Discover the Coldest Place in North Dakota

A suburban neighborhood blanketed in thick snow due to polar vortex
© eyerazor/

Written by Colby Maxwell

Updated: December 11, 2023

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North Dakota isn’t known for a lot, but it is known for the cold. The temperatures in this state are shockingly cold during the winter, and many of the continental records are held by cities within the state. Today, we are going to be taking a look at North Dakota in order to learn about the coldest place within it. For anyone native to the Peace Garden State, none of this will probably come as a surprise. Let’s discover the coldest place in North Dakota, plus a few other interesting bits about the weather!

Grand Forks is the overall coldest city in all of the state of North Dakota.

The Coldest Place in North Dakota

Before we start, it’s important to understand that the “coldest” place in a state can be measured in a few ways. There is the lowest average temperature method and the lowest ever temperature method, both of which are valid. Since North Dakota is so well-known for both of these records, we will cover each separately. Let’s learn about the place (city with at least 1,000 residents) in North Dakota with the coldest average temperature first.

Grand Forks is the coldest city in North Dakota with low temperatures of -43°F and a minimum average temp during January of -3.1°F.

Grand Forks

Grand Forks is known as the coldest city in North Dakota.


Grand Forks, located in North Dakota, is the coldest city in the state and the second-coldest in the United States. The city has recorded temperatures as low as -43 degrees Fahrenheit, and the minimum average temperature during the coldest month are -3.1 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite these frigid temperatures, Grand Forks is a popular city, with a population of 59,166 according to the 2020 census.

Grand Forks is not the only cold city in North Dakota. Williston, Fargo, and Bismarck, the capital of North Dakota, are also known for their cold temperatures and rank as the 3rd, 4th, and 8th coldest cities in the U.S., respectively. These cities, like Grand Forks, experience extremely cold temperatures due to their location in the northern part of the country and the influence of the cold air masses that sweep down from the Arctic.

If you’re looking to experience some of the coldest temperatures in the U.S., a visit to Grand Forks or one of the other cold cities in North Dakota is a must!

The Coldest Temperature Ever Recorded in North Dakota

Aerial Drone View of the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks during the Summer

The University of North Dakota is located in Grand Forks.

©Jacob Boomsma/

North Dakota is often regarded as the coldest state in the United States. As such, it doesn’t just have cold averages, but singular records of cold days that are unequivocally freezing.

The coldest temperature ever recorded in North Dakota occurred in Parshall, a city located on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in Mountrail County. On February 15, 1936, the temperature in Parshall dropped to an astounding -60 degrees Fahrenheit. This record-breaking low temperature occurred in the same year as the highest temperature ever recorded in North Dakota, highlighting the extreme temperature variations that the state can experience. Parshall, with a population of 949 according to the 2020 census, is located within the jurisdictional boundaries of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nations.

Why is North Dakota So Cold?

Mount Lincoln in winter

The Rocky Mountains block warmer air masses from California from reaching North Dakota.

©Tabor Chichakly/

North Dakota is known for its cold temperatures, and there are several factors that contribute to this.

One of the main reasons for the cold temperatures in North Dakota is the regular changes in atmospheric air masses that affect the state. Cold, dry air masses from the polar region bring frigid temperatures to North Dakota, while warmer, drier air masses from the northern Pacific bring more moderate temperatures. Tropical air masses, on the other hand, bring warm, wet weather to the state.

Another factor that contributes to the cold temperatures in North Dakota is the Rocky Mountains, which block air masses from the southern Pacific Ocean from reaching the state. This can result in colder temperatures in North Dakota, as the state is not influenced by the moderating effects of the ocean.

Can Any Animal Survive the Winter in North Dakota?

lone Buffalo

The bison can survive in cold weather.

©Tim Malek/

If there is one animal that the Great Plains of the northern states are known for, it’s the bison!

Bison are able to survive the extreme cold of the Northern Great Plains by remaining in their native habitat, even as temperatures plummet well below zero and freezing winds sweep across the landscape. They are able to eat by feeding on grasses and tough sedges year-round. When blizzards cover the plains with snow, bison use their heads to plow through the drifts and reach the grasses under it all. They are also able to survive the cold thanks to a winter coat of underfur with coarse guard hairs. The hairs protect and insulate them from the elements and allow them to withstand extremely low temperatures and strong winds. If you ever see a bison covered in snow, that’s the insulation in action!

Some sources even state that bison don’t start getting cold until temperatures reach -40 degrees!

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About the Author

Colby is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering outdoors, unique animal stories, and science news. Colby has been writing about science news and animals for five years and holds a bachelor's degree from SEU. A resident of NYC, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone about what birds he saw at his local birdfeeder.

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