66 years ago today

If you drive on U.S. 14 far west enough from Madison, you will see this sign:

The sign tells a story, of course, repeated on the Village of Lone Rock web page:

… January 30, 1951, Lone Rock claimed dubious fame as the coldest spot in the nation when a minus 53-degree temperature was officially registered on a thermometer at the Tri-County Airport. Temperatures were so low that night that the official U.S. Weather Bureau thermometer couldn’t handle the actual reading. The instrument was made to measure temperatures down to a balmy minus 47.

According to a 1976 Home News’ story by Don Greenwood (and provided last week by Lone Rock historian Jim Greenheck), Ben Silko was working the night shift at the airport. When Silko attempted to make the official reading, he found the thermometer’s alcohol contracted into the bottom bulb well below the lowest calibrated mark on the thermometer. He then arrived at the official minus 53-degress reading by calibrating the distance from the top of the bulb upward to the minus 47-degree mark. It may actually have been several degrees colder, Silko said in 1976.

Jim Greenheck remembered that day. He went to work as usual at the Chevy garage in Lone Rock. “It was so quiet you could have heard a penny drop on the street,” said Greenheck. Arriving at work, he said last week: “Everything was frozen in the garage.” He received a call from the Bear Valley cheese factory where the milk truck failed to start. Driving a wrecker from the garage in Lone Rock to the cheese factory, Greenheck said the extreme cold caused some unusual physical consequences. “The paint flew off the hood off the truck,” he said. When he attempted to tow the stalled milk truck, its wheels were frozen so solidly that it skidded across the ground.

Uncle Tony Greenheck, mayor of Lone Rock, at the time, began fielding calls from media outlets around the nation as word spread of the frigid temperatures.

While wind currents flowing down a draw through Bear Valley in the direction of Lone Rock, and the Wisconsin River may have contributed to the harsh weather, Greenheck added: ‘We don’t get the weather that we used to get.” He speculated the global warming may be responsible.

(That brings to mind an interesting question in the global warming/climate change debate: What if global warming improves Wisconsin’s weather?)

Lone Rock’s cold night stood as the record for the coldest temperature in Wisconsin until Feb. 2 and 4, 1996, when Couderay dropped to 55 below zero. Couderay appears to not have marketed itself as Lone Rock did.



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