The Top 10 Coldest US Cities: It’s not just cold in Alaska

Fairbanks Alaska from the University of Alaska Fairbanks
Gary Whitton –

Not a big fan of the heat? Can’t wait for the first snowfall? If you like cold weather here in the US, all you have to do in most cases is move north. All but one of the coldest US cities are found in the Upper Midwest, where frequent Arctic blasts make winters more brutal than the rest of the country.

Below, we’ve listed the 10 coldest US cities and talk a little more about why the Upper Midwest can get so much coldest than the rest of the country. To develop our rankings, we used climate data using the average low temperature from the coldest month in each city, similar to what 24/7 Wall St. did.

The Coldest US Cities

If we included every small town in this list, it would be dominated by Alaska’s Arctic communities. However, we’ll consider a city as any location with more than 10,000 people for our list.

  1. Fairbanks, Alaska: -16.9° F average low temperature in the coldest month
  2. Grand Forks, North Dakota: -3.1° F
  3. Williston, North Dakota: 0.1° F
  4. Fargo, North Dakota: 0.1° F
  5. Duluth, Minnesota: 1.5° F
  6. Aberdeen, South Dakota: 1.5° F
  7. St. Cloud, Minnesota: 1.8° F
  8. Bismarck, North Dakota: 2.2° F
  9. Marquette, Michigan: 5.2° F
  10. Huron, South Dakota: 6.6° F

Fairbanks is Alaska’s largest city, so it’s no surprise it leads our list by a wide margin. But the following three coldest US cities are all in North Dakota, a state known for its cold in the dead of winter.

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Why North Dakota is So Cold

Grand Forks North Dakota coldest us cities
Richard –

Many of the coldest US cities are found in North Dakota for a reason. The state’s location is often cold year-round, thanks to its northern latitude.

Cold air masses from the Arctic can quickly sweep into the region, making lows below zero frequent in winter. Large high-pressure systems over northern Canada compress cold air and push it southward, with less chance to moderate before it reaches the upper Midwest.

North Dakota and Alaska are not alone in being cold: South Dakota, Northern Minnesota, Northern Wisconsin, and even the Upper Peninsula of Michigan see equally brutally cold winter weather.

North Dakota Gets Very Hot, Too

As cold as the state is during the winter, it can get brutally hot in the summer. Some of the nation’s warmest temperatures happened here: the state record high is 120°F, set in 1936. Temperatures regularly climb into the 90s in the Dakotas during July and August, the warmest times of the year.

Alaska’s Cold Comes Straight from the Arctic

alaska northern lights coldest us cities
Ricardo Serpa – The Northern Lights in Alaska

Alaska is the coldest state in the country, and it has even more frigid weather than most of Canada. To be clear, not all parts of Alaska get that cold, and it varies from place to place based on how far south you are, how cold the wind is blowing from, and other factors. But Alaska’s coldest cities tend to have more in common with northern Canada than they do with most of the US.

This is due to the state’s proximity to the Arctic Circle. It’s cold enough in Alaska for permafrost to exist, and cold air from the Arctic frequently sweeps south, even in the warmer months. A hot summertime day in Alaska would be considered an average summer day in most of the lower 48 United States.

Prefer warmer weather instead? You might want to check out our list of the warmest US cities instead. Or perhaps you like the cold with snow, we’ve also got a list of the snowiest US cities. Got an idea for a future list? Leave us know in the comments.

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