5 Most Brutal Winter Weather Cities in the U.S.

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Winter is here. If you live in Miami (average winter temperature: 77 degrees), that might not mean much. It might not mean much for those who live in Minneapolis (average winter low: 8 degrees) either, because the city has already been dealing with cold weather for weeks. Dec. 21 is merely the symbolic start to the season that can bring so many headaches for residents in northern areas of the country. It comes with the territory, so to speak, although some areas typically fare worse than others. Here are five U.S. cities famous for their tough winters.


5. Fargo

Fargo can see temperatures below zero for weeks at a time in winter. © Jordan Green

Weather Channel viewers dubbed Fargo “America’s Toughest Weather City” in a 2011 poll. Consider that the temperature drops to zero or below an average 43 nights each year, and the annual snowfall is more than 50 inches. The local website fargomoorhead.org summarizes these conditions nicely: “If there is one thing the Fargo-Moorhead region is known for, it’s that the winters can be intimidating. … It’s not uncommon for us to go weeks with the temperature being below zero in January. It’s funny to think that when we say that it’s going to be “nice out,” what we really mean is that it’s going to be three above zero and we’re excited about the heat wave.” Fargo is a wonderful city, but steer clear in winter if you’re a cold-blooded individual.


4. Buffalo

A storm in November 2014 dumped 7 feet of snow on Buffalo. © Anthony Quintano

“Lake-effect snow.” Buffalo residents have learned to expect but sometimes fear that common phrase during winter, when frigid Canadian air blowing across the relatively warmer water of Lake Erie can bring incredible snowfalls. The average Buffalo winter is tough enough (93 average inches of snow), but every few years brings a season with far more snow. Then there are the generational events people tell their grandchildren about. The Blizzard of ’77 brought wind gusts of up to 70 mph and 100 inches of snow, creating surreal snowdrifts up to 40 feet high. The “Snowvember” event of 2014 wasn’t quite as bad, with snowfall totals of around 7 feet, yet it still resulted in 14 deaths and caused roofs to collapse under the snow’s weight. Frankly, we could have included the fellow upstate N.Y. city of Rochester here, as it gets copious amounts of snowfall.


3. Minneapolis/St. Paul

Downtown Minneapolis during a snowstorm in December 2010. © Nic McPhee

There are a few cities that lay claim to being the coldest in the U.S. But according to the Weather Channel, that distinction belongs to Minneapolis/St. Paul. The network looked at 30 years of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 2014 and chose the Twin Cities as the coldest in the U.S. based on persistent winter cold. Temperatures dip below zero about 25 days each a year, and there are 151 days below freezing. And the average temperature from December through February is a nippy 18.7 degrees.


2. Syracuse

Syracuse gets around 130 inches of annual snowfall, making it the snowiest major U.S. city; Gavin Schaefer

Syracuse holds the unofficial title of “Snowiest Major City in the U.S.,” with an average annual snowfall of 124 inches. In fact, Accuweather once named it the No. 5 snowiest major city in the world. Like its neighbor to the west, Buffalo, Syracuse is subject to heavy lake-effect snowfalls, only Lake Ontario is the source of Syracuse’s misery. It also gets fallout from occasional nor’easters.


1. International Falls, Minn.

International Falls won rights to call itself “The Icebox of the Nation.” © David Fulmer

The city actually battled in court for years for trademark rights to the term, “Icebox of the Nation” (Fraser, Col., also claimed that title). International Falls ultimately prevailed, and deservedly so. From Dec. 1 through the end of February, the temperature usually exceeds freezing only about 15 times each year, and the average January low is -6.6 degrees. It’s so cold in International Falls, even Syracuse residents are in awe of residents’ hardiness. A couple of years ago when Syracuse closed schools for the day because of temperatures well below zero, Syracuse.com reported that International Falls almost never closes school. As schools superintendent Kevin Grover noted, “Unless it gets to 50 below, we’re going to be on.”


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