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January 14, 2011

Cold? This isn't cold. Forty-below is cold

The mercury here at The Sun is struggling to top the freezing mark today. Ten of the last 11 days have been below the seasonal norms at BWI-Marshall Airport. And 23 days in December were below the long-term averages, too. The average high for this date in Baltimore is 41. Our persistent cold weather comes to us courtesy of something called the Arctic Oscillation. You can read more on that, and La Nina, here. 

Sun thermometer

But we're a long way from the record-cold days our parents and grandparents experienced. Thursday was the 99th anniversary of the day in 1912 when thermometers in Oakland, out in Garrett County, registered 40 degrees below zero. That was, and still is, the record-cold reading for the state.

The high reading in Baltimore that day (Jan. 13, 1912) was 11 degrees, still a record low maximum for the date. The next morning, the low in Baltimore was minus-2 degrees, also still a record for a Jan. 14.

Cold in 1955Thirteen years later, on Jan. 28, 1925, the low reading in Oakland was minus-31 degrees. Twice in the following 30 years the temperatures in that far Western Maryland burgh reached a negative 25 degrees. And on Jan. 28, 1955 they reached minus-26 degrees, according to our clips from the time.

Trust me, that's cold. Not long after we were married, my wife and I were living in Hanover, N.H. During our first or second winter there, the overnight temperatures fell to minus-27 degrees three days in a row. We quickly learned to bring our car battery indoors for the night, or face the certainty that the old crate would not turn over in the morning.

We later purchased a crankcase heater, and used that to keep the engine warm overnight. It consisted of little more than a heated dipstick with an electrical cord.

But with no place to plug it in at work, I was reduced to visiting the parking lot every two hours, during coffee breaks and lunch, to start and run the engine for 15 minutes. If I hadn't, by quitting time it would have been as inert as New Hampshire granite. The highs on those days failed to reach zero.

But I digress. On Jan. 28, 1955, The Sun reported that the low in Baltimore was 14 degrees above zero at daybreak. Cumberland reported a reading of zero. The Sun observed:

"The air, particularly cold because it had moved here rapidly from the Arctic, put heavy coatings of ice on lakes and ponds and gave skating enthusiasts continued sport.

"In the harbor, plumes of thick frost decorated masts and rigging and ships and coated piers. Service stations did a land-office business throught the night..."

(Thanks to Sun Librarian Paul McCardell)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:29 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: By the numbers
        

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About Frank Roylance
This site is the Maryland Weather archive. The current Maryland Weather blog can be found here.
Frank Roylance is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He came to Baltimore from New Bedford, Mass. in 1980 to join the old Evening Sun. He moved to the morning Sun when the papers merged in 1992, and has spent most of his time since covering science, including astronomy and the weather. One of The Baltimore Sun's first online Web logs, the Weather Blog debuted in October 2004. In June 2006 Frank also began writing comments on local weather and stargazing for The Baltimore Sun's print Weather Page. Frank also answers readers’ weather queries for the newspaper and the blog. Frank Roylance retired in October 2011. Maryland Weather is now being updated by members of The Baltimore Sun staff
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