28 places in America with the harshest winters

A man crosses the street in a snow storm on March 21, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

A man crosses the street in a snow storm on March 21, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
Spencer Platt / Getty
  • Winter is the harbinger of snow, bitter winds, freezing temperatures, and plenty of darkness.
  • In the US, the intensity of the season varies across the country.
  • While many Americans complain about winter, some cities and states have more reason to whine than others.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Northern cities like Anchorage, Buffalo, and Minneapolis are known for their punishing winters. But the US has dozens of cities and many more small towns where the season is just as bad – or worse.

Some experience plunging temperatures far below freezing, or hundreds of inches of snowfall, or months with barely any sunshine. Others have ice-storms that coat entire cities in inches of slippery ice.

Here are 28 places with some of the harshest winters in America.

Anchorage, Alaska, gets 74.5 inches of snow per year on average. The record fall was 133 inches in 2012. It remains below freezing for most of winter, and on top of that, it gets about 20 days where temperatures fall below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sources: Current Results, CNN

Fairbanks, Alaska, is known for dog sledding and the Northern Lights, which prompted the town to create a fifth season, known as the Aurora Season. It gets brutally cold. In 2017, temperatures dropped to -50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Chatanika, Alaska musher Jodi Bailey at the start of the 2015 Iditarod Sled Dog Race in Fairbanks, Alaska, 09 March, 2015.
Scott Chesney / Picture Alliance / Getty

Source: Washington Post, USA Today

Utqiaġvik, formerly Barrow, Alaska, is the most northern town in the US, and is plunged into darkness from November to January. The darkness is so off-putting people sometimes call the police station to find out what day or time it is. Temperatures also remain on average below zero from December to March, and can often fall to -27 degrees Fahrenheit.

An aerial view of the arctic ice from above Barrow, Alaska.
David L. Ryan / The Boston Globe / Getty

Source: Business Insider

Flagstaff, Arizona, made the list because of its snow-heavy winters. It usually gets 100 inches of snow a year. In 2018, 3 feet of snow fell in a single day, its snowiest day in history, causing highways to close, and flights to be grounded.

Sources: Washington Post, CNN, AccuWeather

Chicago, Illinois, “the windy city,” is well-versed in cold winters. On average, it gets 36.7 inches of snow, and has an average temperature of 26.7 degrees Fahrenheit. But because it sits beside Lake Michigan, the city experiences cruel winds that feel colder — in early 2019, the air temperature was minus 24 degrees Fahrenheit, but the wind felt like minus 54 degrees Fahrenheit.

Chicago residents dig out after more than 7 inches of snow fell on the city on February 9, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois.
Scott Olson / Getty

Sources: NBC Chicago, Economist, Business Insider

Indianapolis, Indiana, can get bitterly cold. On January 29, 2019, the air temperature was -10 degrees Fahrenheit, but the windchill made it feel like -30. One of the big problems for Indianapolis is winter ice storms, which can coat buildings, roads, and trees in inches of slippery ice, leading to traffic pileups, collapsed power lines, and heavily damaged trees,

Sources: Fox 59, NOAA, Indy Star

Caribou, Maine, known as the coldest town in New England, and one of its northernmost cities, broke a record for the most consecutive days with at least an inch of snowfall last winter, with 157 days in a row. The coldest recorded temperature is -41 degrees Fahrenheit, and the wind can blow so hard that 3 inches of snow can turn into 4-foot snow drift, dense enough to stop traffic.

The snow on fields in Caribou, ME were carved in intricate patterns by the wind on January 14, 2015, where the local temperature (without wind chill factored) read -27 degrees Fahrenheit. Caribou, Maine is statistically the coldest town in New England, with average January temperatures of 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
Dina Rudick / The Boston Globe / Getty

Sources: The Weather Channel, Yankee Magazine, WeatherBase

Baltimore, Maryland, experiences cold, wet, and windy winters. The coldest days typically get down to 30 degrees Fahrenheit. To make things worse, it was also rated the worst city for driving in snow and rain in America for 2018.

A pedestrian makes his way along Park Heights Avenue during a snow storm in Baltimore on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014.
Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun / Tribune News Service / Getty

Sources: WeatherSpark, Fox 45 News

The average high in Boston, Massachusetts, is only 38 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter months. Usually it has 22 days that never get above freezing. In 2015, four blizzards in three weeks caused so much snowfall that the city had to spend $35 million to remove it. That winter clocked in 108.6 inches of snow. Harsh winters have also damaged public utilities like ferry docks and gas lines.

A postman walks to deliver packages in Boston’s North End during a March nor’easter on March 13, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts.
Joseph Prezioso / AFP / Getty

Sources: Boston Magazine, Boston Magazine, The New York Times, Wbur News

Detroit, Michigan, gets about 43 inches of snow each winter, and temperatures usually sit between 20 and 35 degrees Fahrenheit. But its winters are truly tough because of the lack of sunshine. It averages 59 days of heavy cloud every winter.

Two men carry shovels as they walk along through several inches of snow in Detroit, Michigan January 2, 2014.
Joshua Lott / Reuters

Sources: Fox2, Current Results

Ironwood, Michigan, was once a mining town, and is now known for its downhill skiing. It had its worst winter in 2014, when plunging temperatures caused $3 million worth of damage to ruptured pipes and water-mains. But things weren’t much better in 2019, when it had 69 days that dropped below zero — the most ever recorded.

Ironwood, Michigan in winter.
Danette Terzano / Youtube

Sources: Your Daily Globe, Michigan Live

Marquette, Michigan, gets an impressive 119 inches of snow on average. In 2019, it had so much snowfall that the roofs of a bus garage and furniture collapsed. It also set a record going 198 days without temperatures getting over 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sources: US Climate Data, Detroit Free Press, Michigan Live, The Weather Channel

Duluth, Minnesota, gets an average of 85 inches of snowfall every year, which usually lasts until April or May. In 2014, so much snow fell over the winter that 35,000 fish were killed, due to the snow piling up and blocking light into Grand Lake. It also has to deal with biting winds off Lake Superior. In May this year, they reached 70 mph.

Sources: US Climate Data, Washington Post, Star Tribune, MPR News

Minneapolis, and St. Paul, Minnesota, collectively known as the Twin Cities, get bone-chillingly cold. The worst windchill ever recorded was -67 degrees Fahrenheit on January 22, 1936, when the air temperature was -34 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind speed was 20 mph. If you think that’s a fluke, the air temperature was -28 degrees Fahrenheit on January 30, 2019.

Sources: DNR, DNR

St Cloud, Minnesota, gets 47 inches of snow every year. During winter, the city operates “business as usual,” when temperatures sit at -30 degrees Fahrenheit. It had a grueling winter in 2013-14, when temperatures fell to -20 degrees Fahrenheit or below on 14 days that winter.

Source: US Climate Data, Saint Cloud Times

Buffalo, New York, is legendary for its snowfall. By February this year, it had already had 100 inches of it, and it was the 12th year out of the last 19 that had so much. The thing about Buffalo is that the lake effect off the Great Lakes dumps snow in huge quantities at one time. In November 2014, over 5 feet of snow fell just east of the city in 48 hours.

Sources: The Weather Channel, NWS

Winter lasts a long time in Syracuse, New York, which gets more than 120 inches of snow on average per year. And it’s usually cloudy. In December, sunshine only breaks through the clouds 23% of the time.

Sources: The Weather Channel, Farmers Almanac, Syracuse.com

Fargo, North Dakota, gets blanketed with 50 inches of snow every year, and its average low in January is 0 degrees Fahrenheit. In 2019, it endured four blizzards, but that didn’t even place in its top 10 worst winters. Its worst ever winter was in 1996-97, with 117 inches of snow.

Sources: US Climate Data, Inforum

Bismarck, North Dakota, gets so cold that many people are willing to flout a law that makes it illegal to heat up their cars without anyone in them, and pay a potential $1,500 fine, or spend 30 days in jail if they’re caught. It had a record cold winter in February 1996, when the windchill was -86 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sources: Washington Post, ABC3340

Grand Forks, North Dakota, gets brutally cold, with an average January low of -1 degrees Fahrenheit. During the polar vortex in January 2019, temperatures were expected to drop to -38 degrees Fahrenheit.

Source: LiveScience, US Climate Data

The average low in Williston, North Dakota, all year is 28 degrees Fahrenheit. It had its coldest winter in 1983, when the air temperature dropped to -40 degrees Fahrenheit. On average, it gets 46 inches of snow every year.

A horse is seen in a field near an oil pump site outside of Williston, North Dakota March 11, 2013
Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

Sources: US Climate Data, Only In Your State

Cleveland, Ohio, gets about 60 inches of snow every year. According to meteorologist Kelly Reardon, if you live in Cleveland, you expect snow all winter. It also gets bitter winds off Lake Erie.

Sources: Cleveland.com, US Climate Data

Columbus, Ohio, can have bitterly cold winters. Most winter nights fall below freezing. Its coldest recorded temperature was -22 degrees Fahrenheit in January 1994.

Columbus in Winter

Sources: Weather Atlas, The Columbus Dispatch

Erie, Pennsylvania, gets a lot of snowfall — during one record-breaking blizzard on Christmas in 2017, 53 inches fell in 30 hours, and it was so cold, authorities warned residents to be vigilant for hypothermia and frostbite from the arctic air. Typically, the city gets an average of 100 inches of snow a year.

Sources: Washington Post, CBS News

Aberdeen, South Dakota, can get “life-threatening” arctic winds. Its record low temperature was set in 1916, at -32 degrees Fahrenheit. In January 2019, it was expected to get at least as cold as -35 degrees Fahrenheit. The area can also get “white out” from high winds blowing snow around.

Source: Government Technology

Seattle, Washington, might not be as cold or snowy as others on this list, but it’s one of America’s darkest cities. It only has clear skies 28% of the time between November and February. Its coldest recorded temperature was 0 degrees Fahrenheit in 1950.

A boy carries a sled in the snow on February 8, 2019 in Seattle, Washington.
David Ryder / Getty

Sources: Seattle PI, Smart Asset

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, gets its fair share of snowfall, and is below freezing on an average winter’s day. But people living there get used to to it. When temperatures in February 1996 reached -26 degrees Fahrenheit, locals still lined up outside for Rod Stewart concert tickets, while boy scouts camped for two nights and cooked outside to earn badges.

Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Casper, Wyoming, made the list because of its harsh winter winds. February 2019 broke records, with an air temperature of -20 degrees Fahrenheit, and a windchill of -40 degrees Fahrenheit. In those conditions, it only takes 10 minutes to get frostbite.

Casper, Wyoming winter wind.
My Country 95.5 / Youtube

Source: Casper Star Tribunal, Billings Gazette