The Washington Post

Polar vortex delivering D.C.’s coldest day in decades, and we’re not alone

** Related info: Closings and delays | Staying safe in the cold | How the cold may rank locally | Polar vortex and climate change | Deep dive into the polar vortex | Live blog on cold **

Mid-level winds associated with the displaced polar vortex early on Jan. 7, 2014. (

In what has been a sea of warmth over recent years, we’ve now been thoroughly reminded that it can still get cold. Truly bone-chillingly cold.

Excluding south Fla., when eastern U.S. lunchtime temperatures are ranging from below zero to near freezing — even 50s in south Fla. is cold! — you know it’s a rough day to be outdoors. It’s steadily warmer than it was this morning, but not by much.

Where D.C. area records stand

8 a.m. temperature analysis shows regional temps near lows. (

All D.C. area stations tested or bested their previous record lows for the date. At Reagan National, the low of 6 degrees closed in on the 130 year old mark of 5 degrees.

Further north, BWI came in with a low of 3 degrees, colder than the previous record of 8 degrees in 1988. It appears the Dulles record of 8 degrees set the same year as BWI will also fall, but equipment malfunctions there are being assessed before making a final determination. (12:45 p.m. update: Dulles did indeed break a record low, with a temperature of 1 degree this morning).

The low of 6 degrees in D.C., while not a record for the date, is the coldest the city has been since Feb. 5, 1996. Today now also falls among the previous top 20 coldest Jan. mornings in the city since 1946.

To pick up record low maximums today, the targets are 18 degrees or lower at D.C., 21 degrees or lower at Dulles, and 22 degrees or lower at BWI.

Coldest D.C. days since 1994


Including the insane cold of 1994, prior to today the top-10 coldest days in D.C. have had an average temperature between 2 degrees and 16 degrees. Five of the dates were in that one year.

Since then, it’s been slim pickins on the cold front.

Assuming the D.C. low this morning of 6 degrees holds, any high temperature at or below 26 degrees (guaranteed) will put today on the list. A high of  16 degrees or lower (unlikely) would make this the coldest day since the almost untouchable Jan. 19, 1994.

When it comes to wind chills, still running near and below zero at noon, D.C’s peak of -11 degrees earlier this morning is more or less in line with other big cold days. On Jan. 19, 1994, Washington reached -24 degrees for a wind chill.

Just part of a big frigid air mass

Unofficial record lows for Jan. 7, 2014 (

Record or near record lows have been established all across the eastern U.S. this morning. A sample includes: 4 degrees in New York City, 6 degrees in Charlotte, NC, 7 degrees in Birmingham, Al., and 19 degrees in Pensacola, Fla.

Some of the heart of the cold last night was just to the northwest of the D.C. region, with Pittsburgh coming in at an incredible -9 degrees, and among a number of big records set in that area:


We’re likely to add a lot of cold records for low maximums today across the eastern U.S. as well. Large chunks of the broader region are not expected to rise above freezing, and in most cases much lower.

Forecast highs for Jan. 7, 2014 from the NWS. (NOAA Enhanced Data Display)

Looking for milder temperatures?

Even places in the United States that are typically fairly warm in winter have been impacted by this cold shot.

NWS Corpus Christi posted an awesome picture of the Arctic front passing between Freer and Laredo, Tx. yesterday. That’s down near the Mexico border.

Arctic front plowing through deep south Texas on Jan. 6, 2013. (Steve Brast via US National Weather Service Corpus Christi Texas)

So, with Texas out of the game, perhaps head to southern Alaska.

The low at Anchorage this morning was 19 degrees. Balmy compared to the single digits and colder around here. Their high is expected to reach the 30s today. T-shirt weather.

Alaska temperature anomalies expected on Jan. 7, 2014. Warmer than the northeast in many spots! (

Or perhaps just wait. As strong as this shot from the Arctic is, it eases significantly tomorrow and we head back toward normal thereafter.

A (thankfully) quick but powerful hit.

Ian Livingston is a forecaster/photographer and information lead for the Capital Weather Gang. By day, Ian is a defense and national security researcher at a D.C. think tank.
Show Comments
Most Read

Heat Tracker

90-degree days year-to-date
Yearly Average
Record Most
67 (1980,2010)
Record Fewest
7 (1886,1905)
Last Year

At a Glance


-- /74°


58° /77°


59° /78°


61° /77°
Drop 40%


57° /68°


54° /70°
National Airport

Right Now

D.C. Area Almanac

Avg. High
Avg. Low
Rec. High
Rec. Low
Next Story
Rick Grow · January 7, 2014

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.