We learn a lot at Penn State, but during our first spring semester the most important lesson is arguably how to stay warm. Sub-freezing temperatures and hefty piles of snow are the norm for students in State College. Complaints about the cold, piling on multiple layers of clothes, and kids sprawled out on the sidewalk after slipping on ice are actually pretty common. It’s easy, however, for current students to not realize how bitter some of the coldest State College winters have been.
Penn State climatologists have kept track of the weather for over a century. Kyle Imhoff, a Penn State climatologist in the Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science, tracked down the records his predecessors recorded and his research reminds students why they shouldn’t complain about a 20-degree morning.
A frigid day during the nineteenth century gave State College its coldest day in recorded history. On February 10, 1899, State College temperatures dipped down to a chilly -20 degrees Fahrenheit. The National Weather Service predicts that humans will get frostbite after only 10-30 minutes of outdoor exposure at this temperature. December’s chilliest day in 2016 was an arguably reasonable five degrees Fahrenheit, which isn’t quite as bad but is certainly cold.
State College residents are also no stranger to snow. According to Imhoff, the highest daily snowfall recorded in State College was 26.6 inches on March 3, 1994.
For those already dreaming of warmer months, the highest temperature recorded by Penn State’s climatologists is a tie between July 17, 1988 and July 9, 1936. Both days came in at a sweltering 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Fortunately this happened during summer break — there’s nothing worse than back sweat and squeezing next to someone in Forum after a hike from downtown.
Even if it hasn’t been as miserably cold as 1899, sometimes it doesn’s take sub-zero temperatures to ruin students’ days (read: icy Syllabus Week sidewalks).