Minus 59.6 temperature recorded at Lake Metigoshe State Park
Thermometers bottom out
BOTTINEAU – The automated thermometer reading was minus 59.6 when Steve Schepp stepped into the ranger’s office at Lake Metigoshe State Park this past Saturday morning, a mere 4-tenths of a degree warmer than the state record 60 below zero recorded in Parshall on Feb. 15, 1936.
Many people can’t believe the reading is true. The National Weather Service has begun the process of verifying the data, determining if the equipment they issued was functioning properly.
“We still don’t have an answer,” said Zachary Hargrove, Bismarck NWS meteorologist Monday afternoon. “We’re working with various national and regional experts. It is a process that takes a little bit of time.”
Hargrove wasn’t sure how long the verification process would take, but noted that the Lake Metigoshe site has been an NWS cooperative observation location for many years and that “there hasn’t been any other red flags, all other temperature data seems to be reasonable.”
The thermometer that recorded the minus 59.6 is known as a NIMBUS, a maximum/minimum digital thermometer that is used at cooperative weather locations throughout North Dakota. However, because the reading was so low, so cold, and so near the state record, it warrants further authentication.
“We don’t want to discount it or assume it’s correct,” said Hargrove. “With temperatures that extreme things can go wrong. There’s other temperatures up there we want to look at a little closer too, but we just can’t discount it. It’s an interesting case.”
When asked about reporting for work that frigid Saturday morning Schepp said it was “brutal”.
However, he added, “I didn’t have any idea it was that cold. There were two other rangers in the park and their thermometers bottomed out at 40 below. That’s as low as they go.”
Other locations near the park reported thermometer readings of minus 50 or more too. Official NWS readings are obtained from automated systems, or ASOS, located at airports in North Dakota.
NWS issued windchill charts only go to -45 on the temperature scale, but even 5-10 mph winds, mixed with -59.6, would produce windchills considerably colder. On Sunday, the morning after the amazingly cold minus 59.6 reading, there was some much needed relief. Cooperative weather observers in Willow City and Bottineau reported a warm up at -46 and -45 respectively.
All the sub-zero temperatures were the result of an outbreak of Arctic air that will linger across the state today. Hargrove explained that temperature readings can very a great deal over short distances.
“The temp can move up 10 to 20 degrees in five minutes or so,” said Hargrove. “As a cloud moves away it can drop like a rock again over short distances in these extremes with Arctic cold masses.”
While it may be cold for the next day or two, even by North Dakota standards, the worst of the Arctic blast is on the way out. There’s even a warm-up on the way, statistically speaking.
“It looks like we’ll recover pretty nicely” said Hargrove. “Wednesday through the end of the week the temperature in Minot should get into the teens, even 20s. Maybe even the 30s by the weekend.”