Discover the Coldest Place in North Carolina

Written by Megan Martin
Updated: August 28, 2023
© Margaret.Wiktor/
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Have you ever wondered about the coldest place in North Carolina? When you think of the southeastern United States, cold probably isn’t an adjective that comes to mind. The state is known for its balmy beaches, beautiful mountain ranges, humidity, and average weather. However, North Carolina is home to record-breaking cold temperatures, including in one particular town.

Ready to learn more about the coldest place in North Carolina? Keep reading below!

Average Climate in North Carolina

North Carolina has a fairly mild climate. While it can get toasty in the summer, there’s rarely extreme heat. The average temperatures across the state range from 55 degrees Fahrenheit to 66 degrees, depending on the elevation. It’s not uncommon to see daily temperatures in the 90s come July and August. You may even notice that thanks to the humidity of North Carolina, daily summer temperatures can reach the triple digits!

Winters tend to only be moderately cold. Rarely do temperatures reach significantly below freezing, although they can hit the low 30s at night. During the day, the highs reach between the 40s and 60s, depending on your location in the state. This weather allows many interesting and rare animals and plants to be found here.

Dog Park Series - Charlotte
North Carolina has a fairly mild climate. While it can get toasty in the summer, there’s rarely extreme heat.

©Sean Pavone/

What Is the Coldest Place in North Carolina?

The coldest place in North Carolina is Banner Elk. On average, it can reach an annual low of around 38 degrees Fahrenheit. As for its monthly temperatures, Banner Elk is coldest in January, reaching an average low of 22 degrees. 

Although it averages an annual coldest temperature that is above freezing, history has shown more than a dozen instances of Banner Elk, North Carolina, reaching temperatures well into the negative. This town’s coldest temperature recorded was -31 degrees on January 21, 1985.

About Banner Elk

Banner Elk is a small mountain town in Avery County, North Carolina. It is located just a few miles away from Boone, North Carolina. It is known as a recreational center, with its mountain landscape and wilderness making it a prime location for activities such as horseback riding, skiing, hiking, fishing, swimming, and more. 

This city, which just so happens to be the coldest place in North Carolina, is located north of Grandfather Mountain, one of the most well-known mountains in the state. It sits at an elevation of 3,701 feet, which is one reason for its cold temperatures. 

In 2010, the population was only 1,028. However, because of its scenic views and abundant experiences, Banner Elk is a popular tourist destination in the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

Coldest Temperature Recorded in North Carolina

Believe it or not, the coldest place in North Carolina isn’t actually home to the coldest temperature ever recorded in North Carolina. However, it isn’t too far off!

The coldest temperature ever recovered in North Carolina can be traced back to Mount Mitchell. This mountain has the highest peak east of the Mississippi River, coming in at 6,684 feet. No matter the time of the year, you can expect to see some snow here.

Mount Mitchell is only around 60 miles from Banner Elk, a short hour and a half drive along the famous Blue Ridge Parkway. They both actually share the coldest day in North Carolina in recorded history.

Let’s think back to January 21, 1985. Remember, this is the coldest day in Banner Elk, which is the coldest place in North Carolina. On this day, Banner Elk reached record temperatures of -31 degrees.

However, just a few miles away, Mount Mitchell was making history on this day! The temperature recorded on the mountain that day hit -34 degrees, making it the coldest temperature recorded in North Carolina. 

On this same day, the high was only -4 degrees. 

Mount Mitchell North Carolina
The highest point in North Carolina is Mount Mitchell.

© Flagstad

What Caused These Cold Temperatures?

When you look at the coldest place in North Carolina, you’ll notice that a temperature in the negatives isn’t common. In fact, there are only a few months out of the year when the average monthly temperature is even below freezing. So, what caused the coldest day in Banner Elk?

The coldest day in Banner Elk was caused by a weather phenomenon known as a polar vortex. 

A polar vortex is a constant pool of low-pressure and cold air near Earth’s poles. While it’s also present, its strength varies. For instance, during the winter, it’s much stronger than it is in the summer. When it gains strength during the colder months, it has the ability to expand. This can send arctic air south, usually into the United States.

That’s what happened that faithful January in 1985. Known as the Freeze of the Century, the polar vortex of 1985 sent temperatures plummeting across the United States. Due to the mountainous terrain of western North Carolina, where Banner Elk is located, cold fronts, even though as severe as a polar vortex, tend to stick around.

While the Freeze of the Century was a rather unusual and severe weather event, resulting in over 100 deaths, it didn’t last long. However, the coldest place in North Carolina still maintained a bit of chill.

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About the Author

I'm an animal enthusiast with a love for birds and a background in writing. I graduated from Wingate University with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a double minor in biology and professional and technical writing. Mountain lions are my favorite animals. In my free time, I like to bird watch or spend time watching nature documentaries.

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