Discover Ohio’s Coldest January on Record

Written by Heather Hall
Updated: May 12, 2023
© Kenneth Sponsler/
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The climate of Ohio is continental, with cold winters and warm, humid summers. It is affected by maritime tropical air masses that bring summer heat and humidity but can also produce mild winter days. Hot and dry air masses can also affect the state, creating Ohio’s record high temperature of 113 degrees F on July 21, 1934.

Ohio is also affected by bitterly cold Arctic air masses, which can bring very cold winter days to the state, with Ohio’s lowest minimum temperature recorded at -39 degrees F. Additionally, Ohio is affected by wave cyclones, or mid-latitude storms, which can originate in Alberta, Canada, Colorado, or the western Gulf of Mexico.

The average temperature in Ohio varies depending on location, with the southernmost areas being the warmest and the northeastern hills being the coolest. This variation is seen in all seasons but is most pronounced in winter. In January, the average temperature in southern Ohio is around 30°F, while in the north, it is closer to 25 degrees F. Daytime highs in January are above freezing throughout most of the state, except in the northwest. In summer, the temperatures are more consistent, with highs averaging between 84-86 degrees F statewide and lows ranging from 62-66 degrees F. The only exception is in northeastern Ohio, where temperatures are slightly cooler due to the influence of Lake Erie.

Snow in Ohio
The coldest January on record in Ohio was January 19, 1994, when Akron, Ohio reached -25 degrees F.

©Coral Sand and Assoc/

Coldest January on Record in Ohio

The arctic storm made the Ohio winter of 1994 a truly unforgettable one. Not only did Cincinnati and Columbus sink to -24 degrees F and -22 degrees F on January 16, but then on January 19, Columbus hit an all-time low-temperature record of -22 degrees F while Akron experienced its coldest day ever at -25 degrees F.

With temperatures so dangerously low, people were left with no choice but to brave the cold and try their best to stay safe from frostbite and slippery roads alike. The Cuyahoga River was completely frozen over during this time as well. It’s safe to say that Ohioans will never forget the winter of 1994. With tears actually freezing solid on their faces, it certainly was a winter like no other!

If we take into account the wind chill factor, January 25, 1985, produced a windchill between -70 and -80 below zero in Akron, Ohio, with an actual temperature of -24 degrees F!

Coldest Day Ever Recorded in Ohio

The frigid temperatures reported in Milligan, Ohio, on February 10, 1899, were part of a week-long cold spell that stretched across the entire state. Many other locations also experienced record low temperatures during this time period, but none could match the 39 degrees below zero recorded at the United States Weather Bureau Station operated by Steve Eyeland in Milligan.

The small hamlet’s location near Moxahala Creek and its flat terrain made it particularly vulnerable to extremely cold air masses that descended from surrounding areas. Despite being long gone from modern maps, stories of Milligan as Ohio’s chilliest spot have been passed down for generations so that its legacy as one of America’s coldest towns will never be forgotten.

How Animals Keep Warm in Ohio Winters

Animals have developed various coping strategies for the cold winter months. Hibernation is one such adaptation, where animals enter into a state of dormancy or deep sleep over the coldest part of the year in order to conserve energy.

Other species migrate southwards towards warmer climates, while some stay put and grow thick coats to keep them warm. These animals also consume higher amounts of food in order to provide extra insulation against cold temperatures.

To ensure they get enough nourishment during these long winter months, non-migratory birds such as cardinals and robins switch their diets from insects, worms, and other invertebrates that are available during warmer seasons, to seeds and fruit, which remain on many Ohio native plants over winter. It’s amazing how creatures have evolved so effectively to survive even our most extreme weather conditions!


Hibernation is a remarkable survival strategy used by animals to survive cold weather. This process involves slowing down an animal’s heart rate, body temperature, and other life processes, allowing them to enter into a deep sleep.

Groundhogs, otherwise known as woodchucks, are one of Ohio’s true hibernators. They spend their entire winter in dens and only come out again in February when temperatures become more bearable. During this hibernation period, they experience drastic changes, including lowering their body temperature by half and reducing their heartbeat from 160 beats per minute to just four! It’s amazing how these small creatures can adjust so quickly and effectively – truly a feat of nature!

Groundhog emerging from winter den
Many animals enter true hibernation during winter to survive the cold — it’s a must in Ohio!

©Brian E Kushner/

Skunks, Raccoons, Chipmunks, and Opossums

During the coldest January day on record in Ohio, skunks, raccoons, chipmunks, and opossums are known to enter a state of torpor or hibernation. This condition is their natural response to frigid temperatures as these small mammals seek shelter in trees, logs, and beneath rocks.

Underground burrows also provide an ideal refuge during extreme weather conditions, where they can snuggle up and sleep for a few days until temperatures rise again.

Although these animals must take measures to protect themselves from the cold winter months ahead, it’s equally essential that humans act responsibly by not disturbing wildlife habitats. If left undisturbed in their natural environment with food sources available throughout the wintertime, wild animals such as skunks, raccoons, chipmunks, and opossums will survive even the harshest winters.

Birds and Bats

Indiana and little brown bats are prime examples of migratory and hibernating creatures that make Ohio their home. Unlike some migrating birds, these bats often roost in caves during the winter season to ride out the coldest days of the year. The caves provide a dark and comfortable environment to sleep in until temperatures rise again, and they can move on with their migration. These cave habitats are necessary for many bats to survive the colder months here in Ohio or just south of its border. It’s no surprise that when temperatures drop to record lows, these flying mammals hunker down as best they can against it all!

Frogs, Snakes, and Turtles

Cold-blooded animals such as frogs, snakes, and turtles know it’s time to hibernate when temperatures plummet to record lows in Ohio. They will find holes or burrows in the ground where they can remain inactive until temperatures warm up.

Some species of snake even gather with their family members and weave together into a “ball” for added warmth during winter. This behavior helps keep them insulated from the extreme cold weather and ensures that these animals survive until springtime when they can emerge once again.

How Can You Help?

It’s the coldest January day on record in Ohio, so how can you help? One way is to be mindful of what is planted on your property. Incorporating a variety of plants, shrubs, and trees can provide an assortment of food resources for wildlife, including species that provide food into the winter months. Crabapples, wild berries, and other plants that produce seeds late in fall are great choices. It is also important to provide wildlife with shelter. Native species of evergreen trees and shrubs give animals protection from wind and rain, and these plant species can survive in Ohio’s climate.

If you own a large piece of property in the country, you can help animals survive the winter by creating brush piles and planting food patches. Brush piles provide shelter for songbirds, cottontail rabbits, and other small animals, while food patches of grains like sorghum and millet give them a source of energy to maintain their body heat.

It is important to avoid directly feeding wildlife, as this can lead to them becoming habituated to humans and losing their natural fear. Keeping a clean, well-maintained bird feeder is a good way to enjoy the presence of wildlife while remaining hands-free.

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Snowy park in Ohio
Ohio has cold winters but -39 Fahrenheit set a record!
© Kenneth Sponsler/

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About the Author

I am a freelance writer with 22 years of experience. I live in the Pacific Northwest and am surrounded by nature. When I go for my daily runs I often see herds of elk, deer, and bald eagles. I am owned by two dogs who take me on hikes in the mountains where we see coyotes, black bears, and wild turkeys.

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