Black Friday has come and gone and that means winter isn’t far behind. While some forecasts for the winter of 2012-2013 call for above average snowfall, the record for the coldest winter in the United States is expected to stand.
The winter of 1978-1979 was the coldest winter on record for the contiguous United States, says Jake Crouch, a climate scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. Conditions that winter (December through February) allowed the jet stream to dip further south, bringing prolonged cold air outbreaks across large portions of the nation.
The coldest month of that coldest winter saw record low temperatures across much of the lower 48 states. January 1979 saw colder than normal temperatures everywhere but California and New England. A large swath of the country — from the northern Rocky Mountains to the central Mississippi Valley — suffered average temperatures 12-16 degrees below normal. Topeka, Kansas, had a record total of 14 days in which the low dropped below 0.
January 1979 was the coldest month on record for Pueblo, Colo., Grand Island, Neb., and St. Joseph, Mo.
The coldest winter on record was also one of the wettest. Precipitation was well above normal across most of the country during January 1979. Jackson, Miss., got more than 14 inches of rain, making it the wettest January ever. Topeka got just over 20 inches of snow, a record for the month.
Of course, some places are cold and wet every year — like the weather station atop Mount Washington, a 6,288-foot summit in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains in northern New Hampshire. The mean temperature is 27.2 degrees — more than 10 degrees colder than International Falls, Minn., the second coldest place in the lower 48. Mount Washington also averages more than 260 inches of snow each year — and it's number one by a good 20 inches. It rains or snows there an average of 204 days a year.
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