The 10 Coldest Cities In The United States

By Jason Shvili on November 16 2020 in Environment

A typical winter scene at Fairbanks, Alaska, America's coldest city. Image credit: Gary Whitton/Shutterstock.com
  • Fairbanks, Alaska is the coldest city in the United States.
  • Huron, South Dakota is the southern-most of the coldest cities in the US.
  • Grand Forks, North Dakota is the coldest city in the Continental United States.

The onset of winter in the United States inevitably means cold weather, or at least cooler weather. For some Americans, winter can bring record-breaking cold temperatures. This is particularly true for Americans who live in the country’s coldest cities, which are all located in the northern US. But as we will see, latitude is not the only factor that makes cities like Fairbanks, Alaska and Grand Forks, North Dakota the coldest in the U.S. Other factors, like the currents of nearby bodies of water, wind patterns, and landscapes can also contribute to cold temperatures.

Fairbanks, Alaska - The Coldest In The Country

It should be no surprise that the coldest city in the US with 10,000 or more residents is located in America’s most northern state, Alaska. Fairbanks, which calls itself “the Golden Heart of Alaska,” is the US city with the coldest recorded temperature, a chilly -66 degrees Fahrenheit (-54 Celsius). The minimum average temperature of Fairbanks in the coldest month is -16.9 degrees Fahrenheit (-27 Celsius). Fairbanks is located in the central interior of Alaska, and has a population of approximately 32,000, making it the state’s second-largest city.

Downtown Fairbanks, Alaska. Image credit: FloridaStock/Shutterstock

Whereas the climate of the Alaskan coasts, on which other large cities in the state are located, is heavily influenced by the ocean currents, the climate in Fairbanks is more dependent on wind patterns. During the winter, cold air originating from northern Canada and Siberia enter the Alaskan interior, resulting in extremely frigid temperatures. Another factor that makes Fairbanks the coldest city in the US is the sheer lack of daylight that the city receives during certain months. Between November and March, the city only receives between ten to four hours of sunlight per day. This lack of sunlight, coupled with the response of the area’s landmass to significant changes in solar heat contributes to the extremely cold winters that people living in Fairbanks have become accustomed to.

Why North Dakota's Cities Are So Cold

Four of America’s other ten coldest cities are located in North Dakota. In fact, North Dakota itself is the coldest state in the Continental US during the winter and fall. Why is this? The first reason is North Dakota’s location at the extreme northern end of the Midwest. The continental climate in this area is known to produce extreme temperatures. Another reason for the extreme cold felt in North Dakota’s cities is the strong winds that characterize the state’s climate. These winds are very strong due to the fact that North Dakota is mostly flat and arid, with few trees, making it easier for the wind to pick up speed. The flat land also makes it easy for cold arctic air to move south into North Dakota, resulting in extremely cold temperatures.

Grand Forks, which is the coldest city in North Dakota and the second-coldest in the US, has recorded temperatures as low as -43 degrees Fahrenheit (-41 Celsius). The minimum average temperature in Grand Forks during the coldest month is -3.1 degrees Fahrenheit (-19.5 Celsius). Williston, Fargo, and Bismarck, the capital of North Dakota, are the 3rd, 4th, and 8th coldest cities in the US, respectively. 

South Dakota's Cities Are Freezing As Well

Winter morning in rural South Dakota. Image credit: Jacob Boomsma/Shutterstock

The cities of Aberdeen and Huron, located in the state of South Dakota, are the 6th and 10th coldest cities in the US, respectively. Like North Dakota, South Dakota has a similar landscape and climate. The lack of mountains and trees means that cold winds coming down from Canada can enter South Dakota with ease, as there is nothing to block their path. At the same time, however, South Dakota also gets warm, moist air coming up from Texas or the Gulf of Mexico, which can result in warmer temperatures. For this reason, South Dakota's weather can be erratic.

Nevertheless, the mercury doesn’t rise much in the cities of Aberdeen or Huron during the coldest months. In both cities, a temperature as low as -46 degrees Fahrenheit (-43 Celsius) has been recorded. Aberdeen’s minimum average temperature in the coldest month is just 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (-16 Celsius), in contrast to Huron’s, which is 6.6 degrees Fahrenheit (-14 Celsius). It should also be noted that Huron is the southernmost of all the cities on our top ten list, which may explain, at least in part, why it is the warmest of America’s coldest cities.

Minnesota's And Michigan's Cities Are Also Among The Coldest

Minnesota, the "Land of 10,000 Lakes," is home to the cities of Duluth and St. Cloud, the 5th and 7th coldest cities in the US, respectively. Like North and South Dakota, Minnesota has a continental climate, which usually results in very cold winters and hot summers. Unlike North and South Dakota, however, Minnesota borders one of the Great Lakes, Lake Superior. Lake Superior has the effect of moderating temperatures in Minnesota, especially northern Minnesota, where winters are cold and long-lasting, and frost can occur even in the summer.

The 9th coldest city in the US with 10,000 or more residents is called Marquette and is located in northern Michigan. Like Duluth, MN, it also sits on the shores of Lake Superior. Winters in Marquette are long and cold. The lowest temperatures recorded in the city is a frigid -34 degrees Fahrenheit (-36 Celsius). Another commonality that Duluth and Marquette share is an abundance of snow, owed in part to their proximity to Lake Superior. Better have your shovels ready!

Having the right gear is crucial to stay warm in these cold cities. Image credit: WAYHOME studio/Shutterstock

Braving the Cold

It is plainly obvious that living in one of America’s coldest cities means dealing with very frigid temperatures. It means wearing lots of layers and keeping yourself as warm as possible, especially certain parts of your body, including your hands, feet, and head. For your hands, use mittens instead of gloves so that your fingers stay close together and trap heat more effectively. For your head, wear a warm hat. You might want to get one with ear flaps so that your ears stay warm, or you can get ear flaps separately. Make sure you wear a good pair of warm boots and try to keep snow from getting inside them. At the same time, however, you don’t want to dress so warm that you overheat, start to sweat, and dampen your clothes so that they start to feel chilly. Indeed, keeping dry is vital to staying warm in America's coldest cities.

The Coldest Cities in the United States

RankCityStateMinimum Average TemperatureLowest Recorded Temperature
1FairbanksAlaska-16.9 °F-66 °F
2Grand ForksNorth Dakota-3.1 °F-43 °F
3WillistonNorth Dakota0.1 °F-50 °F
3FargoNorth Dakota0.1 °F-39 °F
5DuluthMinnesota1.5 °F-39 °F
5AberdeenSouth Dakota1.5 °F-46 °F
7St. CloudMinnesota1.8 °F-43 °F
8BismarckNorth Dakota2.2 °F-44 °F
9MarquetteMichigan5.2 °F-34 °F
10HuronSouth Dakota6.6 °F-43 °F

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