Top 10 Coldest Temperatures in South Carolina History


The heat of this summer may not have waned yet, but cool air will be headed our way shortly. Growing up in the coastal plain of South Carolina, I was always fascinated with the weather that winter brings. This obsession is what led me to write this series of articles on weather. Therefore, the cold temperatures analyzed in this article are only right behind snowfall in my weather interest level (some of my northern friends would definitely chastise me for this weird interest).

Below is a table of the lowest 10 (with some ties) temperatures measured in South Carolina history (as of August 31, 2018) with date, nearest location, and temperature.

Lowest 10 Temperatures Measured in SC History (1853 – August 2018):

# Date Location Temperature [°F]
1 01/21/1985 Caesars Head, SC -19
T-2 02/14/1899 Santuck (Union County), SC -11
T-2 02/14/1899 Shaws Fork (Aiken County), SC -11
T-2 01/09/1970 Caesars Head, SC -11
T-5 01/11/1982 Caesars Head, SC -10
T-5 01/30/1966 Caesars Head, SC -10
T-7 12/31/1917 Landrum, SC -9
T-7 02/14/1899 Cheraw, SC -9
T-9 01/21/1985 Long Creek, SC -8
T-9 02/03/1917 Rock House (Oconee County), SC -8
T-9 02/14/1899 Newberry, SC -8

Thoughts:

  • Caesars Head takes the cake for the coldest place in South Carolina. On a top 10 list that ends up having 11 entries due to ties, Caesars Head has recorded 4 of the coldest temperatures in South Carolina history.
  • Sassafras Mountain, the tallest mountain in the state, only had weather observations from 1942 to 1963. None of these really cold days that make up the top 10 coldest days in SC history fall in this period. One could imagine that the all-time state low might be even lower if there was weather data coming from Sassafras or even nearby Table Rock Mountain.
  • Santuck, in Union County, has made both the hottest and coldest lists. Quite fascinating! The records on both have at least passed NCDC quality checks. It makes one wonder what could cause this station to be able to experience such extreme temperatures.
  • It is hard to tell if climate change is playing a role with record low temperatures, as climate change is going to be more evident in deviations from the average observed temperatures. However, one simple observation is that we have post-2000 temperatures making the hottest SC list. Noticeably absent are any record cold temperatures after 1985 on this list. Just food for thought.
  • The all-time state low temperature generated in January of 1985 is made all the more impressive in that it was not due to a snowfall. The NWS Wilmington, NC weather field office has a good write-up on the cold air mass of this time.
  • The geographic distribution of the top 10 cold temperatures is pretty much as expected. Higher elevations and distance from the coast dictate lower temperatures. However, Cheraw’s presence on this map shows that latitude can also be just as important in determining temperature when cold air is being driven from the north. The closer to the cold air source, regardless of elevation, made Cheraw able to make this list.
  • The cold outbreak of February 1899 probably had much lower observed temperatures that were not recorded in the mountains of SC. I would guess this because seeing cold temperatures in Aiken, Chesterfield, and Union counties tells me the cold was widespread. Obviously, datasets do not go as far back for Caesars Head or other mountain locales, but one could extrapolate that the temperature was at least a 2-3 degrees colder (if not more) in the mountain regions of SC.

All-Time South Carolina Weather Series:

  1. Top 10 Hottest Temperatures in South Carolina History
  2. Top 10 Coldest Temperatures in South Carolina History (this article)
  3. Top 10 Highest Daily Rainfalls in South Carolina History

About this data:

As a part of a series exploring South Carolina weather, I have compiled a complete database of quality-controlled data from the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), a part of the National Oceangraphic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This data uses observations from all kinds of sources that are quality-checked by the NCDC to ensure that these are precise measurements. In case you are interested, and I have cited below, the subset used is the Global Historical Climatology Network – Daily, containing summary of the day measurements from all kinds of sources.

Citation:

Menne, M.J., I. Durre, B. Korzeniewski, S. McNeal, K. Thomas, X. Yin, S. Anthony, R. Ray, R.S. Vose, B.E.Gleason, and T.G. Houston, 2012: Global Historical Climatology Network – Daily (GHCN-Daily), Version 3.24. NOAA National Climatic Data Center. http://doi.org/10.7289/V5D21VHZ 2018-09-03.

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