Area’s coldest day happened 25 years ago

While the area is still reeling from the blistering cold conditions seen earlier this month and with a frozen stretch incoming for the week, long-time residents of Williamsport may recall a day 25 years ago where the temperature was not only dangerously low, but record breaking.

Jan. 21, 1994 marked the coldest day ever recorded in Williamsport with temperatures plunging to 20 degrees below zero overnight, causing the Sun-Gazette to run a front-page story with the headline “Freeze leaves ‘All-Timer’ in wake. By 8:30 a.m., the temperature had risen to 17 degrees below zero with the record-breaking reading recorded at 6:15 a.m.

While 20 degrees below zero is physically dangerous to venture out into, some nearby counties fared far worse. Jonestown, Columbia County, recorded a piercing 33 degrees below zero – a temperature that can freeze exposed skin in less than 10 minutes, the article said.

Other counties were more fortunate, with areas in Bradford County reaching 27 below zero and Union County reaching 21 below zero, according to the article.

While not to this glacial degree, the residents of Williamsport at the time were beginning to get used to the weather. Jan 21 marked the fourth straight day of morning temperatures plunging below zero being recorded.

This also created a problem for those traveling. Motorists found fog and smoke on the roads, due to a combination of freezing temperatures, calm winds and the air being trapped by high pressure. The road conditions were so hazardous that the Pennsylvania Turnpike commission closed the turnpike that morning between interchanges 16 and 17 for 5 hours of an accident in which the thick fog played a factor.

This temperature drop was not only cold, but also physically dangerous and potentially deadly.

The article reported that the freezing temperatures sent numerous people to the hospital, including one elderly man who was treated Wednesday for exposure and frostbite. He was found wandering the highway in Easton without a jacket or shoes.

From between Jan. 21 and the previous Monday, the number of cold-related deaths in Pennsylvania rose to 30. One woman reportedly died when her kerosene heater caught fire after filling it to heat her home during a cold-related power outage.