This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Bear Lake Summit (Cache County) • Last week, I set off on a scientific expedition into the mountains east of Logan. My mission was to verify a report that Utah had recorded the coldest spot in the contiguous United States.
On Wednesday, the temperature at Peter Sinks measured minus 49 degrees Fahrenheit. Peter Sinks is at 8,000 feet above sea level and about three miles south of Bear Lake Summit, in Logan Canyon.
A "sink" is a depression (hole) in the ground that traps cold air during the night. Instruments placed in the sink are remotely monitored by, I suspect, a scientist who couldn't get a date that night.
I wasn't convinced about Wednesday's claim. It runs contrary to conventional science. Everybody knows that the deeper the hole, the closer you get to hell and, correspondingly, the warmer things get.
Peter Sinks wasn't our only cold sore last week. On the same day, Randolph also reported a national low for the day, coming in at minus 28 degrees.
I doubted this as well because Randolph is in Rich County, and the only way they have of measuring the cold up there is by hitting a cow with a hammer. Don't laugh. It works.
For example, if the cow makes a noise approximating "Moo!" and runs off, the temperature is considered safe for children to play outdoors. Conversely, if the cow makes a noise like an anvil and doesn't even blink, it's best to stay inside until spring.
Real science is all about measuring stuff. In Logan, I outfitted my truck with a half dozen thermometers. I duct-taped one to the grill of my truck. The rest were suction-cupped to the windows. I set off.
You can't always believe a thermometer. Any number of factors can affect its reading. Watching six digital thermometers is like trying to figure out the truth by staring at Congress.
At the mouth of Logan Canyon, the thermometer on the windshield read 27.1 degrees. The one on the passenger window read 78.6 degrees, and the driver's window 34.2 degrees. The one on the back window blew off and the car behind me ran over it. It read #0&.6 degrees for the rest of the day.
Near the summit, the temperature had dropped an average of 20 degrees on all of the thermometers except the passenger window, which hadn't budged from 78.6. I later found out it was because I forgot to peel off the plastic display film on the screen.
See what I mean? You can't trust science.
Anecdotal information can also be important to a scientist. I pulled over at a UDOT building near the summit, got rid of the thermometers and interviewed a couple of plow drivers.
Apparently, I had missed the big chill. According to their instrumentation, the temperature had only dropped to minus 15 degrees during the previous night. It was currently a very pleasant 13 degrees.
Me: "What do you do when the temperature becomes dangerously cold and there is a genuine risk of hypothermia?"
Them: "We stay in the truck."
In Randolph, a woman at the gas station said she didn't know if it got down to minus 29 on Wednesday, but it had definitely been too cold for flip flops.
I gave up and came home. You'll have to take the National Weather Service's word for how cold it got last week.
Sadly, Utah is only No. 2 when it comes to the coldest temperature ever recorded in the lower 48 states. Top honor goes to Rogers Pass, Mont., which hit minus 70 degrees Fahrenheit on Jan. 20, 1954.
I have no idea how many cows it took to figure that out.
Robert Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.