So You Think It Has Been Cold Lately In Wyoming? How Does -66 Sound To You?

Bill Sniffin writes: "What is the official coldest temperature ever? UW Historian Phil Roberts said, I think the record is still -66 recorded Feb. 9, 1933 at Moran. I heard the temperature was actually colder, but the thermometers didn't have the capacity to register a lower reading!'"

Bill Sniffin

March 10, 20225 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

By Bill Sniffin, publisher emeritus

Up until the recent cold snap, tough-minded Wyomingites had been quietly snickering when national news reports showed below-freezing temps in Texas, blizzards in New York and folks shivering in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Although we truly sympathized with folks enduring something called a Polar Vortex, we also knew what cold weather is really like.

This got me thinking about what were the coldest temperatures in Wyoming’s recorded history?  A lot of folks sent me anecdotal stories, which I will mix in here with a few facts.

Personally, I recall the winter of 1978-79. Again, here in Lander, I think the entire month of January was below zero. Amazingly dangerous and bitter conditions.

What is the official coldest temperature ever? Historian Phil Roberts from the University of Wyoming: “I think the record is still -66 recorded Feb. 9, 1933, at Moran. I heard the temperature was actually colder, but the thermometers didn’t have the capacity to register a lower reading!”

The late Clay James, who operated Jackson Lake Lodge at Moran for decades, recalls -54 one cold winter day in the mid-1970s. 

“Thankfully we woke up as the power went off. We called all our employees to turn on the faucets and start the fireplaces. The power was off for several days. Never have I been so cold,” he recalled.   

Former Cheyenne, Torrington and Sundance publisher Mike Lindsey recalled the blizzard of 1949, which history generally considers  the worst ever in the state.

“Up in Sundance, cattle froze standing up. Wind blew drifts into buildings through keyholes in doors. Machinery would not start. Kids who stuck their tongues to the door handle did not get thawed until their junior year!” 

Not sure about that last fact, which was reminiscent of the famous scene from the movie “A Christmas Story.”

The late Jim Smail of Lander once told me about snowmobiling with a group that included Charlton Heston at Togwotee Lodge in 1964 where the mercury dipped to -64. No, they did not go sledding that day.

Former Wyoming Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau of Gillette recalls playing Laramie in football when the wind chill was -65. 

Dewey Vanderhoff of Cody recalls: “It was New Year’s weekend of 1979 when Jackson Hole went -60. Friends from Meeteetse had gone to ski there but came back with horror stories of busted pipes, bone-cold motels, blackouts, everything closed, no skiing opportunity at all. Nothing fun except sharing beds for warmth and drinking a lot. Consolation prize I suppose. Was there a spike in babies born in September-October?”

Jody Coleman, formerly of Riverton says about that same ski trip: “I was in Jackson that New Years of 1979. The power was off and we woke up at the Antler motel with the walls inside covered with frost. We went outside and started our pickup every hour. The next day we spent the day jump-starting other people’s cars. My mom bought me a ski suit. But urged me to move home to California.”

Worland can get pretty cold. Former resident Debbie Hammons recalled: “That super-duper cold winter of 1978-79 was when the weather was sub-zero. I moved home to Wyoming in September 1978. Best New Year’s Eve ever was Jan. 1, 1979. All the young singles in town packed into the Three Bears Bar downtown and kept their cars running into the New Year. We knew if we shut off our vehicles, we might not be able to start them again until March!”

When current Cheyenne resident Pat Schmidt was publisher of The Lovell Chronicle, folks there arranged a hay bale mission to rescue the poor wild horses in the Pryor Mountains. 

“The BLM and others organized a hay drop from a helicopter to bands of horses stuck on mountain ridges. I recall taking a picture with one hand as I was dropping a bale with the other. The effort only compounded the problems, we learned later, as the horses’ digestive systems were not used to the rich protein in the hay. Their systems compacted, causing a quicker death. Only around 75 survived.”

Jim Hicks says “I know a bunch from Buffalo were riding snow machines in Yellowstone in the early 1970s and it was so cold it froze their whiskey into a solid block.”

Greybull native Mke Schutte has a story to tell: “My Karen and I were Married on Dec. 22, 1962 in Emblem, took a three-day honeymoon to Red Lodge and headed back to Laramie and moved in to student housing. On Jan. 12, 1963 the temperature dropped to minus 50 degrees. I will never forget going outside that morning. So quiet, thought it was the end of the world. Nothing moving that we could see or hear. It was a little scary. Finally heard a vehicle that was driving around and trying to jump start some vehicles.  

“Student Housing was built with cinderblocks, with a lot of leakage around doors, windows, and other places. Couldn’t get much heat in our small unit. Needless to say, we stayed in bed most of the day with extra blankets.  Sadly, one school teacher who walked to work, frostbit her lungs and died!  Never experienced cold like that since.  Brrr!”

Then there is this old joke about the weather:

         “My feet are cold.”

         “Well, all you have to do is go to bed and have a brick at your feet.”

         “I tried that.”

         “Did you get the brick hot?”

         “Get it hot? It took all night just to get it warm.”

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Bill Sniffin

Wyoming Life Columnist

Columnist, author, and journalist Bill Sniffin writes about Wyoming life on Cowboy State Daily -- the state's most-read news publication.