Utah’s Peter Sinks reaches -62 Monday; Why does it get so cold?

Jan 30, 2023, 5:53 PM | Updated: Jan 31, 2023, 3:36 pm
snow covered bowl in Utah mountains...
Peter Sinks, Utah, where temperatures reached -62 Fahrenheit Monday morning. (KSL Chopper 5)
(KSL Chopper 5)

LOGAN, Utah — Why so cold Utah? It was cold all over the Beehive State Monday, but Peter Sinks recorded a jaw-dropping -62.

The second coldest temperature ever recorded in the lower 48 states was in Utah, in the same place, a notorious cold spot 20 miles northeast of Logan.

In 1985 Peter Sinks recorded a shocking -69.3 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Utah State University’s climate center — but Monday wasn’t far behind and, it could get colder still in the next day or two.

So why is this spot in the Bear River Mountains so cold? Science has a perfectly reasonable explanation and it’s in the name.

The location is a bowl with no outlet for cold air to escape from. The bowl sits at 8,164 feet, where the air is thinner and dry, therefore holding less heat than lower or humid locations. It’s really more tub shaped than sink shaped at a mile long and a bit more than approximately half as wide.

Snow field

A weather station in Peter Sinks, Utah, were -62 Fahrenheit was recorded Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. (KSL Chopper 5)

Those factors means the basin loses daytime heat quickly when the sun goes down and because there is no outlet in the geographical scoop, the cold air simply slides to the bottom and accumulates. This pooling of cold air happens all the time when it isn’t windy, but when air from the Arctic drops into northern Utah, temperatures plummet deep into the negative range.

The rim of the bowl — as monitored by Utah Climate Center at USU — can have a significantly different temperature than the bottom of the sink. At 6:30 a.m. Monday, the bowl recorded -62.1 while the rim was a balmy -6.6 degrees. While that isn’t warm by most standards, the temperature difference is significant, especially in such close proximity.

Snow filled mountain bowl

Peter Sinks Utah, were -62 Fahrenheit was recorded Monday, Jan. 23, 2023 (KSL Chopper 5)

In March of 2022, Peter Sinks was 139 degrees colder than Big Cypress Reservation in Florida on the same day.

Getting to the cold zone takes some work, hiking a few miles from Highway 89, up from Garden City at Utah’s side of Bear Lake.

The cold sink was official marked in 1983 and Utah’s all-time coldest temperature was recorded just two years later. There are other sinks around the state that could also be incredibly cold but most aren’t monitored. If wind-chill factor was part of recorded temperatures, there would be spots that feel colder at high wind at high elevation locations, but wind chill is felt, not measured as the coldest spot.

The hottest it gets in summer months at Peter Sinks is in the low 80s Fahrenheit and the record lows, even in summer months, can be well below freezing and even land at sub zero for most of the year. It’s a cool place where trees can’t survive, creating a reverse timberline. But if you visit, there is no marker, only a weather station.

snow filled mountain bowl

Peter Sinks Utah, were -62 Fahrenheit was recorded Monday, Jan. 23, 2023 (KSL Chopper 5)

The coldest temperature ever recorded in the lower 48 was -70 on Jan. 20, 1954 at Rogers Pass, Montana. Alaska has seen -80.

The lowest on-the-ground temperature ever recorded, according to the World Meteorological Organization was July 21, 1983 in Vostok, Antarctica at -128.6 F.

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Utah’s Peter Sinks reaches -62 Monday; Why does it get so cold?