The Coldest Place: How A Small Minnesota Town Earned the State's Frigid Title - Fox21Online (2023)

On February 2, 1996, two Minnesota towns battled to set a new record cold temperature


TOWER, Minn. – 21 years ago, the air temperature in Tower, Minnesota hit a chilly 60 degrees below zero. The town, with a population of 500, nestled in the Northland, is the coldest location based on average winter temperatures east of the Great Plains.

“So here I am, in the coldest place there is in America,” said Randy Semo, owner of The Good Ol’ Days in Tower. “Somebody has to live here, right?”

The bitter cold is normal around here, in fact, on average, it only reaches a high temperature of the freezing point about 18 days the entire winter.

“It normally gets down in the 20’s below zero, it seems like every winter we have a stretch of that,” said Roland Fowler, a cooperative weather observer that records temperatures for the town of Embarrass.

These frigid temperatures are recorded daily by these volunteer cooperative weather observers and relayed to the National Weather Service and across the country.

James Christenson is the former National Weather Service Data Acquisition Programmer for the Northland and received these daily weather readings.

On that record cold day, Christenson said, “We had observers, Rowland up there in Embarrass and we had a lady up there three miles south of Tower, Kathy Hoppla. There was an ongoing, I guess you call it kind of a fun game between those two, because they were always two of the coldest temperature readings.”

The cold spot lies in the Embarrass River Valley near the Laurentian Divide on the Iron Range.

“They are in a lower area, so what happens is, all that cold air just sort of drains into the low spots and that’s where you are going to get your coldest temperatures,” says Carol Christenson with the National Weather Service.

“It’s nothing to get -40 temperatures in the winter,” said Roland Fowler, the Embarrass weather observer, with a smirk across his face.

If you consider those temperatures to be cold, things were about to become even more numbing on the coldest day ever: February 2, 1996.

The weather setup was a huge high pressure system over central Canada, which continuously funneled in arctic, cold air, straight from the North Pole to right over the Northland. The snow depth was over two feet deep, helping temperatures plummet even further.

With clear skies and calm winds from the high pressure, any warmth from the day was able to leave and escape back to the atmosphere.

“It all came together to give us that really, really cold night.” explained Christenson. “Well, we knew probably a record was going to be broken or very close to it. The media frenzy of course was there. Everybody was talking about it”.

It had been cold for a few days before that, with -50 actual temperatures, but the night of February 2nd, the numbers started dropping even more.

“There’s a lot of stories about guys standing outside and living in tents in their sleeping bags,” said Semo. “A lot of tree huggers, if you will, coming up here to do that. They were cold weather campers”.

Fowler says he went out to check on the guys sleeping outside the Timber Hall. “When they pulled them apart, [there] was an inch of frost between the two sleeping bags.”

It was, indeed, a cold night, with a record on the line of -59 degrees set back in 1899 at Leech Lake Dam.

Two Minnesota towns were battling to set a new record cold temperature.

“There’s a weather station just outside of Embarrass, in Tower,” saidChristenson. “[Kathy Hoppla] had a house with a little gully down behind the house and that’s where the instruments sat. That morning, the cold air settled down in the little valley and hit 60 below. So that’s how Tower got that crown.”

February 2, 1996, put Tower in national headlines.

The Minnesota state record-low temperature was broken at9:10 a.m. with a -60 degree temperature recorded.

“It was just a cold day for everybody,” saidSemo. “What I remember most was a lot of TV people around, guys driving nails with bananas.”

People living inthe small town of Tower enjoyed their record setting day.

“We threw water in the air and ice crystals came down,” saidLorrie Meskill, a resident of Tower. “We just did it once, it was really cold out.”

Kids celebrated, too, as schools were forced to close from the cold.

“It was kind of odd because during the week it was 40 to 50 degrees below and they still had school,” said Randall Johnson, the City of Tower’s maintenance supervisor. “Not until it went 60 degrees below did they cancel school. It was so very cold that you really couldn’t be outside for more than a couple minutes if your face wasn’t covered.”

Frozen and bursting pipes were also abigconcernwhen temperatures dropped so low.

“We got called out that day to turn the water off and we had to locate the water shut off in the yard,”Johnson “[It] was under about a five foot high snow bank. We moved it with the loader and we dug into the ground, which was about as soft as a4th of Julyday. Hard to believe at 60 below zero.”

As Tower continued to consider the battle of the cold bitter sweet, the National Weather Service was busy. “It’s not cut and dry sometimes,” said Christenson. “The state record was not declared cut and dry that day, so there was still some suspense going if it was going to be a record or not.”

The neighboring town, Embarrass, was the cold spot competition that also sits in the valley.

“So all of the people were heading up to Embarrass, that’s the historically cold spot,” said Semo. “One was always trying to beat the other.

All signs pointed to Embarrass taking the record cold title, until Fowler’s thermometer broke.

“He had a mercury thermometer and it broke, so he was out of the game,” explained Christenson.

The thermometer broke at -52 degrees, because the mercury inside separated due to the cold temperatures.

“It quit, you know, there was just nothing on it until it warmed back up to 50 below,” said Fowler. “Then it came back on. We definitely were the coldest that morning though.”

Anunofficial thermometer Fowler had read –64 degrees that same morning. “The thermometers got to be in that box, if it’s not, it’s not an official temperature,” said Christenson.

The box is called a cotton region shelter. It’s white in color and off of the ground. This is important because it calculates a real atmospheric temperature without sun rays, ground heat and wind affecting it. However, Randy’s back up thermometer wasn’t in the official box.

“[That temperature] wasn’t considered official, so Tower was the winner that day,” said Christenson.

Fowler and the town of Embarrass feel otherwise. “I felt kind of upset because I knew we’d gotten it,” he said. He had another thermometer but it only went to 50 degrees below zero and that wasn’t enough.

“Now I have a thermometer that goes to 120 degrees below zero,” laughed Fowler. “Not that I ever want to see it get that cold.”

Despite the cross town rivalry, this coldest placestillshares the many memories made that day.

“People are still interested in knowing how cold it was and what it felt like, so it’s still in people’s minds,” explained Christenson.

“I guess if you are going to be known for something, then that’s not a bad thing I guess,” said Johnson. “It shows how hearty we are.”

So, why do these people continue to live in the coldest place?

“Well, I just consider it my home and I know it’s going to get cold, said Fowler. “We know we’re going to deal with it. So it goes by every winter and spring comes and you carry on”

“Small town living, you can’t beat it,” said Johnson. “I loved raising my family here, I love the people of this city, I love working for this city.”

“Well, eventually I’d like to move somewhere warmer,” said Semo. “but we do hold the record. Tower, Minnesota. Sorry Embarrass, that’s just the way it is.”

On that same cold day of February 2, 1996, the city of Duluth dropped down to only -39 degrees, due to the warm lake. Only five days later, the Northland warmed up into the mid 40s.

Categories: News, News – Latest News, Special Reports, Weather Blog, Weather in the News

Tags: -60, brittney merlot, cold, frigid, Minnesota State Record, Record Low, Temperature, Tower


What is the coldest place in Minnesota? ›

Embarrass is an unincorporated community in Embarrass Township, Saint Louis County, Minnesota, United States. The community is located on the Mesabi Iron Range. With an average annual temperature of 36.4 °F (2.4 °C), Embarrass is notable as the coldest place in Minnesota.

Which city claims the title of coldest city in the world? ›

Oymyakon is the coldest permanently-inhabited place on Earth and is found in the Arctic Circle's Northern Pole of Cold. In 1933, it recorded its lowest temperature of -67.7°C.

What is the coldest city in the world 2022? ›

June 17, 2022. If you miss winter, think of the poor souls in the coldest city on Earth. Winter temperatures in Oymyakon, Russia, average minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 50 degrees Celsius). The remote village is generally considered the coldest inhabited area on Earth.

What is the name of the town that is considered the coldest habitable place for humans to live on Earth? ›

Oymyakon is a rural locality (a selo) in Oymyakonsky District of the Sakha Republic, Russia, located in the Yana-Oymyakon Highlands, along the Indigirka River, 30 km (19 mi) northwest of Tomtor on the Kolyma Highway. By winter average temperatures, it is the coldest permanently inhabited settlement on Earth.

What was the coldest day in Minnesota in 2022? ›

Minneapolis Weather in 2022
2022 Minneapolis Weather Extremes
Lowest temperature-17 °FJanuary 7
Highest daily low79 °FJune 20
Lowest daily high1 °FJanuary 1
Most daily precipitation1.9 inchesMay 11
4 more rows

Why is Minnesota still so cold? ›

Places with more altitude tend to be cooler, and also places where winter weather is influenced by cold, dry arctic air masses from Canada. That's why Minnesota and its neighbors are among the coldest states.

Which place is the coldest why answer? ›

What is the coldest place on Earth? It is a high ridge in Antarctica on the East Antarctic Plateau where temperatures in several hollows can dip below minus 133.6 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 92 degrees Celsius) on a clear winter night.

Which city is most coldest? ›

The capital city of the vast (1.2 million square miles) Siberian region known as the Sakha Republic, Yakutsk is widely identified as the world's coldest city.

What is the 2 coldest city on Earth? ›

2. Oymyakon, Russia. As expected, another city in Russia follows in the top list of world's coldest cities. Oymyakon is a small town with no more than 500 inhabitants, thriving in a typical winter temperature of -50°C.

Is Canada colder than Russia? ›

1. As far as countries go, Canada is pretty much the coolest — literally. It vies with Russia for first place as the coldest nation in the world, with an average daily annual temperature of —5.6ºC. 2.

What is the coldest city in the US right now? ›

The Coldest Cities in the United States
RankCityMinimum Average Temperature
1Fairbanks-16.9 °F
2Grand Forks-3.1 °F
3Williston0.1 °F
3Fargo0.1 °F
6 more rows
16 Nov 2020

What is the coldest town in America? ›

Research from website 24/7 Wall St. found that Fairbanks, Alaska, is the coldest city in the U.S. with the minimum average temperature in the coldest month a bone-chilling -16.9° F. The lowest temperature ever recorded there is -66° F.

How do I get to Oymyakon? ›

To get to Oymyakon, first hop on a flight to Moscow. From there, fly either to Yakutsk or to Magadan. Both cities are over 560 miles (900 km) from Oymyakon but it's as close as you're gonna get by major airlines. (Remember, Russia is huge and a lot of it is still wilderness.)

Has Minnesota ever had a winter without snow? ›

The Winter of 1877-78 is the warmest Meteorological Winter on record in the Twin Cities. The winter of 1877-78 was dubbed the "Year without a Winter." Indeed, the winter of 1877-78 is the warmest winter on record for the Twin Cities with a December-February average temperature of 29 degrees.

What was the coldest winter in the 60s? ›

The winter of 1963 - the coldest for more than 200 years

With temperatures so cold the sea froze in places, 1963 is one of the coldest winters on record. Bringing blizzards, snow drifts, blocks of ice, and temperatures lower than -20 °C, it was colder than the winter of 1947, and the coldest since 1740.

What month is the coldest in Minnesota? ›

The cold season lasts for 3.3 months, from November 26 to March 4, with an average daily high temperature below 36°F. The coldest month of the year in Minneapolis is January, with an average low of 10°F and high of 24°F.

Why is Minnesota so cold this spring 2022? ›

Minnesota getting La Niña's cold shoulder

The La Niña version of ENSO favors a persistent cold northwest jet stream flow across North America. So far in 2022, La Niña is doing its job a little too well. So far this year we're running nearly 5 degrees colder than average in the Twin Cities.

Where is it 70 degrees year round in the United States? ›

Where is it 70 degrees year-round in the U.S.? While temperatures fluctuate throughout the year in most U.S. states, there are some that see averages around 70-degree weather year-round. These states include Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, and New Mexico.

Does Minnesota have the worst winter? ›

According to meteorologist Paul Douglas, if you look at average winter temperatures over an entire state, Alaska appears to be the coldest state in the country, followed by North Dakota and then Minnesota.

Which city is the coldest on 1 December answer? ›

Step-by-step explanation: I think NewDelhi city is the coldest on 1 december .

Which part of the day is coldest? ›

The coldest time of day is just about the time of sunrise because this is the time at which the atmosphere is without the heat of the sun for the longest time.

Where is the coldest place on Earth all year round? ›

The absolute coldest place on Earth is in Antarctica, where Scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center used satellites to measure the lowest recorded temperature ever at minus-133.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

What city has the worst winters? ›

No matter how you measure it, among major cities in the United States it's at the Minneapolis—St Paul region of Minnesota where you'll find the coldest winter weather. The Twin Cities have the most cold days, chilliest nights and overall the lowest average temperatures among the largest urban areas in United States.

Is Russia cold year round? ›

No, contrary to popular belief, it is not always cold in Russia. The coldest months of the year are November to March where the average low temperature ranges from 18-25° F.

How cold is space? ›

Space is very, very cold. The baseline temperature of outer space is 2.7 kelvins (opens in new tab) — minus 454.81 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 270.45 degrees Celsius — meaning it is barely above absolute zero, the point at which molecular motion stops.

Is Canada colder than Minnesota? ›

Minnesota is relatively small by comparison. However, it can be colder in Minnesota on a given day than it is anywhere in Canada on the specific day, but often you will find that somewhere in Canada it will be colder than the average in Minnesota and you will find many places in Canada where it will be warmer.

Where is the coldest place humans live? ›

That said, according to, Oymyakon, Russia has winter temperatures that average minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 50 degrees Celsius) and is "considered the coldest inhabited area on Earth."

What state stays cool all year? ›

Consistently cold throughout the year are Maine, Vermont, Montana and Wyoming. Other states make the list of ten coldest in every season but summer. Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota are states that get a break in summer from ranking in the ten coldest.

Which is world hottest place? ›

Dallol, Ethiopia

Extremely remote and set in the far north of Ethiopia, Dallol is a tiny village known for setting records. It's the hottest year-round spot in the world, with the average annual high temperature coming in at a blistering 106.1 degrees F.

What country has the 10 coldest cities? ›

Here are 10 of the coldest cities in the world where you'll be able to have some freezing winter fun.
  • Novosibirsk, Russia. ...
  • Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan. ...
  • Winnipeg, Canada. ...
  • Irkutsk, Russia. ...
  • Harbin, China. ...
  • Fairbanks, United States. ...
  • Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Credit:tanukiphoto/iStock. ...
  • Yakutsk, Russia. Credit: Tatiana Gasich/Shutterstock.

Does it snow in Africa? ›

Additionally, snow regularly falls in the Atlas Mountains in the Maghreb. Snowfall is also a regular occurrence at Mount Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. There have been permanent glaciers on the Rwenzori Mountains, on the border of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Does it get hot in Russia? ›

July and August are the hottest months in the Russian capital. The average temperature stays at 19°C (65°F) and often surpasses 30°C (86°F). Due to the continental climate and megapolis environment, peak temperatures often feel boiling hot.

Is Canada too cold to survive? ›

Canada has one of the most severe winter climates of any country in the world. Canadians across the country may face severe cold weather conditions that can affect their health. However, being active and enjoying winter activities and sports is a great way to stay healthy.

Is Canada colder than us? ›

Most of the United States is located in the mid-latitudes, where the climates are moderate. Canada is colder because so much of it lies far north in the higher latitudes.

Is Russia colder than Alaska? ›

Russia is colder than Alaska or Northern Canada. In fact, Northern Russia is home to the coldest recorded temperatures outside of Antarctica. Greenland, Lapland and northern Scandinavia, Alaska, or Canada can't quite touch Russia.

Does it snow in Saudi Arabia? ›

Yes, snow does fall in Saudi, particularly in the mountains of the northern regions. Enjoy views of frosted shrubs and blanketed mountain peaks and watch camels shuffling through winter's magical flurries. When snow falls in Saudi, the excitement among locals is contagious.

What is the 2 coldest state in the US? ›

North Dakota is the second-coldest state in the U.S. The average temperature in North Dakota is 41.1°F (5°C). In the winter, the average temperatures are around 24°F (-4.4°C), perfect for winter activities such as snowmobiling, cross country skiing, ice skating, and ice hockey.

Is Chicago colder than New York? ›

Winter Is Real

But winters are a different story. On average, Chicago gets about a foot more snow each winter than New York. While the coldest average monthly temperature in New York bottoms out at 27 degrees, Chicago's average lows in winter months are 18 degrees or colder.

What are the top 5 coldest cities in the United States? ›

The ten coldest cities in the United States, based on minimum average temperature, are:
  • Fairbanks, Alaska.
  • Grand Forks, North Dakota.
  • Williston, North Dakota.
  • Fargo, North Dakota.
  • Duluth, Minnesota.
  • Aberdeen, South Dakota.
  • St. Cloud, Minnesota.
  • Bismarck, North Dakota.

Is Chicago colder than Denver? ›

The average is colder in Chicago especially highs but Denver is colder at night so actually is colder,also Denver gets a lot more snow 56"per year compared to Chicago's 37″ . Chicago would never get snow in September but Denver averages over 4″ in September!

Is Chicago colder than Alaska? ›

Chicago Is Colder Than Siberia, the South Pole, Alaska and More – NBC Chicago.

Is Seattle colder than Chicago? ›

The main difference between Seattle and Chicago is the weather. Chicago gets much colder and snowier in winters whereas Seattle is milder and rainier. They also have somewhat different cultures, with Chicago having a vibrant big-city culture whereas Seattle is more of a sleepy city.

Do cars work in Oymyakon? ›

Extremely low temperatures are bad for every component of a vehicle, so the automobiles used in Oymyakon go through the worst conditions possible. Another popular solution is to place a cover over a car to help maintain its temperature.

Can you drive from Russia to Alaska in winter? ›

No, you cannot drive a car from Alaska to Russia because there is no land connecting the two. This also means that there is no road, no immigration offices and no way to legally exit or enter any of the countries. Why is there no road or ferry?

What do people do for a living in Oymyakon? ›

Oymyakon is quite remote — it's a two-day drive from Yakutsk, which with a population of 300,000 is the world's coldest major city. The extreme cold makes it difficult to grow anything, so the residents of Oymyakon subsist mostly on meat: reindeer, horse, and Arctic fish.

Is MN colder than Alaska? ›

So where does Minnesota stand in terms of the coldest places in the U.S.? Well, no surprise, Alaska beats everyone -- by a lot. The state's average annual temp is 26 degrees, while Minnesota's is 40.1.

Is Minnesota colder than Canada? ›

So Minnesota is definitely colder than some parts of Canada,(Vancouver, B.C.) just as cold as other parts (Winnipeg,Man.) and warmer than only a few Canadian spots during normal winter conditions (Iqaluit, Nunavut in Canada's North).

What is colder Minnesota or Chicago? ›

Minneapolis is by far the coldest, but Boston often gets more snow than the other two. Chicago is somewhere in the middle in terms of both snow and cold, but is that best of both worlds or best of no worlds?

Is Minneapolis colder than Alaska? ›

We know it's hard to believe, but winter in Minneapolis can actually be colder than in Alaska! While it's the largest and most northern state in the U.S., Alaska can't always claim to have the chilliest winters.

What state has the worst winter? ›

Alaska. Alaska is the coldest state in the U.S. Alaska's average temperature is 28.1°F (-2.7°C) and can go as low as -30°F (-34°C) during the winter months. The Fairbanks area experiences some of the hottest and coldest temperatures in the state, with highs of 90°F in the summer and lows around -50°F.

How do people survive winter in Minnesota? ›

Here are a few of the most important things I've learned about preparing for a Minnesota winter:
  1. Proper clothing comes first, fashion comes second. ...
  2. Get your furnace tuned up before winter! ...
  3. Keep warm gloves and a blanket in your car in case of emergency. ...
  4. Most importantly, get outside and make the most of winter!
9 Dec 2020

What state has all 4 seasons? ›


Spring, summer, fall and winter all give the people here something to look forward to.

Is USA colder than Canada? ›

Most of the United States is located in the mid-latitudes, where the climates are moderate. Canada is colder because so much of it lies far north in the higher latitudes.

Is Russia colder than Minnesota? ›

Moscow is at a latitude of 55° 45', while Minneapolis is at 44° 53'. Nevertheless, they have similar climates. Both cities experience mean January temperatures of about 14°F (–10°C), while Julys are about 66°F (18.9°C) in Moscow and 74°F (23.3°C) in Minneapolis on average.

What is the coldest city in the U.S. right now? ›

The Coldest Cities in the United States
RankCityMinimum Average Temperature
1Fairbanks-16.9 °F
2Grand Forks-3.1 °F
3Williston0.1 °F
3Fargo0.1 °F
6 more rows
16 Nov 2020

Which U.S. city has the coldest winters? ›

Research from website 24/7 Wall St. found that Fairbanks, Alaska, is the coldest city in the U.S. with the minimum average temperature in the coldest month a bone-chilling -16.9° F. The lowest temperature ever recorded there is -66° F.

What state has the most snow? ›

1. Vermont. Vermont receives more snow per year than any other state with an average of 89.25 inches. Vermont sees about 54 days of snow annually.

Why does Minnesota get so much snow? ›

By far the snowiest areas in Minnesota are the Lake Superior highlands, a ridge of higher terrain along Minnesota's "north shore." In addition to receiving snow from the large-scale weather systems moving through the Midwest, the Lake Superior highlands experience localized snow events as well.

Which US state is the coldest? ›

Coldest States in America

North Dakota tops the list of coldest states in winter and fall, based on state-wide average temperatures. During spring, Maine is coldest, while in summer it's Wyoming.

How harsh are Minnesota winters? ›

Annual snowfall extremes have ranged from over 170 inches or 4.32 metres in the rugged Superior Highlands of the North Shore to as little as 5 inches or 0.13 metres in southern Minnesota. Temperatures as low as −60 °F or −51.1 °C have occurred during Minnesota winters.

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