The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Historically cold March temperatures are freezing a large part of the Lower 48

Low temperatures this morning, per RTMA weather model analysis. Lucky Florida. (
Placeholder while article actions load

After much anticipation, some of the most frigid air this late in winter descended on the Lower 48 United States this weekend. Cold even by January standards, it is here to stay for several more days.

Widespread temperatures in the minus-20s to minus-30s or colder invaded the northern tier Sunday morning, sending wind chills below minus-50 in spots. Including Monday, below-zero readings have been recorded as far south as the southern portion of the Central Plains and into the lower Midwest and Great Lakes region.

Sunday also featured a coldest low of minus-44 in Montana and a warmest high of 88 in Florida. That made for a remarkable 132-degree temperature difference across the Lower 48.

When this freakish cold spell is done, several hundred new record-low maximum and record-low temperatures will have fallen. In the past seven days alone, cold records are outpacing warm by about 4 to 1 across the nation.

A deep chill pushed south of the Canadian border early in the weekend. Widespread temperatures in the minus-30s to minus-40s blanketed Montana by Sunday morning.

The National Weather Service office in Great Falls reported that Lewistown, in central Montana, set an record for March and this late in the winter with a low of minus-34 degrees, toppling the previous record of minus-28 on multiple dates. Great Falls had a low of minus-32 degrees, which was a tie for the coldest temperature in March there, last done on the 10th in 1932.

If those absurdly frigid temperatures were not enough, wind chills were pushed even lower. A truly bonkers wind chill of minus-57 was recorded in north-central parts of the state at Havre!

Other record lows occurred across the Northern and Central Plains into the Upper Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Wind chills between minus-40 and minus-50 were common across the northern tier, as well. Dangerous weather — no hyperbole needed.

As a small sample of the many records Sunday to the east of Montana, new daily lows were set in places like Sioux Falls, S.D., with minus-17, and Twin Cities, Minn., at minus-13. Record cold high temperatures were posted in spots like the icebox of the United States at International Falls, with minus-2, Duluth, where the high was 1 degree, and Marquette, where it got to a comparatively balmy 5 degrees.

In Denver, Sunday’s low of minus-6 was the coldest in March since 1960. Its high of 6 degrees also broke a record, and the average of zero made it the coldest day of this winter. Record lows were also set in the Pacific Northwest, including several locations in Oregon.

The bone-chilling story continues Monday. Much like Sunday, the records are numerous.

Record lows were recorded from the Pacific Northwest to the Great Lakes in the north and from the Continental Divide to the Mississippi River and Texas on the southern end.

A hard-to-fathom minus-46 was recorded in Elk Park, Mont. According to the Weather Service, this is probably a new all-time record for March for the entire state. It’s also very close to the coldest ever recorded in the Lower 48 in March, which was minus-50 in 1906 in Snake River, Wyo.

North Platte, Neb., fell to minus-25 degrees Monday morning. This daily and March record was probably assisted by fresh snowpack. The city recorded a record daily snowfall of six inches Sunday.

Livingston, Mont., reached minus-32 degrees Monday morning, which demolished the old daily record of minus-11. Numerous locations near Green Bay, Wis., set record lows with temperatures in the minus-teens and minus-20s. In Kansas, record lows were minus-7 in Hill City and minus-1 in Dodge City and Garden City.

A slew of records is also expected Monday afternoon and night before this Arctic blast begins to relent. The Great Lakes is taking the brunt Monday. Widespread high temperatures in the single digits and teens are targeting a number of long-period stations.

In Chicago, a city lovingly called “Chiberia,” a high around 10 degrees is expected to set a new record cold maximum. According to meteorologist Peter Mullinax, the city’s O’Hare Airport has recorded temperatures as cold as the minus-3 Monday morning only three other times this late in the season. It’s also one of the 10 coldest temperatures in March all-time for the city. Wind chills were in the minus-20s Monday morning.

Other locations across Wisconsin and Iowa into Minnesota are expected to make only the single digits for highs Monday. In Michigan, most spots are looking at record low maximums, as well.

Although Monday marks the maximum extent of this Arctic blast across the Lower 48, most of the nation will awake Tuesday to unusually cold March weather. At least a handful of additional records are possible, especially in the South and East as the coldest air relative to normal moves into those regions Tuesday.

For Tuesday, the Northeast mostly sees 20s for highs with teens nearer the international border. Cold air also remains anchored over much of the Plains, with highs still running about 25 degrees below normal there.

While this outbreak is waning through the week, much of the central United States, in particular, may continue to stay colder than normal into the near future. No major warm-ups are on the horizon just yet.