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Deep Freeze Recap: Coldest Temperatures of the Century for Some

By Nick Wiltgen
Published: January 10, 2014

St. Louis

St. Louis

The low of 8 below zero Monday, Jan. 6, was the city's coldest since a low of -12 Feb. 3, 1996, and the first subzero low at all since Jan. 5, 1999. Photo: Ice in the Mississippi River flows past the Gateway Arch Tuesday, Jan. 7. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

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Now that the January 2014 deep freeze is abating, it's time to take stock of its place in history.

The core of the cold came Monday, Jan. 6, and Tuesday, Jan. 7. Subzero temperatures affected a large swath from Montana to New York and as far south as northern Oklahoma and northern Alabama.

(MORE: Did "Polar Vortex" Cause Deep Freeze?)

Persistent winds pushed wind chills into life-threatening territory, reaching 40 below to 60 below zero across a large swath of the Midwest. The National Weather Service in Wilmington, Ohio, said the wind chills were the coldest observed in central and southwest Ohio since 1994.

Records Broken... and Not Broken

On Tuesday, more than 50 primary weather observation sites (mostly in major cities) recorded record lows for the date.

A few major cities, including Atlanta and Indianapolis, recorded their lowest temperatures since the mid-1990s. A few more cities, including Toledo, Ohio (1 degree Tuesday) and Madison, Wis. (9 degrees below zero Monday) recorded their lowest daytime highs since the 1990s. The slideshow above features a selection of cities that recorded low-temperature benchmarks not seen so far in the 21st century.

The National Weather Service says the summit of Mount Mitchell, N.C., recorded a low of 24 degrees below zero Tuesday morning, the lowest temperature recorded there since Jan. 28, 1986 – the same day cold weather caused the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster at Cape Canaveral, Fla.

However, quite a few major cities in the heart of the cold did not establish low-temperature marks for this century. In Birmingham, Ala., and Nashville, Tenn., low temperatures were the coldest since January 2003. New York City set its first daily low temperature record since 1996, but the low of 4 degrees Tuesday morning was not as cold as the 1-degree reading they had Jan. 16, 2004.

(MORE: Search Past Weather Data on Weather Underground)

Many sites in Ohio, including Cincinnati and Columbus, failed to drop below low temperatures observed in cold snaps during 2009 and 2011.

Minneapolis-St. Paul spent 62 consecutive hours below zero and Chicago spent 37 straight hours in subzero territory, but these streaks failed to make the historical top 10 for either city.

Notably, as of Wednesday afternoon we have not received any reports of all-time or even January monthly record lows anywhere in the U.S. from this arctic outbreak. (At the time of this writing, we are awaiting complete Tuesday data from the National Climatic Data Center.) Two long-term cooperative observation sites in Maine recorded their coldest January daily high temperatures on record, though one of those only tied the previous record.

Contrast this with December 2013, when dozens of all-time December record highs and record-warm daily lows were tied or broken, especially ahead of Winter Storm Gemini Dec. 21-23.

(MORE: Historic December 2013 Heat, Rainfall)

Greg Carbin of the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center told The Weather Channel that according to reanalysis data, Monday, Jan. 6 ranked as the 40th-coldest day on record since 1900 for the continental U.S., with an average temperature of 17.9 degrees for the Lower 48.

According to this data set, Monday was the coldest day of the 21st century thus far nationally, and the coldest since Jan. 12-13, 1997, but pales in comparison to the arctic outbreaks of December 1983 and December 1989, which together take the top four slots on the list.

One reason the January 2014 deep freeze was unable to break many long-term records is its short life span. The coldest air moved into and out of most locations within a 36-hour span, often not lasting enough to keep temperatures anywhere near historic lows for a full 24-hour calendar day.

In addition, the perfect recipe for extremely cold temperatures is a deep snowpack and calm winds. While the gusty winds throughout this cold snap made wind chills very dangerous, they also prevented actual air temperatures from plummeting to their lowest potential. Furthermore, a number of locations from Ohio to the Mid-Atlantic and Deep South had little or no snow cover, either due to lack of snowfall or the sudden warmup and rain that preceded this bout of frigid air in the East.

(MORE: Frostbite Danger | Prevent Frozen Pipes)

MORE: January 2014 Deep Freeze Photos

St. Louis

St. Louis

Snow and ice are seen covering up Mississippi River and downtown St. Louis Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

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