More on Seneca and the Future of Oregon's Arctic King


Seneca, Oregon

Although Seneca's former mighty Arctic cold waves may have been toned-down by global warming (see bottom of previous page), Seneca in the mid-1990s and into the 2000s was still capable of generating some extreme minimums that would cause old records to fall in any of the major U.S. cities (outside Alaska). For the most recent cold waves, eg. 2011 and 2013, click here.

Oregon's most recent major arctic cold wave was in 1990. Although 1996 saw a respectable arctic blast, it was only a moderate cold wave by old-time Seneca standards--- the '96 cold wave hit in very late January of 1996. In Seneca it generated a respectable 35 below zero on the coldest night....But by old-time Seneca standards, this was only a moderate cold wave, which set no new records on any of its five days... Here are the figures for the 1996 cold wave: January 30, low temperature was 8 below zero... January 31, low was 19 below zero... February 1, low was 20 below zero... February 2, 1996, the low was 35 below zero... February 3, low was 32 below zero... February 4-- the cold wave abruptly broke...(click here to see some examples of really major cold waves in Seneca!)..... Image: old corral a few miles north of Seneca. This is the northern part of the Bear Valley, elevation about 4,800 feet. In the middle distance is a deserted homestead, and on the horizon is 9,000 foot high Strawberry Mountain. See page bottom for an enlargement of the deserted homestead.


UPDATES, January 2014: In the many years since 1990, Seneca had been a wimper of its former Arctic King self. But late in 2010 and early in 2011, there was some cause for hope. And then again in Dec. of 2013.... Read on..... The year's low for 2009 was a pathetic 1 below zero. But in late December of 2010, the first really significant arctic blast since 1996 descended on Seneca. It was fairly mild compared to the mighty cold waves of the past (click to see some of them).... The arctic air of 2010 hit rather suddenly on Dec. 31, with the temperature plummeting to 27 below zero. The cold wave was six days long, again nothing compared to the long-lasting severe cold of the big Arctic blasts, but still, for six days it was subzero every night. The coldest was 30 below on January 1, 2011. The other four nights were never worse than 16 below....But then to cap off the Winter of 2012-2011, on Feb. 26, 2011, Seneca reared up its Arctic head quite unexpectedly, hitting 33 below zero on Feb. 26th; it was a real oddball event, eg. the 25th was a little cold but hardly more than a bit sub-normal, then whamo, 33 below on the 26th, then the next night was well above zero and it was all over, like a dream! ............................... Note: the 1996 cold wave had hit in very late January of 1996. In Seneca it generated a respectable 35 below zero on the coldest night....But by old-time Seneca standards, this was only a moderate cold wave, neither very deep or very long. It set no new records on any of its five days... Here are the figures for the 1996 cold wave: January 30, low temperature was 8 below zero... January 31, low was 19 below zero... February 1, low was 20 below zero... February 2,, 1996, low was 35 below zero... February 3, low was 32 below zero... February 4-- the cold wave abruptly broke...(click here to see some examples of truly major cold waves in Seneca!).....

December of 2013 featured an early December arctic blast that very much reminded me of the huge blast that hit all of Oregon in early December of 1972. (click to read about 1972). The 2013 blast was not as severe or as long-lasting, but it did get down to 26 below on one night (December 8th).... What made this a truly significant Arctic blast was not Seneca's 26 below; contrary to normal patterns, Seneca was far from the coldest spot in the State. That distinction was 41 below zero, and it went to a very new unmanned remote station up on the High Desert east of Bend named Horse Ridge (see picture). It sits in a former Pleistocene lake bed just west of Pine Mountain. It's definitely cold sink topography. Horse Ridge may prove to be a rival in the Arctic King category with Seneca, although Seneca is a real town with permanent residents..... The Dec. 2013 cold wave was quite peculiar, because it seemed to really focus itself on just a few areas, mostly notably Central Oregon, parts of Eastern Oregon, and very peculiarly, Eugene in the Southern Willamette Valley! Here are some figures and records set: Redmond at 27 below zero. Lakeview setting a new all-time low of 27 below. Burns at 30 below zero. Medford at 2 degrees. Eugene was amazing: it was first buried with 7 inches of nice, dry snow on Dec. 6th, and then the temperature plummeted to 10 below on Dec. 8th, just two degrees shy of Eugene's all-time record since 1890... and the cold wave settled in and lingered for nine full days..... For contrast, the coldest Seattle got was 19 degrees and the coldest in Portland was 12 degrees.


Click here to skip to a listing of the major cold waves to hit Seneca since the Big One of 1933!


Early Season Cold-- one truly remarkable thing about cold in Seneca is how early in the season it can occur, and this facet of Seneca's climate doesn't appear to have warmed up in recent years, eg. in Fall of 2002 a major cold spell began on October 12, and continued through the end of the month.... October 12-20 had nine days in a row with ground-freezing cold, beginning with an amazing 4 above zero on October 12, and continuing for eight more nights with lows of 4 to 12 degrees; then a few days of warming, followed by four more nights in the 5 to 9 degree range.... Then, October 31 hitting 11 below zero, which was 2002's lowest recorded temperature in Seneca.... Followed by a chilling 9 below zero on November 1.... such early season cold can also be mirrored in Springtime in Seneca, eg. March 18th, 2002 had 4 below zero-- goodbye to all your spring bulbs at those temperatures!



The Daily Rise and Fall of temperatures is called "Diurnal change."

Seneca ought to also be famous for its insane dirurnal temperature changes... Often late summer/early fall is the prime season for these, with very clear dry air and longer nights to foster intense radiational cooling. Example: October 7, 1964, high of a summery 82, but a morning low of 22 degrees. The day before had had a low of 18, with a high of 78. These daily changes of 50-60 degrees are not unusual in Seneca... And there are places in Oregon with even more insane diurnal changes than even Seneca! My contender for that honor goes to Fremont, in the Fort Rock Valley of Central Oregon, perhaps 60 air miles SE of Bend, and at an elevation of 4500 feet. A sample from the record: September 23, 1993: morning low of 10 and afternoon high a very pleasant 71, followed a few days later on Sept. 29th with a high of 87 and a low of 20 degrees! --- Note: Fremont was a regular Co-op reporting station from 1909 to 1996; it was not a town, but some kind of Ranch. In more recent years, it appears to have been replaced by a station named "Cabin Lake," some 10 miles to the NE; Cabin Lake is part of a small park, and my monitoring of it so far shows it to be quite comparable to the old Fremont in terms of climate. Even more recently, a station called "Fort Rock" is filling the official records, appearing in most respects similar to the three preceding stations around the Christmas Lake Valley-Fort Rock area (those being, "Lake," Fremont, and Cabin Lake).

Arctic King Seneca at its Best--- REAL COLD WAVES!

1985. What a year! February of '85 shivered with a bleak 43 below zero early in the month. This was an evil thing which residents strove to forget during the pleasant summer which followed... But the arctic cold returned early, clamping down hard by late November, when Thanksgiving saw a six day long period that got as low as 31 below (average low was 14 below). ... And November was just a prelude, with December 1985 being a brutally cold month for Seneca, which suffered through a record-setting string of sub-zero nights that lasted a full 21 days in a row, the cold finally breaking on the 22nd day, which was New Years Day 1986-- it was a balmy 1 above zero!

1983. An arctic sneak attack!... December 22nd, high 0, low 27 below zero. December 23rd, high a frozen 5 below zero with an achingly bitter 48 below morning. December 24th, Christmas Eve, high of 3 above, with low of 40 below zero. Then a heat wave came for Christmas Day, with a high of 17 above!

1989. The last of the cold waves of Giant Stature to hit Seneca: temperatures dipped to 48 below zero on February 6, with an average low temp of 39 below zero for five consecutive days during the eleven day long cold wave! -- 1989 highlights an important facet of Seneca climate, which is the historic prevalence of huge cold events during the first two weeks of February. Some of Seneca's coldest-ever records have been repeatedly set -- not in December or January-- but instead in February, very close in time to when its all-time record low was set (February 10, 1933, 54 degrees below zero F.). Note about 1990. Oregon was hit with a very big arctic blast in December of 1990, which bottomed out at 42 below zero on December 21st at Fremont, a 4600 ft. high ranch in the vicinity of Fort Rock and Christmas Lake. As nearly as I can tell, this was the last time Oregon has officially recorded 40 below or worse!

1972. An early December cold wave of major proportions that lasted for twelve days (remember, officially, winter does not even begin until December 22!)...... Here are the daily low temps for the twelve days... December 4th, low of 0. Then the cold rapidly got much worse, with daily lows as follow: -26, -17, -15, -36, -40,-37, -35, -29, 5 above, -18, and -16 on December 15th.... A personal note on this cold wave: I spent an exciting 5 days camping out in the midst of this cold wave. I was camped near Sisters and the Metolius River, where it was "only" 28 below zero on the coldest night... A remembered sight from that camp will stay forever with me: it's the bright sunlight streaming through ponderosa needles with the air glittering all over with tiny suspended ice crystals!

Winter 1978-79. This winter is often not remembered, but it was clobbered with severe arctic outbreaks twice in one month. The first blast set in right after Christmas, with Dec. 29th recording 34 below, then 41 below on Dec. 30th, 1978, then 35 below, then a 40 below to usher in New Years of 1979, finishing on January 2, 1979 with 25 below. That ought to have been enough for one winter, but late in the month another bad arctic outbreak hit Seneca hard. January 26 at 25 below, Jan. 27 at 20 below, Jan. 28 at 29 below, Jan. 29 at 33 below, Jan. 30 at 37 below, Jan. 31 at 34 below, Feb. 1 at 29 below, Feb. 2 at 39 below, and Feb. 3 at 34 below (and then very abrupt warming for Feb. 4th).

1962, approx. January 20-24. 60 Below Zero? This is a highly interesting, but brief cold wave. Seneca hit -38, -41, and -39 on consecutive nights, with the coldest being on January 22... Meanwhile, in the "Big City" of Bend, it went down to -24, just two degrees warmer than Bend's all-time record. What is so highly interesting about this particular cold wave is that there are UNOFFICIAL records from high in Paulina Crater, south of Bend, that Oregon's ALL-TIME record coldest was beaten during this cold wave! In other words, that it went below the 54 below zero recorded at Seneca in 1933! In fact, the reported low was 60 below zero! A correspondent tells me that this figure was even broadcast on the radio in both Bend and Coos Bay.... Given what I know about the topography of Paulina Crater, my own opinion is that this could have been quite possible; several other stations in the area set all-time record lows, such as Crater Lake, with a 21 below, its coldest in its entire 1931-2008 history..... Click here to visit my five pages about the Paulina Crater area... Addendum- as supporting data, I noted that a major, but brief, cold wave hit Portland on these same dates, establishing record lows for Jan. 21, 22, and 23 that are still standing in 2009 (those lows were 9, 12, and 12, in that order). ... Other related records will illustrate 1962, January 23, all these are record lows for January 23 still standing in 2015: 3 at Medford; 35 below at Jackson, Wyoming, Boise 12 below; Ontario, OR at 25 below; Baker, OR at 28 below; Burns at 22 below; Redmond at 27 below.

1957. Now we're talking the snarling-cold Seneca of historic record!... January of this year featured two separate major cold waves, together lasting the entire last half of January! On January 16th, the cold wave hit, with a low of -20.... The following four nights had an average low of -14.... Then there were four days of relative respite, with lows ranging from 4 to 10 above zero..... but then the hammer struck again, even harder, lasting all the way through to the bitter end of the month. January 25 had -14. January 26 shivered at -43. January 27 at -40. January 28 still at -37. January 29 still at -33. January 30 at -29. January 31 at -26. Finally, the cold broke on February 1, when a powerful incursion of much warmer air brought an astounding change, with a low of 27 ABOVE zero, a full 53 degrees warmer than the day before!

1955. Mid-November of 1955 featured a very intense arctic air invasion that lasted 2 to 3 days. It produced 31 below zero at Seneca, an astoundingly low reading for so early in the season.... An interesting feature of this cold wave was that it travelled mainly along the western side of the Cascades in the State of Washington, for example, producing an impressive 1 below zero in the sea-level city of Olympia, but only 3 below on the east side in Yakima. (Olympia's all-time record low is only a few degrees colder!) .... Meanwhile, the cold did penetrate Oregon, with Redmond recording 14 below, and Portland recording a comparatively mild 13 above. Seneca, however, in its usual "Arctic King" manner, took this early-season cold wave and turned it into a very impressive 31 below zero on the morning of November 15th, 1955! .... In the image to left, we see a deserted homestead in the north part of Bear Valley, about 6 miles north of town. In 1955, this homestead would have been in considerably better repair, but probably had not been lived in since Seneca's lumber boom days in the 1930s and 1940s.

* My definition of "recent" is "since 1951." Weather records for most Eastern Oregon weather sites got digitized only back to 1949/1950. But please recall that due to the ill health of Mr. Howard Lohf (Seneca's long-time observer) there are no weather records from Seneca for either 1949 or 1950. This is very unfortunate because both years had extraordinarily cold winters which undoubtably would have broken several records. Local reports from Seneca in my possession state firmly that it hit 50 below zero on January 31, 1950, which, if confirmable, would constitute the most recent time that Oregon has hit 50 below zero! (on this date, Prineville, Oregon recorded 30 below zero, and historical records consistently show that it is not unusual for Seneca in a major cold wave to be 15-20 degrees colder than Prineville).


East of Madras and Prineville is John Day River Country and Seneca

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Page Last Revised January 23, 2015