The lowest temperature ever recorded in the United States was -80 degrees Fahrenheit in Prospect Creek, Alaska. While temperatures near this extreme only rarely occur, millions of Americans live in cities with brutally cold winters and heavy snowfall.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) uses daily temperatures tracked over a 30 year period to define normal high and low temperatures for each month. Using the normal low temperature of a city’s coldest month, 24/7 Wall St. listed the 50 coldest cities in the United States with at least 10,000 residents. Fairbanks, Alaska is by far America’s coldest city with an average low temperature of -16.9 degrees Fahrenheit during January, the city’s coldest month. This is at least 13.8 degrees colder than any other city.
> Normal low in coldest month: 16.5° F
> Lowest temp. on record: -27° F
> Annual avg. snowfall: 39.1 in.
> Avg. wind speed: 9.9 mph
> Population: 2,717,534
Most of the cities on this list are located in midwestern states, with the top 10 coldest cities mostly in Minnesota and the Dakotas. Overall, 19 states are represented, with Nebraska’s six cities being the most in any state.
Residents of the coldest cities do not only experience the lowest temperatures, but also the longest winters. While winter is only 90 days long, all of these cities have at least 120 days annually when temperatures drop below freezing. In Fairbanks, the temperature falls below 32 degrees 226 days a year.
In nearly one-third of these cities, more than five feet of snow falls every year. Snow can be extremely costly for local governments. This is especially true in dense urban areas where snow needs to be fully removed and not just pushed to the side of the road.
In Minneapolis, Minnesota, an area that gets over four feet of snow annually, snow removal can cost $202,000 per inch — according to local reports. In the 2013-2014 winter season, Minneapolis spent $136 million on snow removal, up from $62 million the previous winter season.
Extremely cold climates can be dangerous to those not wearing appropriate clothing. When wind speeds are high, humans and animals feel even lower temperatures due to the wind chill effect. In Fargo, North Dakota, a relatively windy area, the average wind speed is 11.1 miles per hour. With the wind chill, Fargo’s average low of 0.1 degrees in January feels like -16.7 degrees.
In extremely low temperatures, even calm winds have dramatic effects. In Fairbanks, the average wind speed is only 4.4 miles per hour. Still, with the wind chill, the average low temperature of -16.9 degrees feels like -29.2 degrees. According to the NOAA, frostbite can occur in only 30 minutes in these conditions.
To determine America’s 50 coldest cities, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the minimum average temperature for each city’s coldest month between 1981 and 2010 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The cities listed have medium to large populations and are near weather stations, also known as Local Climatological Data stations. Record low temperatures, average annual snowfall, and average wind speed come from NOAA’s 2015 Comparative Climatic Data report. The record low temperature and average annual snowfall for Marquette, Michigan is from 2012, the most recent data available for the city. We also used population data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey to ensure each city has at least 10,000 residents.