We talk about record highs a lot in Washington, but the recently unfathomable was accomplished this morning. We broke a record low.

A temperature of 5 degrees was enough to smash a 120-year-old record for the date — a moment worthy of meteorological reflection.

When the city — often the warmest location in the region — is breaking record lows, you know it’s a cold one. Much of the area saw one of the most truly frigid nights in recent memory last night, made more amazing because of how late in the season it happened.

Key facts

  • Two out of three of our climate sites — National and Baltimore-Washington airports — broke record lows this morning. This comes after record low maximums at Dulles and BWI on Thursday, and other records earlier in the week.
  • Yesterday’s 21 degree maximum tied for the coldest high recorded at National Airport (since the 1940s) so late in the season.
  • In some ways, this late-season cold is nearly unprecedented. Four days with highs 22 or less in mid-February and beyond would break a record dating to the 1800s.
Commuters faced a temperature of five degrees on their way in to work in the District on Friday, breaking a record that had stood for 120 years. Morning pedestrians had no choice but to wrap up, walk quickly and get inside. (Reuters)

Records in this cold blast

The big one — partly because it’s so rare — is the D.C. (as measured at National Airport) record low of 5 degrees this morning. It bests the 8 degrees that was put on the books way back in 1896 on this date. It’s the first record low broken in the city since May 2002 (one was tied in April 2007), and the first winter record low since January 1994.

D.C.’s record low of 5 degrees also surpasses last winter’s coldest low of 6 degrees on Jan. 7. The last time D.C. officially reached 5 degrees or lower was in 1996. January 1994 was the last below-zero reading, when it hit -4 degrees.

As usual, D.C. was outdone by its climate-station partners at Dulles and Baltimore/BWI. Dulles’s low temperature of 0 degrees just missed the old record low of -2 degrees in 1979. Following a stretch of no subzero readings at Dulles from 1997 through 2013, two were recorded there last year, and they made a valiant effort today.

BWI’s low temperature reading of 1 degree surpassed the old record of 4 degrees in 1979. The last time it was below zero there was 1996. Additionally, record low maximums were set yesterday at Dulles with a 15 degree high and BWI with an 18 degree high.

More record low maximums are likely today.

Cold February days

This series of cold snaps continues to rise in the ranks of impressive. As CWG’s Matt Rogers suggested earlier this month, February is easily on track to be remembered as very cold, and potentially also snowy when all is said and done.

The 21 degree high yesterday at National Airport tied for the coldest this late in the season or later.

Remarkably, that also means only eight days have had a colder high this late in the season in the entire record for D.C. The most recent occurrence of colder was in 1934! Same goes for this morning’s low.

The 15 degrees at Dulles yesterday is the coldest high recorded this late in the season since the airport opened in 1962. BWI’s 18 degree reading came in at second all-time this late or later, dating back to the 1870s.

It’s possible these numbers could be challenged again today, particularly at BWI. Intense stuff, but it gets even more anomalous.

D.C. hasn’t seen this since 1885 — or ever?

In a post mid-week, then again yesterday, we pointed out how unusual it was to get two days with such cold readings last Sunday and Monday. The gist: you need to go back decades to see it.

Then came round two. Yesterday’s high of 21 degrees in D.C. was just below the 22 degrees seen on the “warmest” of the super-cold days over Presidents Day weekend. Taking that 22 degree reading as a ceiling, we find this stretch is truly incredible.

Only 1885 has featured as many super-cold high temperatures as we’ve seen this year during mid-February through the end of the season. We’ve got another likely on the way today to put us over the top.

Looking at days 22 degree or colder highs for all of February through the end of winter, we’re set to fall behind just 1895 (five days with highs 22 or lower) and 1899 (six days with highs 22 or lower). The claim to fame of 1899 is that it featured the coldest weather D.C. has ever seen. It dropped a hard-to-believe all-time low of -15 on Feb. 11th.

Not quite that bad this go around, but we’ll remember it for a long time.

Justin Grieser contributed to this post.

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