Tim Wright at the Sinks

In this January 2009 photo, meteorologist Tim Wright displays a thermometer with the needle “buried” at -50 while taking readings in Logan Canyon’s Middle Sink. Wright had just brushed a thick layer of frost off his face and hat for the photo op.

The coldest temperature ever recorded in October in the contiguous United States — minus-35 degrees — was logged in Peter Sink east of Logan early Monday morning.

But the record might not last long. Another all-time low mark is expected to be reached at the same location overnight on Wednesday.

An area long known for record cold temperatures, Peter Sink is home to two weather-monitoring stations built by Campbell Scientific in Logan and maintained by the Utah Climate Center at Utah State University.

The monitor at the bottom of the sink took the minus-35 degree reading at approximately 6:15 a.m. Monday — breaking a more than 100-year-old record of minus-33 Fahrenheit set on Oct. 29, 1917, in Soda Butte, Wyoming.

“The temperature dropped really quickly because there was a lot of wind earlier in the night, then the winds calmed down, and that’s when we get the strong inversions up there,” said meteorologist Zane Stephens, who is a longtime watcher of weather conditions in the area south of U.S. Highway 89 near Beaver Mountain known as the Sinks. “That’s our concern about Wednesday morning — if it’s windy, it may only be 15 below, but if it gets calm it could go 40 below or somewhere in that area.”

By “concern,” Stephens doesn’t mean to say that he’s worried it will get dangerously colder at Peter Sink — but worried that it won’t. In other words, he’s rooting for the worst. That’s because he’s been monitoring temperatures at the site for more than 30 years and personally recorded the second-lowest temperature ever logged in the lower 48 states there in 1985 — a bone-chilling and mind-boggling minus 69.

A noteworthy aspect of the temperatures at both Peter Sink and nearby Middle Sink is how dramatically thermometer readings vary from the rim of these depressions to the bottom during temperature inversions. Monday morning, for example, it was 40 degrees warmer at the edge of Peter Sink than the record-setting bottom, just a few hundred yards away.

Campbell Scientific’s monitors are set up at both locations, and anyone interested can track the temperatures at Peter Sink in real time online at the Utah Climate Center website.

Stephens spotted Monday’s record from his home in Hermosillo, Mexico, and phoned The Herald Journal to report the milestone. Both he and locally based meteorologist Tim Wright have made hundreds of trips to the Sinks to study the inversions and try to get record readings, and Wright said he may go up to Middle Sink, which is more accessible and typically just a few degrees warmer than Peter Sink, on Wednesday night.

“Middle Sink is just an eighth of a mile walk from the parking area, but the snow right now is too deep to drive a truck to Peter Sink and not deep enough to drive a snow machine up there,” Wright said. “I don’t think I want to hike a couple hours through the dark, cold night.”

Wright said walking down into a sink during dramatic inversions is a meteorologist’s dream.

“You see interesting things happen,” he said. “Sometimes you get light snow out of a clear sky. Sometimes you get a fog in the basin that looks like a lake. As a meteorologist, it’s fun. It’s just so darn cold.”

Though Monday’s minus-35 reading was a record for the lower 48 states, it was still 10 degrees warmer than the record October low for the entire United States, recorded on Oct. 31, 1975, in Clearwater, Alaska.

Charlie McCollum is the managing editor of The Herald Journal. He can be reached at cmccollum@hjnews.com or 435-792-7220.

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