather: last December through March, the city’s temperature averaged 9.0ºF overall, ranging from an average of 3.5°F in January to a just-below-freezing 21.2°F average in March to welcome Spring.
International Falls, MN
In International Falls, they’re serious about their seriously cold weather– so serious that in February 2008 they went to court against rival town Fraser, CO for the legal rights to the city motto “The Icebox of the Nation.” International Falls claimed that they had used the slogan since 1948, longer than Fraser, and won exclusive rights to it from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in February 2008 just days before the temperature hit -40°F, a record low for the city, and the lowest low temperature on our list of cities for last winter.
Located just across the river from the U.S.-Canadian border, the small town of Baudette averaged a temperature of 9.6ºF from December to March last winter, but could drop to as low as -33ºF, as it did in February 2008. But Baudette knows how to turn that cold weather to their advantage. In 2007, the city started the Baudette Bay Hockey Classic, an all-day tournament on Baudette Bay featuring four high school teams. The tournament was designed to commemorate the tradition of outdoor hockey, and even the sub-zero February temperatures and heavy snows that had to be cleared off of ice before the games could not stop the Classic from being played in 2008.
Temperatures in Hibbing averaged a chilly 10.3ºF during the winter of 2007-2008 and dropped as low as -31ºF in both January and February. Hibbing has many wintertime activities, including three skating rinks (though the outdoor rinks must close when the temperature is -10ºF or below), snowmobile classes, and cross-country ski trails. The town is also very proud of its indoor winter sports; it has a club dedicated to the ice sport of curling that has over 480 members and hosts the biggest bonspiel (curling tournament) in the nation every April.
Freezing Fargo averaged 11.7ºF from December through March and fell to -31ºF in January 2008. But when the weather turns cold, residents of Fargo find plenty to do, with winter carnivals for families featuring dog sledding, Clydesdale sleigh rides, and a cross-country ski tournament. And when the sub-zero temperatures make outdoor activity impossible, the city hosts several indoor winter events, including the Fargo Winter Blues Festival. Last year, Fargo had an especially unusual way of chasing the cold away; for the 50th anniversary of The Kiwanis Club’s Pancake Karnival fundraiser, the city served out 34,818 pancakes on a freezing cold day in February, breaking the record for the world’s largest pancake feed.
–Contributed b Sarah Garrigan, a summer intern at WeatherBill.