The traditional portrait of a picture-perfect Christmas Day includes neighborhoods covered in soft snow, smoke wafting from homes' chimneys, and families gathered together to celebrate one of the most highly anticipated holidays of the year. While many people hope for a white Christmas, keeping track of weather patterns during December can be tricky—especially in a large country like the United States, where there are significant weather variations between regions and coastlines.
To uncover which cities have endured some of the most brutally cold Christmases, Stacker consulted data from 146 available northern U.S. cities in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s “Climate at a Glance: City Time Series” database. Stacker identified the 50 coldest cities by average temperature in December with data from 1968 to 2018 and compiled the minimum and maximum average December temperatures.
Cities were ranked from the highest minimum temperature recorded to the lowest. The data show that while states like New Hampshire and Nebraska certainly get cold, their December weather might seem like a walk in the park in comparison. Regardless, you're wise to be prepared for some serious cold if your home town or holiday vacation destination appears in this gallery. Keep several layers of warm clothes handy—along with a pair of thick gloves or mittens, and plenty of hot cocoa.
Most of the coldest Christmas days in these 50 cities took place in 1983 and 1989. Read on to learn why the Christmas seasons of those two years were unbearably cold and how different towns have adopted their own, unique traditions and events to celebrate the holiday spirit with gusto.
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- Average December temperature: 27.12°
- Maximum temperature: 37.8° (2015)
- Minimum temperature: 12.5° (1989)
The Concord Christmas Parade, which has been organized by State Rep. Dick Patten for the last 48 years, ran into controversy in 2018, according to the Concord Monitor. The mayor of the city and other officials refused to attend the parade because of Patten’s racist remarks towards another state representative, Safiya Wazir, who used to be a refugee from Afghanistan. He commented on how “a lot of out-of-Concord people are getting everything” after Wazir won the general election. This also resulted in the city’s annual Multicultural Festival participants to back out from being a part of the parade after Patten reportedly made them feel unwelcome.
- Average December temperature: 27.10°
- Maximum temperature: 34.1° (1979)
- Minimum temperature: 8.7° (1983)
The Stolley House in Grand Island’s Stolley Park is one of the major Christmas attractions in the city. According to The Grand Island Independent, their annual Christmas open house is a way to celebrate the holiday traditions of the first European settlers who moved to the area in 1859. The house is adorned with Christmas decorations from those times. The decorations include a Christmas tree made of green-dyed goose or turkey feathers that originated in Germany and made popular as an artificial tree in the U.S. during the 20th century.
- Average December temperature: 26.97°
- Maximum temperature: 35.5° (1980)
- Minimum temperature: 12.5° (1983)
The Scottsbluff Christmas Parade that features the U.S. Capitol Tree attracts huge crowds to the downtown area. Every year, the Capitol Christmas Tree has a different theme. In 2018, it was “Find Your Trail” to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System Act, according to Scottsbluff Star-Herald.
- Average December temperature: 26.90°
- Maximum temperature: 34.2° (2015)
- Minimum temperature: 8.7° (1983)
In 1983, an unexpected weather pattern resulted in the frigid Arctic air being pushed to Texas and caused the coldest Christmas on record in Omaha and many other parts of America. Omaha World-Herald reported that during the entire Christmas week, the weather was so unforgivingly cold that it claimed the lives of six people in Nebraska and Iowa. Pipes ended up freezing in people’s homes, and locals described it as “nightmarish” when they had to remove their cars’ batteries to save them from getting frozen and damaged.
- Average December temperature: 26.67°
- Maximum temperature: 39.7° (2015)
- Minimum temperature: 13.1° (1989)
Binghamton’s zoo, Animal Adventure, gets decked up with elaborate Christmas lights every year, and visitors are allowed to feed their animals and meet reindeer to enjoy the holiday spirit. Another amusing event that locals attend is the “Holiday Sweater Contest,” where the person with the ugliest or tackiest holiday sweater wins gift cards from The Colonial at Binghamton University.
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- Average December temperature: 26.66°
- Maximum temperature: 33.9° (1991)
- Minimum temperature: 8° (1983)
In Nebraska, North Platte is famous for going above and beyond to celebrate Christmas. The city transforms into a wonderland of extravagant holiday lights. Cody Park is one of the most popular light festivals but far from the only major Christmas event. The city follows a long tradition known as the “Carousel of Homes,” which includes four houses completely adorned with decorations and lightings. For instance, one home had a Union Pacific model train running through it.
- Average December temperature: 26.38°
- Maximum temperature: 39.2° (2015)
- Minimum temperature: 8.6° (1989)
The December 1989 Arctic outbreak resulted in record-breaking low temperatures not just in Vermont, but also across Connecticut, North Dakota, Maine, and to Florida. The cold wave resulted in 19 days of sub-freezing temperatures in December—making it the seventh coldest month on record.
- Average December temperature: 26.18°
- Maximum temperature: 35.2° (1999)
- Minimum temperature: 7.7° (1983)
In 1983, for eight days straight during the Christmas holidays, Billings survived the coldest December ever recorded. The city made yet another record in December 2016 when it received the heaviest snowfall after 61 long years. Around 30 inches of snow was recorded during that one month, according to the National Weather Service.
This holiday season, Billings is going full-on Christmas with everything from holiday screenings at the Babcock Theatre to ZooLights and Wagon Rides at ZooMontana.
- Average December temperature: 25.93°
- Maximum temperature: 37.8° (2015)
- Minimum temperature: 13.2° (1983)
The Rockford River Lights event, where music-synchronized lights are flashed by the banks of the river, is one of the major Christmas attractions in the city. Another major event is held at the Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens, where holiday-themed lights are installed inside and outside the venue.
- Average December temperature: 25.13°
- Maximum temperature: 32.3° (2014)
- Minimum temperature: 11.4° (1985)
Pocatello is the largest city of Bannock County that has been inhabited by the Bannock and Shoshone tribes for centuries. The city kicks off the Christmas season in November with a festival, parade, and fireworks.
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- Average December temperature: 24.66°
- Maximum temperature: 33.6° (1999)
- Minimum temperature: 7.5° (1983)
During the Christmas of 1983 in Rapid City, locals withstood blizzards that were incredibly hostile on the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Indian reservations. The relentless cold claimed the life of one individual, and it became impossible to travel to or from the reservations, particularly during December. Rapid City Journal reported that the government had to open centers with heating for thousands of people.
Holiday events in and around Rapid City include a “Parade of Lights” in which several communities host parades, a Holiday Express train ride with Santa on board, and Storybook Island’s Night of Lights.
- Average December temperature: 24.32°
- Maximum temperature: 34.1° (2015)
- Minimum temperature: 10.1° (1989)
The December 1989 Cold Wave also resulted in the heaviest snowfall Bangor had received during the 1980s, which was known as a rather snowy decade. During the Christmas of 1989, Bangor Daily News reported that 14 inches of snowfall—4 inches deeper than the previous year’s snowfall.
- Average December temperature: 24.26°
- Maximum temperature: 31.7° (2006)
- Minimum temperature: 6.7° (1983)
The Christmas 1983 Blizzard also hit Norfolk, a city in Madison County. Locals who had survived that unusually cold December not only in Nebraska but also neighboring states said driving in those weather conditions was immensely challenging. For instance, WTKR-TV’s meteorologist reported that drivers had to keep stopping to scrape ice off their window-shields as their car defrosters couldn’t keep up.
- Average December temperature: 24.23°
- Maximum temperature: 35.1° (1999)
- Minimum temperature: 2.9° (1983)
The city’s Christmas stroll brings at least 3,000 to 5,000 people to downtown Great Falls every year. Other than that, one of the most popular events is known as the Polar Plunge, where athletes of Special Olympics jump into the freezing water.
Great Falls is known for its frigid holiday season. The city plunged to a record-setting -29 degrees Fahrenheit on Christmas in 1983.
- Average December temperature: 23.75°
- Maximum temperature: 33.8° (1980)
- Minimum temperature: 9.8° (1983)
The residents of Casper go all out with their Christmas tree. This year, their Community Christmas Tree weighs a whopping 6,000 pounds, making it the heaviest tree ever put on display at the city’s plaza. Volunteers struggled to mount the tree as the base was not strong enough the first time but could make the adjustments required on the second attempt, according to Oil City News.
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- Average December temperature: 23.63°
- Maximum temperature: 35.1° (2015)
- Minimum temperature: 10.3° (1983)
The main highlight in Madison during the holiday season is how the Wisconsin State Capitol rotunda has the most bling on its gorgeous Christmas trees. A mature Balsam Fir that is at least 40 feet tall is decked up with gold garlands that are as long as 700 feet. Furthermore, the tree has another 2,400 lights of different colors and 1,400 ornaments handmade by the children of Wisconsin. A historic train set that circles the tree adds the additional holiday cheer to this brilliantly festive tree.
- Average December temperature: 23.58°
- Maximum temperature: 34.6° (2015)
- Minimum temperature: 8.3° (1983)
On the Mississippi River, La Crosse is a city in Western Wisconsin that has a temperate and continental climate. Just like many other cities in the U.S., La Crosse recorded its coldest temperature during the Christmas holidays in 1983, all thanks to the Arctic outbreak. The La Crosse Rotary Lights display at Riverside Park attracts almost 160,000 people every year.
- Average December temperature: 23.17°
- Maximum temperature: 30.6° (1979)
- Minimum temperature: 11.2° (1983)
Missoula prides itself on being one of the best places in the U.S. to enjoy a white Christmas. An event that is unique to the city is known as “A Tuba Christmas,” which has been a tradition since 1974. Musicians from across the country, including baritone horn, sousaphone, and tuba players, play Christmas carols and then encourage visitors to sing along with them.
- Average December temperature: 23.17°
- Maximum temperature: 32.1° (1999)
- Minimum temperature: 5.1° (1983)
As a mountain town, Christmas in Sheridan can be picture-perfect with the fresh blanket of snow that falls during every holiday season. The city’s Christmas Stroll encourages people to spend money on local businesses by offering them gift certificates for their purchases.
- Average December temperature: 23.05°
- Maximum temperature: 34.3° (2015)
- Minimum temperature: 9.3° (1983)
The National Mississippi River Museum in Dubuque attracts the city’s children with its scuba-diving Santa, who dives in the Gulf of Mexico tank for an hour each day during one weekend in December. This makes for a fun photo opportunity while the Santa swims amidst fish and other marine life.
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- Average December temperature: 22.96°
- Maximum temperature: 31.1° (2015)
- Minimum temperature: 5.7° (1983)
Sioux City was one of the 129 cities spread across 30 states that experienced the spine-chilling Arctic air during the Christmas of 1983. While the residents of Iowa were forced to stay indoors because of the bitter cold, firefighters had no option but to face it head-on. Several Iowa-based firefighters suffered from frostbite, according to the Los Angeles Times, especially those in West Des Moines, which is 192 miles away from Sioux City.
- Average December temperature: 22.36°
- Maximum temperature: 35° (2015)
- Minimum temperature: 8.9° (1976)
The WPS Garden of Lights is a mesmerizing holiday event that features more than 300,000 lights. To add to that, they also have a 60-foot-walk through caterpillar and over 20,000 LED lights in the shapes of butterflies and caterpillars. Green Bay’s National Railroad Museum also celebrates the “Festival of Trees,” where local businesses and organizations showcase over 40 Christmas trees.
- Average December temperature: 22.29°
- Maximum temperature: 34° (2015)
- Minimum temperature: 7° (1983)
The Westminster Presbyterian Church in Waterloo hosts an annual Christmas Day dinner that has become a tradition for the last 38 years. The number of people grew from 50 people in 1981 to almost 700 people in the last few years, according to reporting from KWWL.com.
- Average December temperature: 22.20°
- Maximum temperature: 30.4° (1993)
- Minimum temperature: 6° (1983)
In Montana, a famous tradition that families have followed is to trek into the wild together and cut their own Christmas tree. With that in mind, the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest sell permits for people to do just that. Provided people follow the rules put forward by the government and pick a tree that’s below 12 feet tall, this Christmas tradition, which started in 2019, will be here to stay.
- Average December temperature: 21.90°
- Maximum temperature: 33.8° (2015)
- Minimum temperature: 8.1° (1989)
Thanks to its location in the northern latitude, winter season in Sault Ste. Marie is known to be cold, snowy, and long. This weather makes it ideal for locals to enjoy sleigh rides during Christmas before heading over the Avery Square for the Christmas Tree Forest, where dozens of decorated trees make for a great photo opportunity for locals.
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- Average December temperature: 21.65°
- Maximum temperature: 34.8° (2015)
- Minimum temperature: 3.8° (1989)
The December 1989 Arctic outbreak had specifically hit northern Vermont and New York (among several other states) where the coldest Christmas season ever was recorded. According to the NOAA, a “departing surface low pressure” that had presided over the Canadian Maritimes and increasing high pressure from the Central Plains had made the northern parts of Vermont and New York bitterly cold.
- Average December temperature: 21.47°
- Maximum temperature: 30.3° (1997)
- Minimum temperature: 4.1° (1983)
The Capitol in Pierre has a stunning display of almost 100 Christmas trees annually that are decorated by school students and volunteers from churches, state government offices, and non-profit organizations. This display of Christmas trees is so impressive that USA Today included it in a roundup of 10 travel-worthy public Christmas tree displays in the United States.
- Average December temperature: 20.35°
- Maximum temperature: 33° (1980)
- Minimum temperature: 4.8° (1983)
Lander and Lake Yellowstone have the highest frequency of major snowstorms in Wyoming with an average of five such days every year, according to Crook County government data. The worst Arctic outbreak ever to hit Wyoming came in December 1983 and left Lander with no electricity for at least 12 hours during Christmas. The reason? A malfunctioning transformer.
Several vehicles were damaged by the all-time low temperatures that started on Dec. 20 and ended five days later on Dec. 25, 1983. During this period, houses and local businesses sustained economic losses due to water pipes that had frozen and burst.
- Average December temperature: 20.18°
- Maximum temperature: 30.3° (2015)
- Minimum temperature: 4.2° (1983)
The Minnesota Governor’s Residence opens its doors to the public during the holiday season for locals to enjoy the displays and decorations installed in the Victorian-style mansion by volunteer designers. Another fun indoors holiday-themed activity that will keep you warm is visiting the Como Park Conservatory Holiday Flower Show that remains open on Christmas and New Year’s.
- Average December temperature: 20.17°
- Maximum temperature: 30.3° (2015)
- Minimum temperature: 4.3° (1983)
St. Paul has an 80% probability each year of having a white Christmas (constituted by at least one inch of snow). The city offers several holiday events, including the Alexander Ramsey House’s Victorian Christmas that allows visitors to see firsthand how the Ramsey family would have celebrated the season in 1875.
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- Average December temperature: 20.12°
- Maximum temperature: 28.6° (2006)
- Minimum temperature: 2.1° (1983)
Falls Park enchants visitors during the holiday season with almost 300 decorated trees, over 355,000 lights, and more than 25 miles of light strings. The exhibit includes the city’s iconic waterfalls decked out with holiday theme lights. The rest of the park is also covered in a dizzying array of lights that visitors can enjoy from a five-story tower while sipping hot chocolate.
- Average December temperature: 18.77°
- Maximum temperature: 28.7° (1986)
- Minimum temperature: 0.3° (1980)
The coastal city of Anchorage hosts several Christmas events, including The Holiday Train on the Alaska Railroad. From the train’s giant windows, you can take in the snowy scenery outside and enjoy visits from Santa Claus.
- Average December temperature: 18.69°
- Maximum temperature: 29.9° (2015)
- Minimum temperature: 2.9° (1983)
During the Christmas of 1983, not only was the weather bitingly cold, but Rochester and other parts of Minnesota were also covered in 10 to 30 inches of snow. Rochester farmers faced a particularly hard holiday season as they worked to keep an adequate supply of water available to livestock despite frozen pipelines, frozen water pumps, and excessively high electricity bills for heating their homes and farm buildings.
- Average December temperature: 18.66°
- Maximum temperature: 31° (2015)
- Minimum temperature: 6.5° (1985)
If you’re looking for a white Christmas that comes with a wide variety of winter sports, Wausau is a good pick. This year’s Christmas season kicked off with a Whoville-themed parade Dec. 6, Christmas Cabaret Concert hosted by the Wausau Conservatory of Music, and also features the Greater Wausau Chamber of Commerce’ annual Christmas at the Houses 2019, and the John Altenburgh Christmas Extravaganza at The Grand Theater Friday, Dec 20.
- Average December temperature: 18.19°
- Maximum temperature: 28.5° (1980)
- Minimum temperature: 5.6° (1991)
Alamosa, since 1990, has followed a very generous Christmas tradition. Each year, volunteers host the Free Community Christmas Dinner, a sit-down affair Dec. 25 with music, entertainment, and visits from Santa.
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- Average December temperature: 17.76°
- Maximum temperature: 28.6° (2015)
- Minimum temperature: 3.7° (1989)
While the snowiest Christmas in Caribou was in 1997 when 8.7 inches of snowfall was recorded, the coldest holiday season was in 1989 during the Arctic outbreak. Every year, the Caribou Fire and Ambulance Department puts up Christmas lights in the city with the help of volunteers.
- Average December temperature: 17.11°
- Maximum temperature: 30° (1997)
- Minimum temperature: 0.9° (1983)
The death toll of the 1983 Christmas Blizzard reached 137 by Christmas Eve across the country, according to the New York Times. Most roads were covered in layers of ice and snow that resulted in many traffic-related accidents. In Minot, gasoline and service stations received close to 100 calls from frantic motorists who were trying to start their stalled vehicles. Even furnace motors had burned out because of the surging demand for heating that left officials of the Montana-Dakota utilities and Minot Fire Department feeling overwhelmed.
- Average December temperature: 17.05°
- Maximum temperature: 27.8° (1999)
- Minimum temperature: -1.3° (1983)
Dickinson is one of the coldest and snowiest towns in North Dakota and receives an average snowfall of 34.3 inches every winter. The brutal cold does not stop locals from enjoying their annual old-fashioned Christmas stroll and parade of lights.
- Average December temperature: 16.81°
- Maximum temperature: 28.9° (1997)
- Minimum temperature: -0.1° (1983)
North Dakota’s capital city of Bismarck has at least four different light festivals and displays spread across the city during the holiday season. Despite the unwelcoming and cold weather, locals are excited about venturing outdoors to enjoy the holiday lights. The coldest Christmas ever recorded in Bismarck was 35 below zero in 1884.
- Average December temperature: 16.60°
- Maximum temperature: 26.4° (1997)
- Minimum temperature: -1.4° (1983)
Aberdeen was one of the 125 cities east of the Rockies that experienced record-breaking low temperatures on the Christmas of 1983. Farmers' Almanac reported that 70% of December 1983 was colder than average over much of the month.
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- Average December temperature: 16.39°
- Maximum temperature: 29.2° (1999)
- Minimum temperature: -3.1° (1983)
Montana is infamous for its extreme weather and intense snowstorms, and Glasgow was one of the many places that got struck by the “Christmas 1983 Blizzard.” A combination of the Arctic cold temperatures and the proximity of the Great Lakes set off the coldest Christmas ever recorded in Montana and several other states.
- Average December temperature: 15.01°
- Maximum temperature: 26.5° (2015)
- Minimum temperature: 1.7° (1983)
Duluth is a port city on Lake Superior that witnessed a big snowstorm during Thanksgiving on Nov. 24, 1983. On that day, locals also saw thunder and lighting. The event was nicknamed “The Great Blizzard of Thanksgiving.” Coincidentally, a month later, the city also recorded the coldest Christmas in Minnesota.
- Average December temperature: 14.87°
- Maximum temperature: 26.9° (1999)
- Minimum temperature: -5.4° (1983)
Williston celebrates Christmas with two light displays at Harmon Park and Spring Lake Park. The locals, many of whom volunteer to help with these events, pride themselves in installing thousands of lights in over 60 display pieces.
- Average December temperature: 14.34°
- Maximum temperature: 26.2° (2006)
- Minimum temperature: 0.4° (2000)
Downtown Fargo gets the holiday season started right with a dazzling display of lights in the annual Holiday Lights Parade. The event attracts thousands of people every year. Also, local businesses install holiday light displays in the city’s Lindenwood Park, and locals are required to drive through the park to enjoy the event.
- Average December temperature: 10.92°
- Maximum temperature: 22.5° (2006)
- Minimum temperature: -1.4° (1983)
The Holly Dazzle Festival of Lights in Grand Forks, held every November, marks the start of the holiday season each year. The event includes a display of lighted floats that travel from downtown to the town square where locals can also enjoy ice skating, fireworks, parades, and other holiday-themed activities.
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- Average December temperature: 10.13°
- Maximum temperature: 25.5° (2000)
- Minimum temperature: -10.3° (1999)
Bethel is known to be the biggest community right by the Kuskokwim River in Alaska. Interestingly, the town had its first Christmas tree lighting in 2018 in front of the Bethel Courthouse. The town’s vice mayor inaugurated the event by lighting up the Christmas tree, according to KYUK.org.
- Average December temperature: 8.93°
- Maximum temperature: 24.3° (1985)
- Minimum temperature: -9.4° (1999)
The residents of Nome follow the most environmentally conscious and unusual Christmas tradition. After celebrating the holiday season, the locals transport their Christmas trees from across the beach and plant them into the frozen sea after boring holes through the ice. The “ Nome National Forest” of green trees stays until the ice melts and carries them away to a warmer location that could perhaps be their new home. According to the LA Times, school students chop off the branches during spring and put them in streams to provide some shelter for recently hatched salmon.
- Average December temperature: 8.76°
- Maximum temperature: 22.5° (2015)
- Minimum temperature: -5.2° (1983)
While Minnesota locals are usually accustomed to a white Christmas, that is characterized by at least 1 inch of snow, NOAA recorded the warmest holiday season for residents there in 2015. The lack of snow resulted in several skiing races and events getting canceled and left winter sports enthusiasts feeling deeply disappointed.
- Average December temperature: -4.96°
- Maximum temperature: 9.1° (2017)
- Minimum temperature: -25.2° (1980)
The relentless cold does not stop Fairbanks communities from enjoying the holiday season. One of the most famous Christmas attractions in Alaska is at Fairbanks’ Pioneer Park, which has a dazzling display of lights that sparkle amidst a heavy blanket of snow.
- Average December temperature: -8.55°
- Maximum temperature: 5.9° (2017)
- Minimum temperature: -26.6° (1974)
Barrow or more commonly called Utqiaġvik is known to be the northernmost town in the U.S. that experiences zero blue skies or no direct sunshine from mid-November to mid-January. While the town’s community had survived the most frigid Christmas day ever recorded in America, climate change has been making this town warmer. According to weather.com, through Nov. 17, 2019, Barrow has had the warmest year on record after a 2-degree Fahrenheit increase was observed during this same period as compared to three years ago.