Large chunks of the United States experience a big freeze during the winter months when temperatures plummet and snow blanket covers towns and cities. Below, we’re going to look at the coldest cities in the US, both in terms of their winter and annual average temperatures.
For the purposes of the article, we have only taken the 50 largest cities (by population) in the United States into account. There are colder villages, towns and cities, particularly in Alaska, but those will not feature as a result. Data comes from wikipedia which offers climate data featuring monthly average temperatures for every major city in the country.
The Coldest Cities in the US – by Average Temperature
1. Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minneapolis is the coldest city in the US of the 50 most populous. That’s the case whether you are factoring in average temperature across the whole year or winter lows. The months of December, January and February are notoriously cold in Minnesota and for much of that period, temperatures don’t rise above freezing even during the day.
Nights aren’t much fun with record lows of a staggering -41°F recorded way back in January 1888. Snowfall peaked at nearly 100 inches during the winter of 1983/84 but the freezing temperatures do come with some benefits. You can walk across frozen lakes in and around the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul during this time of year and if you’re a competent ice skater, there’s a new and potentially quicker way to get around town. You can even rent out a snowmobile which is surely the most fun way to get about.
Average Yearly Temperature in Minneapolis: 46.9°F
2. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Another of the coldest major cities in the US is Milwaukee in the state of Wisconsin, on the western shores of Lake Michigan. The lake itself frequently experiences a partial freeze which is an incredible sight during the winter months and Milwaukee is another place which is bitterly cold for much of the year.
Aside from Minneapolis, it is the only major US city with a mean average temperature of less than 50°F and snowfall is possible at any point between November and April with an average of 10 snowy days per month in January. Record lows of −26°F (−32°C) were recorded in both 1982 and 1996 but like many American cities, things do heat up significantly during the summer months with average highs of over 80°F in July and August.
Average Yearly Temperature in Milwaukee: 49.3°F
3. Colorado Springs, Colorado
Proving that cold temperatures are not only found in the northern states, mountainous Colorado is home to 2 of the top 5 coldest cities in the US when looking at annual temperatures and only considering the 50 largest cities. At number 3, Colorado Springs is located at an altitude of over 6,000 feet at the foot of the Rocky Mountains and that contributes to some wild temperature swings, even within the course of a single day.
The city experiences freezing nights between November and March with average lows of below 28°F after the sun sets in all of those months. However it is quite different from somewhere like Milwaukee or Minneapolis in that the snow that falls usually only lasts for a day or two, with daytime temperatures normally well above freezing even during the coldest months of the year.
Average Yearly Temperature in Colorado Springs: 50.5°F
4. Denver, Colorado
Denver is located 70 miles away from Colorado Springs at a slightly lower altitude but the state capital experiences similar climatic conditions with an identical average mean temperature of 50.5°F. With great access to the surrounding nature, it might be regarded as one of the best cold cities to live in the USA, although anyone who has visited during the summer months may laugh at that description.
The city experiences average daily highs of 90°F during July, not far off those in some of the very hottest US cities. Thunderstorms are the most notable weather events that you need to worry about at that time. Like Colorado Springs, there are also huge temperature swings between day and night, with around 30°F drops during the summer months and only slightly less in the winter when the mercury drops below 20°F (-7°C) most nights.
Average Yearly Temperature in Denver: 50.5°F
5. Detroit, Michigan
We head back north to Michigan, one of the coldest states in the US, to complete the top 5. Situated right on the Canadian border, over 4 million people live in the Detroit metropolitan area and they are accustomed to seriously cold winters. Unlike in Colorado, the snow does set with temperatures not rising above freezing on 44 days per year on average.
January 2022 was the first month in almost seven years in Detroit to set average lows of below -10°C across the month. The city is prone to extreme cold spells though, the most recent of which came in February 2015 which recorded a huge 670mm of snow with temperatures hitting -13°F (-25°C) at one point.
Average Yearly Temperature in Detroit: 50.6°F
The top 10 coldest cities in the US (of the 50 largest) are rounded off by Boston (51.9°F), Portland (52.4°F), Chicago (52.4°F), Omaha (52.4°F) and Columbus (53.5°F).
What are the coldest US cities in winter?
|City||January Average Daily Mean Temperature (°F)||Annual Mean Temperature (°F)|
|Kansas City, Missouri||31.0||56.9|
|Colorado Springs, Colorado||31.8||50.5|
Minneapolis again ranks as the coldest major US city in January and by some margin too. The state of Minnesota is also the coldest place in America besides Alaska and North Dakota, neither of which have large enough cities to feature in these rankings.
As a point of reference, Alaska’s largest city Anchorage registers an annual mean temperature of just 37.6°F, lower than any of the 50 most populous cities in the United States. However its January mean of 16.9°F is actually slightly higher than in Minneapolis.
This post on the coldest US cities was published in October 2022.