Google recently noted the tiny settlement of Snag’s otherwise unremarkable global presence as being the place where the lowest temperature in Canada was recorded in 1947. But even that mind and body numbing chill factor is still a long way off the world record.
The lowest natural temperature ever directly recorded at ground level on Earth was minus 89.2 °C, at the then Soviet Vostok Station in Antarctica on 21 July 1983. However, on 3 February 1947, the record-low temperature for continental North America was recorded in Snag in the southwestern corner of Canada’s Yukon Territory: minus 63.9 °C. At that time, six kilometres south of the village was an auxiliary military airfield built during World War II to provide weather data and an emergency landing strip.
In 1947, the village of Snag boasted a population of 8 to 10 First Nations people and fur traders. An additional staff of 15-20 airport personnel – meteorologists, radio operators, and an aircraft maintenance crew – lived at the airport barracks. The village was named Snag during the Klondike Gold Rush because the milky waters of the White River and its tributaries such as Snag Creek were difficult for boatmen to read. Many boats became “snagged” and often holed on submerged tree trunks hidden in the shallow waters.
Snag is located in a bowl-shaped valley of the White River, a tributary of the mighty Yukon River, which flows northward from the Wrangell Mountains near Mt Churchill. The Snag region has a unique climate. With nearby mountain ranges forming a high barrier along the coast, the flow of milder Pacific air into the region is effectively blocaded. This leaves the region open to the frigid air masses of the western arctic. Additionally, the broad valley terrain surrounding Snag allows cold air to drain down the slopes and river valley from the north slopes of the coastal mountains and gather in low-lying areas.
Snag’s climate in winter resembles eastern Siberia. Winters are prolonged and characterized by bitter cold temperatures, generally clear skies and calm or light winds. January in Snag sees average daily maximum temperatures of minus 25.1 °C, and average daily minimum temperatures of minus 35.6 °C.
Extreme cold conditions were the norm over Alaska and northwestern Canada for much of the winter of 1946-47. A new low-temperature record for the Yukon had been set on 13 December 1946 at Mayo, 260 km by air northeast of Snag, when a bear-numbing minus 57.8 °C was recorded
As Keith C. Heidorn, from whom much of this information is gathered, relates: “To confirm the record low temperature, the thermometer was removed and sent to the Canadian Weather Service headquarters in Toronto. Three months later after extensive testing, the temperature was officially certified at minus 63 °C, a new record for cold in North America, which still stands today.”
There’s just one Snag – but that’s rather fortunate under the circumstances.