Discover Tennessee’s Coldest January on Record

Written by Abdulmumin Akinde
Published: January 18, 2023
© TDG Productions/Shutterstock.com
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The winter period is associated with temperature drops in most parts of the world, and Tennessee is no different. Middle Tennessee is the part of the state that gets coldest during winter. The average temperature in December drops to about 40.4 and 37.7 degrees Fahrenheit in January. However, there are occasions when the temperature drops beyond the average levels, and parts of the state experience temperatures far below zero. This has happened several times in the history of Tennessee during some of the state’s coldest Januarys on record. This post details some of these remarkable temperature drops across different locations in Tennessee. 

What Is the Coldest January on Record in Tennessee?

In January 1985, Tennessee experienced some of the lowest temperatures ever recorded across different parts of the state. Nashville, the state’s capital, experienced its coldest temperature on January 21, 1985, when readings dropped to a chilly -17 degrees Fahrenheit. It had fallen to -16 degrees the previous day, January 20, 1985, which remains the second coldest day in Nashville. 

That week of January was probably the coldest in Nashville and other parts of the state, with water pipes freezing up and bursting at the Third National Bank Building, leaving the offices with heat. Surprisingly, the low temperature recorded in Tennessee was not the coldest in the state for that day. Some of the coldest January temperatures in 1985 were recorded in other locations such as Kingston Springs, Woodbury, Allardt, Centerville, Waverly, Crossville Experiment Station, and Livingston. 

While the temperature was at -17 in Nashville, thermometers in Woodbury showed a temperature reading of about -28 degrees Fahrenheit. It also dropped to varying degrees in different towns across the state. In fact, five of the top seven coldest January temperatures ever recorded in Tennessee were taken on this same day. In total, up to 22 cities in middle Tennessee recorded their lowest temperature on January 21, 1985. 

Some of the coldest temperatures recorded in January 1985 include: 

  • -28 degrees (Woodbury)
  • -27 degrees (Allardt)
  • -26 degrees (Centerville)
  • -25 degrees (Crossville Experiment Station and Livingston)
  • -24 degrees (Smithville)
  • -23 degrees (Dickson and Neapolis)
  • -22 degrees (Cookeville)
  • -21 degrees (Crossville Airport and Franklin)
  • -20 degrees (Celina, Columbia, Lewisburg, Monteagle, and Shelbyville). 
Tennessee Winter
In fact, five of the top seven coldest January temperatures ever recorded in Tennessee were taken on this same day.

©Anthony heflin/Shutterstock.com

Other Cold Days in Tennessee

While the year referenced above (1985) probably had the lowest temperature drop over a long period, there have been several other record chilly days in Tennessee’s history

In fact, the coldest January temperature — and the lowest temperature ever — recorded in Tennessee was not in 1985. It happened on January 24, 1963, when the temperature dropped to -30 degrees at Kingston Spring. The same day, the temperature dropped to varying degrees in other cities and towns across the state, with Waverly experiencing a drop of -26 degrees. 

It is safe to conclude that those two years (1985 and 1963) had the coldest temperature ever recorded in Tennessee’s history. Many places across Tennessee experienced frigid temperatures on January 24, 1963. It remains the coldest some of these cities have experienced to date. The -30 and -26 degrees temperature readings in Kingston Spring and Waverly are the lowest on record. Readings from other cities include: 

  • -24 degrees (Dover)
  • -20 degrees (Lafayette)
  • -19 degrees (Portland)
  • -18 degrees (Springfield and Linden)
  • -17 degrees (Clarksville) 

Animals That Live in Tennessee During the Cold Days

Winter is a difficult period for many animals, as it is for humans. But no matter how cold it gets in a place, many animal species adapt to survive the cold and maybe even thrive. Despite the history of extreme drops in temperature in Tennessee, here are some examples of animals that live in Tennessee and how they survive the winter period. 

Deers

The deer is one of the animals that adapt well to the winter period in Tennessee. During this period, they grow a thicker dark coat which helps them blend with their surroundings, but more importantly, it keeps them warm against the winter cold. Deers get most of their food by browsing, so they feed on tree buds and leaves through the winter. They often take shelter in groves of pines or run into deep laurel thickets for warm cover during the bad winter storms. They stay under this cover until there’s a break in the weather before coming out again to continue foraging for food. 

White-tailed deer buck in snow
The deer is one of the animals that adapt well to the winter period in Tennessee.

©iStock.com/Lynn_Bystrom

Foxes

Once winter sets in, foxes start to feed on smaller animals like mice. Their extremely sensitive nose allows them to smell these small creatures that take cover up to 12 inches under the snow. They smell and track them until they find them. They tend to jump and stick their mouth into the spot they think the animal might be hiding. This can be an interesting watch, and you might mistake it for them having fun in the snow, but in reality, they’re hunting for food. 

Types of Wild Dogs
Once winter sets in, foxes start to feed on smaller animals like mice.

©iStock.com/William Chua

Bears 

Bears are one of the animals that resort to hibernating to survive the cold of the winter period. While hibernating, their breathing is shallow, and their core temperature drops. Their hearts also beat very slowly, slow enough to keep them alive while they get into a long and deep sleep, enough to last throughout the winter period. They wake up when the season has changed and there’s enough food. 

At the start of the winter, black bears search for old holes that have previously been dug in the ground by other animals, like foxes and groundhogs. This is where they take cover before going into hibernation. However, if they don’t find any holes, they’ll climb up to tree tops and hibernate in the tree. Their natural winter coat will protect them from the snow and cold of the winter if they have to hibernate on a limb at the top of a tree. 

Interestingly, the bears in Tennessee are not true hibernators like their cousins in other parts of the country. They don’t hibernate throughout the winter. They only hibernate when it’s extremely cold and snowy. However, once the temperature rises and it feels warmer for some days, they can come out of their hibernation to forage for food.  

Black Bear Cub
While bears do hibernate in the winter, this doesn’t mean they sleep the season away!

©Critterbiz/Shutterstock.com

Squirrels

Squirrels have dens and build nests in trees where they store grains and nuts for food. This is what they eat during the cold days of the winter period when they can’t get food elsewhere. They sometimes bury these seeds and fruits, like beechnuts or acorns, under the ground in different locations close to their dens, so they can easily return to them in the winter. However, they don’t always return for these seeds. It might be because they forget where they bury the food or store up more than enough. When they don’t return, these seeds that have been buried underground start to grow, and they could become future trees. This means squirrels contribute to our efforts to save the earth through tree planting. Many of the oak trees we have today grew because a squirrel hid its acorns underground and didn’t return for them. 

Squirrel
Squirrels have dens and build nests in trees where they store grains and nuts for food.

©Mircea Costina/Shutterstock.com

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The Featured Image

Tennessee Winter
In January 1985, Tennessee experienced some of the lowest temperatures ever recorded across different parts of the state.
© TDG Productions/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Abdulmumin is a pharmacist and a top-rated content writer who can pretty much write on anything that can be researched on the internet. However, he particularly enjoys writing about animals, nature, and health. He loves animals, especially horses, and would love to have one someday.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Which years were the coldest on record in Tennessee?

It is safe to conclude that these two years (1985 and 1963) had the coldest temperature ever recorded in Tennessee’s history.

What are some the coldest recorded temperatures in Tennessee?

In total, up to 22 cities in middle Tennessee recorded their lowest temperature on January 21, 1985. 
Some of the coldest temperatures recorded in January 1985 include:
-28 degrees (Woodbury)
-27 degrees (Allardt)
-26 degrees (Centerville)
-25 degrees (Crossville Experiment Station and Livingston)
-24 degrees (Smithville)
-23 degrees (Dickson and Neapolis)
-22 degrees (Cookeville)
-21 degrees (Crossville Airport and Franklin)
-20 degrees (Celina, Columbia, Lewisburg, Monteagle, and Shelbyville). 

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