And the Coldest Town in the Country Is …

What to know about the icy heart of the polar vortex.

National Journal
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Brian Resnick
Jan. 7, 2014, 8:12 a.m.

Em­bar­rass, Minn., doesn’t even know the cold­est tem­per­at­ures it has ever re­cor­ded. The day it might have set a re­cord, in Feb­ru­ary 1996, the of­fi­cial ther­mo­met­er broke when the tem­per­at­ure dipped be­low minus 57 de­grees Fahren­heit.

This morn­ing’s read­ing of minus 35, the cold­est tem­per­at­ure in the coun­try on Tues­day, is warm by com­par­is­on. As we dis­cussed Monday, at that tem­per­at­ure, stand­ard an­ti­freeze will freeze, and you can make vodka ice cubes.

Ac­cord­ing to Min­nesota Pub­lic Ra­dio, the su­per­lat­ive of cold­est town in the state evokes something of a rivalry among com­munit­ies that some might con­sider near-arc­tic waste­lands.

“When Monday’s cold spell struck the Up­per Mid­w­est, Em­bar­rass res­id­ents not only took it in stride, they reveled in it,” MPR re­ports. “Liv­ing in a place that is of­ten the cold­est spot in the state, they’re used to the no­tori­ety and take a cer­tain amount of pride in its harsh con­di­tions.”

A com­munity web­site proudly pro­claims Em­bar­rass to be “The Cold Spot,” boast­ing that “it is not un­usu­al to see tem­per­at­ures around -30°F to -45°F many morn­ings be­fore the sun comes up dur­ing the winter months.” Even in the sum­mer, cold snaps oc­cur. Would-be Em­bar­rass hor­ti­cul­tur­al­ists be­ware: “Many killing frosts have oc­curred dur­ing the middle of the sum­mer mak­ing it chal­len­ging for garden­ers to reap their re­wards of a prof­it­able har­vest.” Des­pite all this, the web­site in­sists the loc­ale is “beau­ti­ful.”

“The ther­mo­met­er won’t break this year,” Row­land Fowl­er, the town’s tem­per­at­ure re­cord­er for the Na­tion­al Weath­er Ser­vice, re­as­sured a loc­al news­pa­per re­cently. “It goes to 100 be­low.” He goes on to ex­plain that he has three backup ther­mo­met­ers, in case an­oth­er re­cord breaks one of them. On that icy day in 1996, a nearby town — whose ther­mo­met­er didn’t break — took the state re­cord at minus 60 de­grees. Em­bar­rass surely won’t feel that kind of shame again.