It’s an interesting fact that since 1938, when weather records began in earnest in northern British Columbia, the coldest January each year has bounced around between nine different places.
Ranked by the number of occurrences, the lucky spots are:
- Fort Nelson: 50 times with a total of 80 years worth of data (63% of the time)
- Smith River: 11 of 25 years (44% of the time)
- Lower Post: 7 of 9 years (78% of the time)
- Coal River: 3 of 3 years (100% of the time)
- Germansen Landing: 3 of 61 years (5% of the time)
- Lower Liard Bridge: 2 of 3 years (67% of the time)
- Sierra: 2 of 5 years (40% of the time)
- Yoho National Park: 2 of 41 years (5% of the time)
- McBride River: 1 of 3 years (33% of the time)
Coal River is the only location to be the coldest spot for all years within its record, but that’s less impressive when considering the fact that the station was in operation for just three years. Given the proximity to the Yukon border, Coal River would likely be rivaling Lower Post for the coldest winters in BC — though, Lower Post is probably the coldest place in the province, and holds the record for the coldest month ever recorded in BC (-37.5°C in 1969).
But these northern weather stations had all disappeared in the 1990s, which is why Fort Nelson had remained British Columbia’s coldest spot for 18 years in a row. Yoho National Park ended that streak in 2017.
Generally speaking, as you move north and east in British Columbia, the colder the winters, but there are microclimates that provide plenty of exceptions. In much of the province, higher elevations have the warmest winters. That’s why the lowest point along the Alaska highway, Fort Nelson, has recorded BC’s coldest January 50 of the last 80 years while Tetsa River, 100km west and 300m higher than Fort Nelson, will never be the province’s cold spot.
Since the 1980s, the trend in Canada has been to centralize, and weather monitoring is no exception; most of the remote and northern weather stations have vanished. Of the nine stations capable of recording BC’s coldest January in the past, seven have disappeared, leaving Fort Nelson and Yoho National Park (located near Field) as the only cold spots left.
Moving into the future, the reduced number of weather stations in the north provides an opportunity for two new places to rise to the top: Dease Lake and the erroneously named Puntzi Mountain. Puntzi Mountain is exceptionally cold for its latitude during the winter months because it’s situated in a low spot on the Chilcotin Plateau, where the clear and windless nights allow cold air to sink and pool at the surface.
We need only look at 2017 to see the possibility in the years to come. Puntzi Mountain tied Fort Nelson for third place, and Yoho National Park edged out Dease Lake for top spot.
Additionally, Puntzi did not exist in 1950, but it’s almost certain to have been colder than both Fort Nelson and Dease Lake, but likely not as cold as the abandoned town of Smith River.
Comparing the coldest Chilcotin weather station each year to Fort Nelson reveals that January was equal in both 1950 and 2017. The Chilcotin point from 1950 represents the milder community of Kleena Kleene.
When you check back at this article in 100 years, you can call me out if I’m wrong, but just for fun, I will go out on a limb and predict that over the next century, the province’s coldest January will break down as follows:
- Fort Nelson = 90 times
- Yoho National Park = 4 times
- Dease Lake = 3 times
- Puntzi Mountain = 2 times
- Somewhere unexpected = 1 time