zero, Seneca is Oregon's Icebox
evening news won't tell
54 Below Zero!
Here is Seneca, perched 4,700 ft.
high in its remote mountain valley north of Burns and south of
John Day. These days, it has only 220 citizens, but in its glory
days it was a company-owned lumber boom town that was linked by
railroad to Burns, where the Hines lumber empire of Chicago made
its Oregon Base of operations; the prize was the virgin pine forests
of the region, especially the magnificent stands of Ponderosa
pine around Seneca. The still-isolated little hamlet is routinely
Oregon's coldest place, although 99% of Oregonians will NEVER
KNOW IT, as its weather news and data are NEVER picked up by the
media----- In 1933, a couple of years after the establishment
of its official weather station in mid-1931, it recorded 54 degrees
below zero during a "Siberian Express" cold wave that
set State all-time record low-temperatures that still stand in
the Year 2010 as far away as Texas! (see bottom of page for the actual worldwide
records of February, 1933)....IIf you are interested
the newspaper story, please click here..... Maybe 1933 will not seem so far
away in its historical context: Franklin D. Roosevelt became President
of the United States; Adolf Hitler was beginning his rise to power
in Germany; and US banks were in an absolute panic over the deepening
Great Depression, most of them CLOSED in February while Oregon's
temperature record was being set! . In the image above, Spring flooding due to heavy
snow melt in the higher moutains makes the village appear abnormally
wet. Generally, it has a very cold and dry climate, a lot like
Tibet, actually. The Strawberry Mountains rise to 9,000 feet in
background. The Logan Valley is about 15 miles to the east, higher,
and possibly even colder than Seneca... And, there is a place
colder even than Seneca, but it is uninhabited-- it's a small
5,500 ft. valley
named Crane Prarie,
ten miles east of Logan Valley... It's remote weather station
verifies that it is definitely colder than Seneca, at least during
periods of stagnating air that typically produce Oregon's record
cold nights. (see link to new webpage on this topic just above).
While mentioning the topic of places even colder than Seneca,
I will mention that Seneca's 54 below was unofficially beaten
in 1962 (click
Seneca is quite
capable of generating a week-long string of 40 below zero nights
in any sizeable Arctic cold snap; the last time it did so was
in 1989 (the year the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground in Alaska).
Officially, Seneca has been down to 54 below zero F; unofficial
Old Timer reports from before the establishment of the official
weather station recorded 60 below zero in the Big Cold Snap of
1927, and 1924 is also mentioned as a year where it likely was
lower than 55 below, and one wonders also about early December
1919, when many records were set that still stand today, eg. Yakima,
WA at 24 below on Dec. 13th........Back in 1931 Seneca came onto
the weather reporting stage with a bang, and soon was setting
State records left and right, eg. during the very nasty winter
of 1931-32, where the lonely town was hit with what appear to
be four sucessive arctic air invasions... seeing 30 below Nov.
29, more serious cold Dec. 15 where it went to 38 below, then
worse yet January 23 at 41 below, and finally a late winter smash
perhaps still not equalled in Oregon history, a 49 below on February
14, 1932..... Due to Seneca's known potential to set a new State
temperature record even colder than 54 below, the Weather Service
in 1995 installed a special type of arctic thermometer at Seneca,
capable of reading directly to 60 below zero without error (but
will "Global Warming" make this pointless, see bottom of this
Link to Oregon
Climate Service's new webpage commemorating Seneca's records, by George
Taylor, State Climatologist, with abundant quotations from my
original interviews with Seneca residents, plus historical material.
here to see Seneca's weather station and then meet Howard Lohf, the Seneca Cooperative
Weather Observer who painfully measured his record-breaking thermometer
with a ruler that morning in 1933-- it had been so cold that the
mercury had gone completely off the scale of at 40 below zero!
Play amateur weatherman!
How cold is it
in Seneca right now? Click
here to enter a National Weather Service (NWS) site that will tell you both
the most recent hourly temp at Seneca, and also the previous seven
days hourly temperatures.... On the NWS site, you will see an
interactive complex map of Eastern Oregon-Eastern Washington.
The trick of the map is that only the most major towns are named,
so you will need to hover your mouse over the tiny crosses that
have temperatures next to them, eg. "30" showing 30
degrees F --- To find Seneca, hover on the crosses south of John
Day, and soon you'll see the one showing a box of information
about Seneca. Smile, now you're a real Oregon weather nut!
wrote a story for Cascades East Magazine (Winter 94-95 edition)
about Seneca's friendly, cold-hardened residents, please visit
the Howard Lohf link provided: Howard Lohf. You'll also see the current Seneca weather
station and meet the Cooperative Weather Observer Mr.
-- Speaking of extreme Cold in Oregon, SEVEN other populated spots
in Oregon have recorded 50 below zero or worse, two of the most
well-known being Meacham just off I-84 in the Blue Mountains, (click link)---- and
Ukiah, just north of the John
Day region in north-central Eastern Oregon... I have reworked
weather station map to show their locations, click here... I call them simply:
"Oregon's Arctic Kings." For a listing of what I call
Oregon's "Arctic Queens," click here.
Also, even major
cities east of the Cascade Range such as Bend can experience ice jam flooding, such as occurs
in really arctic places like Alaska. Here the Deschutes River
at Mirror Pond in Bend has ice-jammed and shown the owners of
the Riverside Market how accurate they were in naming their business!
This was probably the big arctic cold wave of Christmas-time 1983.
The gas price on the side of the market reads $1.29, amazing!
Speaking of colder
yet, take a peek at current conditions at the World's Acknowleged
Record Holder, Vostok, Antarctica. Hint: remember that the seasons
are reversed if it doesn't seem terribly cold right now-----At
over 11,000 ft. on the Antarctic Plateau, Vostok Station holds
the World's All-Time record, a stunning 129 degrees below zero
F. (July 21, 1983) ...even in mid-summer, it rarely rises above
minus 40 degrees! Please click
you will see Vostok weather for the past several days. On April
19, 2005 it was 87 below zero when I checked, the equivalent of
mid-October in the U.S.
February, 1933 was a world-record setting Arctic
Express cold wave, with records still standing in 2006! A true
1933, 90 below
Siberia, still the coldest it has ever been in the Northern Hemisphere!
1933, 12 below
Lake City, Utah, still the coldest it has ever been on that date.
1933, 23 below
Texas, still the coldest it has ever been in Texas!
1933, 30 below
Lake City, Utah, still the coldest it has ever been in Salt Lake
1933, 17 below
Washington, still the coldest ever seen for a Feb. 9th!
1933, 63 below
Wyoming, still the coldest it has ever been in Wyoming!
1933, 66 below
Yellowstone, Montana, still the coldest January temperature ever
recorded in Montana!
1933, 54 below
Oregon, tied for the coldest it has ever been in Oregon!
1933, 54 below zero in Seneca, officially cited as Oregon's coldest
due to Weather Service policy of citing the most recent occurrence
of a temperature record..... Meanwhile, in the sheltered Willamette
Valley, here's how Feb. 9 and 10 went: Eugene: 11 degrees above
zero on Feb. 9, 1933, and 15 degrees on Feb. 10, 1933 (both records
still standing). Salem: 13 degrees on Feb. 9, 1933, and 12 degrees
on Feb. 10, 1933 (both records still standing, and Salem's records
go all the way back to 1893!).... Portland: 1933 temps. unknown,
the Weather Service cites records only back to 1940 for Portland,
and those records give us Feb. 9 and 10 this way: a puny 25 degree
record low for the 9th (in 1986), and 22 degrees for the 10th
1933, Crater Lake National Park, 6,400 ft, Oregon
Cascades, with notes about La Nina vs. El Nino
1933 did not
produce any long-standing extreme cold records at Crater Lake
National Park on the crest of the Cascades, some 180 air miles
to the southwest of Seneca. However, two Oregon extreme snowfall
records were set during the winter of 1932-1933 at Crater Lake.
The first --- a monumental 879 inches of snow for the winter season
(seventy-three feet of snow, as high as an nine-story building).
The second---Oregon's monthly State snowfall record of 256 inches,
set during January, 1933. This was just weeks before Seneca was
hit with stunning 54 degree below zero temperatures.... Oregon has not seen a
winter to compare in the seventy years since then! .... Discussion: El Nino vs. La Nina: Modern science informs
us that it is very likely that a strong La Nina was behind 1933's
conjunction of severe cold and big snow-making storms in the mountains.
To quote from State Climatologist George Taylor "...Extreme
cold events occur almost exclusively during La Nina years."
In correspondence with him, he stated, "1932-33 was an El
Nino turning into a La Nina, much like this year (2007), though
it happened in 1932 later in the year. Often those transition
years produce the most extreme events."
Other Arctic Kings,
Queens, Princes, and Princesses
Other spots in
Oregon that have been minus 50 or below include: Ukiah, Danner,
Blitzen, Drewsey, and Riverside (Blitzen now barely even a ghost
town, and Riverside's status seems now more like a ranching operation
rather than a town since its Post Office closed down)... Also
big in the 50-Below Club are Austin and Meacham. All occasions at these
seven locations were pre-1940... There is a strong possibility
that the extreme winters of both 1949 and 1950 might have brought
minus 50 to Seneca, but there were no weather observations made
in either of those winters. There may be more recent 50-below
dates from other stations, even other Arctic King places to add
to the list, but some of the promising stations had "missing
data" in their records during years when they might have
recorded extreme cold.. .. One in particular that comes to mind
is "Fox," in a 4,400 ft. high valley, about 30 miles
north of John Day-- it recorded 42 below zero on January 31, 1950,
but had no data for 1949, and actually only recorded data until
about March of 1957, ending with an impressive 34 below on Jan.
26, 1957........Back to the cold wave of 1950---Given 42 below
zero cold in the general vicinity of Seneca in January 1950, my
personal bet is that late January, 1950 was the last time that
Oregon saw minus 50 or lower-- and my bet is that it occurred
in Seneca... however, I should also mention at this point that
there is unofficial data that January of 1962 saw temperatures
go lower than Seneca's 54 below! (click for more)
1933--- a really
record-setting year for Oregon... As if setting Oregon's all-time
record low weren't enough, Oregon's worst-ever wildfire ignited
on August 14th, 1933, the infamous Tillamook Burn..... Related
Climatic Note: Oregon experienced a record-setting drought during
most of the 1930s, which some claim was equalled only by the terrible
of the 1840s.
The generalized effect of years of drought probably set the stage
for the severity of the Tillamook Burn. The dryness may also have
have been an underlying factor in the winters of 1932, 1933, and
1937, which all set numerous all-time cold records still not equalled,
eg. Austin having, in January 1937, an Average temperature for
the entire month of an even 0.0 degrees F. (this is really cold,
4 degrees colder than the January average in Fargo, North
Dakota)... Austin is a tiny place in a high mountain valley east
of John Day and Prarie City.
Notes comparing the 1930s to Recent Times---- the existence of global warming has
been endlessly argued, and the following data will help illustrate
how confusing things can be. The 1930s in Oregon established Oregon's
all-time record low and also many other winter cold records that
still stand--- so one is surprised to learn that the hottest-ever
summer in U.S. history occurred in 1936, with an average summer
temperature (June 1-Aug. 30) of 74.73 degrees F (period of record
1895-2005)........ The Nation's third hottest summer was 1934..
Astoundingly, 1933 nationwide was the sixth hottest summer ever
recorded (73.59 degrees F)!... As a matter of fact, 5 out of the
10 hottest summers ever recorded in the U.S. occurred during the
1930s! Meanwhile, only 4 out of the 10 hottest-ever summers have
occurred since 1990. Thus, during the 1930s, U.S. weather experts
might have been convinced that Global Warming was taking over,
but, if they had lived in Oregon, they might have been drawing
an opposite conclusion!
No More Record-Setting Cold and Snowy Winters? Some
thoughts on Global Warming Theories vs. the Coming new Ice Age.
haven't there been any extreme cold winters in recent years (eg.
the last really extreme arctic air Cold Wave in Seneca was over
20 years ago, 48 below zero in 1989)? Portland's last year with
anything one might call a "real" snowstorm was probably
10 years ago, in 1993. (click for page with Deep
Portland Snowfalls) ----Note: as of early January 2009, Portland has now
racked-up a very impressive snowfall record, the winter so far
becoming the third snowiest by some measures, coming in well behind
the huge winters of 1949-50, and 1968-69 (note, also, that the
severe cold that accompanied those other two winters has been
lacking, and the coldest temperature of the period was 20 degrees,
recorded on three occasions shortly before Christmas).
cold winters a thing of the past-- with Global Warming being the
culprit? Below is a quotation from the NCDC (National Climatic
Data Center), which was used in George Taylor's book, "The
Climate of Oregon" (1999).
The 1999 quote
states that NCDC researchers have not found clear evidence for
global warming, but there is a noteworthy trend: "... There has been a clear
trend in recent decades, however, to fewer extremely low minimum
temperatures in several widely-scattered areas..." A similar trend has been
posited by George R. Miller in his new book, "Pacific Northwest
Weather, But My Barometer Says Fair!" (Frank Amato Publications,
2002). Mr. Miller notes a major reduction in winter snowfall in
both Portland and Seattle since records began in approx. 1870,
eg. ten year periods in the early portion showing over FOUR times
as much snowfall as recent ten year periods! (winters 1880/81-1889/90
had 196 inches of snow, whereas winters 1980/81-1989/90 had a
paltry 40 inches).... Click for more thoughts
on Global Warming as it might be affecting Oregon.
The upshot for
children and cold-loving adults in Oregon is depressing, predicting
that the current spate of boring winters will continue, with little
or no snow, no exciting cold snaps, and in fact whole winters
where it only drops below 28 degress F a few times. Those with
really long memories can wonder if ever again will the Willamette
River at Portland freeze over so that autos can cross on the thick
ice-- the last time that occurred was over fifty years ago! Here
are some quotations from the Oregonian newspaper in December of
1924, when both the Willamette and Columbia Rivers were frozen
solid, and even as far south as Eugene, the ice was still seven
inches thick; the great freeze-up began by mid-month and extended
well into January:
on the Columbia* between Portland and Astoria presents a wonderful
sight, according to those who came on the early train from Astoria.
The river is frozen and in billows, reflecting the color of the
sunrise, as do the frozen waterfalls along the way." ..(*The mighty Columbia River is 1,240 miles
long, and ranks as one of the United State's largest rivers).
For a better sense of just how cold Oregon got in December 1924,
see what happened in far southeastern Oregon at the hamlet of
researchers believe that we are living in the tail end of an Interglacial
period; in fact, that the next major glacial period is overdue.
Some believe that whatever global warming effects man's technology
has had, it is only slightly delaying or mitigating the great
cold and ice to come, when the entire northern half of North America
is once again going to become uninhabitable under the unstoppable
power of glaciers thousands of feet thick. Goodbye, New York,
Boston, Chicago, perhaps even Washington, D.C..(link to my pages
Age Floods and Ice Age Climate in the Portland area)........ Let's finish
this section with notes from two winters, 1950 and 1968-69...
First, some quotations from the brutal winter of 1950, where for
an entire month the Portland area lay under a deep blanket of
snow over a foot deep:
over the entire State were far below normal, and precipitation
was much above. The major portion of this precipitation fell in
the form of snow and sleet even in the western division (eg. Willamette
Valley). In Portland a total of 32.9 inches of snow fell during
the month....Severe blizzard conditions on the 13th and a heavy
sleet and ice storm on the 18th-19th together caused several hundred
thousand dollars worth of damage and virtually halted traffic
for two or three days over widespread areas, particularly in western
Oregon...." George Taylor adds, "...All highways west
of the Cascades and through the Columbia River Gorge were closed
due to large snow drifts." (First quote is from the 1950
Annual Climatological Summary, written by E.S. Ellison, and second
quotation is from The Oregon Weather Book by George Taylor.
here for more on Winter 1950.
us to a more recent time, let's not forget the winter of 1968-69.
This winter featured a brutal double-whammy of snow in January.
In total there were 18 days with one inch or more of snow on the
ground, with snow up to 9 inches deep during the first period,
and up to 10 inches deep in the second! Kids were in heaven and
snowmen almost out-numbered people by the time the long snowy
Recent Seneca Cold Events and Records
Warming Up in the New Millenium, 2000-present, and notes about
insane diurnal changes in Oregon
in the New Millenium, 1989-Present, things really warming up!
Future of Snow Sports in Oregon if Global Warming is True
Page last revised 11/06/2013