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West Virginia’s Canaan Valley plummets to minus-31, setting record low for region

Webcam view from the Canaan Valley ski resort Saturday morning. (Canaan Valley) (Canaan Valley)
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In an elevated valley of northeast West Virginia on Saturday morning, it was colder than just about anywhere in Alaska and among the most frigid locations in the entire United States.

Just 125 miles west of Washington, the temperature at a weather station in Canaan Valley plunged to minus-31 degrees. It is the coldest reading on record in that part of the state.

The weather station is managed by Virginia Tech at the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

The previous lowest temperature measured in Canaan Valley was minus-27 on Jan. 21, 1985, according to Robert Leffler, a retired National Weather Service climatologist, who reported the news in an email.

Canaan Valley is a popular ski destination and home to two resorts, Canaan Valley Resort and Timberline.

Weather records have been kept in Canaan Valley since 1944, according to Leffler. The Virginia Tech weather station, however, was installed only about three years ago by meteorology instructor David Carroll. It is probable that the temperatures fell even lower there in the past.

Winter in summer: West Virginia weather station plummets to freezing

The station is at the northern end of the valley at an altitude of 3,150 feet.

Leffler, in his email, explained why temperatures can get so cold at this location.

“Canaan Valley is shaped like a huge bathtub with only one exit where the Blackwater River leaves the valley flowing west toward the Gulf of Mexico. The valley floor is flat and high with an average elevation of about 3,200 feet,” he wrote. “It’s large in scope at 10 miles long by 5 miles wide (50 square miles). The elevated valley floor is completely surrounded by a rim of ridge-tops that range in elevation from 3,600 to 4,460 feet. Canaan Valley is the highest large valley in eastern North America.

“This high elevation and topographic shape make it a classic textbook cold sink. Such places are commonly referred to as ‘frost hollows’. Frost hollows catch and pool cold air forming extremely well at night. Clear, calm evenings (no wind) with dry air and snow cover, as was the case this morning in Canaan, aid in cold air formation and pooling.”

Canaan Valley received about 18 inches of snow from the storm on Sunday and Monday. Dave Lesher, who makes daily observations in the nearby town of Davis, reported 10 inches on the ground Saturday morning.

Leffler believes the Virginia Tech station could at some point in the future set the record for lowest temperature observed in West Virginia, perhaps by a large margin. Lewisburg, in the southeastern part of the state, is the current record holder. It dipped to minus-37 on Dec. 30, 1917.

Many locations in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast were abnormally cold Saturday morning. Caribou, Maine, plunged to minus-27, tying a record for Jan. 22 set in 1984. Temperatures in northern Maine were as low as minus-35.

In Ithaca, N.Y., the mercury settled at minus-17, its third-lowest temperature since 2010. Albany dipped to minus-5 and parts of interior New York were as low as minus-30.

Youngstown Regional Airport in Ohio dipped to minus-9, setting a Jan. 22 record.

In Washington, the low of 17 was the coldest since it was 10 on Jan. 31, 2019.

Temperatures are forecast to moderate somewhat in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast over the coming days but remain on the low side of normal.