April in New England may seem cold, but it’s nothing like the months when the coldest temperature is reported.
Look for the coldest day of the year to happen in late January, just about the time when a new president gets sworn in or football teams play the Super Bowl. Not much tends to happen in New England during the coldest temperature, probably because people all stay in their houses.
Here, then, are each of the places that recorded the coldest temperature in a New England state.
–37 °F in Connecticut
World War II raged on Feb. 16, 1943 as Norfolk, Conn., recorded the coldest temperature ever in the State of Connecticut.
Inland towns seemed to suffer more from temperature extremes than those on the coast, and , in the northwest corner of Connecticut, was no exception.
The U.S. government rationed gasoline in 1943, and pleasure driving fell dramatically. The oil shortage didn’t affect home heating, though, as New Englanders still warmed their houses with coal.
As the temperature dropped to –37 °F that February day, Norfolk residents probably stayed home to listen to the news on the radio. Winston Churchill came down with pneumonia, the Nazis were on the run in Africa and Russian troops had taken back Kharkov. Today, the Norfolk Soldiers’ Monument has a central plaque that lists four residents killed in World War II as well as four columns of names honoring those who served.
Coldest Temperature in Maine
Clayton Lake, an unincorporated village in Aroostook County, experienced the coldest temperature ever — −50 °F — in Maine on Jan. 16, 2009. Because the County seems closer to Canada than the rest of Maine, people have proposed it join New Brunswick or spin off as a separate U.S. state – a very small U.S. state. Only about 70,000 people live in Aroostook County.
On that cold Friday the people of the County, along with the rest of the country, awaited the inauguration of Barack Obama as president the following Tuesday. The County had voted for Obama by a margin of nearly 10 percent. Eight years later, the County voted for Donald Trump by close to 17 percent.
Coldest Temperature: the Bay State
On Super Bowl Sunday in 1984, the temperature plunged to a record −40 °F in Chester, Mass., a small town in the Berkshires. The New England Patriots didn’t make the playoffs, having won only nine games all season. Any Chester resident who braved the cold to attend a Super Bowl party that January 22nd watched the Los Angeles Raiders beat the Washington Redskins, 38-9.
Chester also holds the distinction of being only one of three places that recorded the hottest and coldest temperature in its state. On Aug. 2, 1975, the mercury rose to 107 °F, and Chester joined Millsboro, Del., and Warsaw, Mo.
Pond of Safety (and Skating)
The United States was at peace on Jan. 22, 1885, when the thermometer showed −47 °F in Randolph, N.H., a small town nestled in the White Mountains. An armed conflict threatened to break out in the Oklahoma Territory, where settlers invaded a section reserved for American Indians. The U.S. Senate debated the issue that day, though New Hampshire had sent only one senator to Washington – Austin F. Pike. Back then, state legislatures chose U.S. senators, and New Hampshire’s all-male lawmakers couldn’t reach agreement. In the White House, President Chester A. Arthur from nearby Vermont was serving out his last term in office.
A roller skating craze the summer before had boosted the popularity of ice skating outdoors. The Boston Globe reported on the phenomenon. The newspaper quoted one young man saying there was nothing like skating with a girl on ice.
“Is this because the keen air that sweeps the ice pond touches the cheeks with a tinge that the best artists have tried in vain to copy; because the chill that is inseparable from good ice skating only causes maidens and gallants to cling closer together for comfort’s sake?” asked the Globe.
Perhaps the young people of Randolph skated that day on the town’s Pond of Safety, so named because soldiers in the American Revolution hid out there. They claimed their enlistments were up, left the Army and hunkered down at the pond until they no longer faced getting shot for desertion, according to the Appalachian Mountain Club.
Hot War on a Cold Day
The United States had entered World War II just six weeks earlier when Richmond, R.I., experienced temperatures of −28° F. It was January 17, 1942, and the people of Richmond could have read a newspaper report that the tanker Coimbra sank the day before off Long Island, presumably by an enemy torpedo. Newspapers had to report ‘presumably,’ because the U.S. Navy lied to the public about the terrifying U-boat attacks along the East Coast.
The attacks had begun just six days earlier off Cape Cod. In less than seven months, U-boat attacks would destroy 22 percent of the tanker fleet and sink 233 ships. The U-boats killed 5,000 seamen and passengers, more than twice the number of people who perished at Pearl Harbor.
On May 5, 1945, a German U-boat would sink a merchant ship off Point Judith, R.I., less than 20 miles away from Richmond.
On that cold Saturday in 1942, the people of Richmond could at least stay home from work. The Columbia Narrows plant, which made silk and elastic webbing in Shannock Village, was still running. Mills in Richmond’s other villages, Carolina and Wyoming, had shut down years before, but Richmond women would easily find work in local defense plants. Many of the men would go off to fight the war.
Cold Comfort in Vermont
The tiny town of Bloomfield, Vt., would share the coldest temperature ever in New England with Clayton Lake, Maine, only 75 years earlier. On Dec. 30, 1933, the weather service reported temperatures of −50°F in the Northern Vermont town of about 400.
Prohibition had ended that month, which may have ended the smuggling of booze across the line from Canada. Rum running wasn’t uncommon in those lean times, and the line houses along the border were a little over 20 miles away from Bloomfield.
In 1927, Border Patrol agents shot and killed 18-year-old Winston Titus, a boy from a good family who drove cases of beer over the border. Newspapers in Northern Vermont carried the story for weeks, and many Vermonters then turned against the law. Even people who supported Prohibition thought law enforcement overreached by killing the boy.
So when Prohibition ended that December, Bloomfield residents could warm themselves with a shot of brandy – legally.
Images: Presidential Range By Aebarschall at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10250349; Bell School, Richmond, R.I., By John Phelan – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57432596; Covered bridge, Bloomfield, Vt. By Magicpiano – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51961195. This story was updated in 2020.