Cold snap map: how Evanston's temperatures stack up
    Graphic by Lucas Matney / North by Northwestern

    The recent Polar Vortex, which halted travel in its tracks and stranded students in airports nationwide, taught us some valuable lessons. Those on campus, anxious for school to begin and with nothing else to do, learned that boiling water indeed turns from steam to snow in the chilled air.

    More importantly, we discovered that even a brief walk from dorm to dining hall could turn painful, as bare skin left itself open to near-instant frostbite. What the horrific temperatures didn’t teach was just how cold it really was. Sure, temperatures in the negative teens are nothing to scoff at – but how do they stack up to other extreme temperatures throughout time? Below, explore some other notable points on the historical thermometer, and contemplate if a career in Antarctic exploration is in your future (Hint: probably not).

    134 degrees: Highest recorded temperature, Death Valley, California, Aug. 10, 1913. Despite global warming raising temperature averages worldwide, the world’s hottest ever temperature was recorded just over a century ago. Death Valley, long home to some of the Earth’s hottest temperatures, reached a headache inducing 134 degrees in August of 1913. This temperature is especially notable, considering that Death Valley hasn’t even reached 130 degrees since then. So while fond memories of balmy summer days may linger in the wind-weathered Northwestern consciousness, remember that there is such a thing as too much sun.

    105 degrees: Highest recorded temperature for Evanston, 1995

    32 degrees: Evanston average high for January Hovering just below freezing temperatures, Northwestern students should simply expect to be nothing but miserably cold throughout Winter Quarter. It’s probably why you see significantly fewer prospie tours compared to Fall Quarter – students visiting now would probably run screaming for Stanford if they saw us in our current frozen states.

    -15 degrees: Lowest temperature in Evanston during Polar Vortex, Jan. 6, 2014. As we recently learned, a polar vortex is nothing to mess around with, as temperatures dropped low enough for Northwestern to cancel school twice. That just never happens. Students were warned to stay inside as much as possible, with icy-cold wind chill threatening frostbite in a matter of minutes. However, in historical terms, even the lowest temperature during our latest cold snap, -15 degrees, is well off all-time lows. So, be thankful – it somehow could have been much worse.

    -27 degrees: Lowest recorded temperature in Evanson, 1982

    -128 degrees: Lowest ever recorded temperature, Antarctica, July 21, 1983. Almost exactly opposite the world’s hottest temperature, the -128 degree recording in 1983 makes a chilly wind from Lake Michigan look like a breeze by comparison. Recorded at the Soviet Vostok Station, these conditions should strike fear into even the heartiest cold-weather dweller. Somehow, this temperature might not even be the coldest ever. Satellite imaging of Antarctica from August 10, 2010, indicates that the temperature was likely 135.8 degrees below zero. While ground recordings haven’t confirmed this data, the mere thought of weather that cold should shoot chills down one’s spine.


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