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For the week of February 1, 2016.

On February 3, 1947, the small village of Snag, Yukon, experienced the lowest confirmed temperature ever recorded in North America. Today, advancements in meteorology help us predict and prepare for extreme weather. In February 1947, however, the residents of Snag were caught completely off guard.

A man in a military uniform stands beside a sign at the Snag airfield on the Northwest Staging Route, ca. 1940s
© Yukon Archives. Guidron Sparling Collection 98/112 #45 PHO 588
Freezing polar air from Siberia dropped temperatures to -62.8 degrees Celsius. The average February low is about -26.7 C. It was so cold that residents’ breath froze in mid-air and exposed skin froze in under three minutes. Snag slowed down as everyone avoided going outdoors for fear of freezing their lungs. Now uninhabited, Snag was the most westerly Canadian Forces Station, located 30 kilometres northeast of Snag Junction on the Alaska Highway and 25 km east of Beaver Creek. Luckily for scientific record-keeping, many of Snag’s population, which was only about 30 people, were meteorological staff!

The main type of thermometer in use at Snag was alcohol-based because alcohol has a lower freezing point than more common mercury-based thermometers. Even so, it was still colder than either of these was designed to measure: meteorological staff had to mark extra degree increments onto the thermometers to determine how cold it really was.

University of Toronto Admissions office, formerly the Toronto Observatory and headquarters of the Meteorological Service of Canada from 1909-1971
© Parks Canada

In 1947, most Canadians received their weather information from the radio or the newspaper. In the earlier days of Canadian meteorology, forecasts were posted in public buildings and even attached to the sides of trains that passed regularly through rural areas. As the telephone became more common, one could also call the local exchange for the daily weather report.

There has been continuous collection and dissemination of Canadian weather data since 1840, when the British Army began taking observations at the University of Toronto. In 1853, the Province of Canada took over this service and built the Toronto Observatory. By 1876, the Meteorological Service of Canada had a system of stations across the country linked by telegraph that gave daily forecasts and storm warnings.

The Establishment of Continuous Meteorological Record-Keeping in Canada is a National Historic Event. To learn more about Canada’s scientific history, read The Stars Reveal Their Secrets and One Very Scholarly Scot! Also read Alaska Highway: A Major Achievement in the This Week in History archives.

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada! Click here to learn about the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

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