U.S. Cities With the Most Extreme Weather
Not every city in the U.S. can enjoy a predictable year-round climate. Some cities can experience some truly wacky weather patterns, like blazing summer heat one day, followed by snow the next. From the hottest city in the country to the state capital that attracts the most tornadoes, check out these eight U.S. cities that experience the most extreme weather.
Aptly nicknamed the “Valley of the Sun,” Phoenix is one of the sunniest places in the U.S. and the hottest city in the country. Phoenix’s location in the Sonoran Desert and the presence of the Laguna Mountains (which block the cooler Pacific Ocean air) contribute to its record-breaking heat. Phoenix boasts some truly impressive temperature stats: In 2019, the city clocked 169 days over 90 degrees Fahrenheit, a record summertime high of 122 degrees, a normal mid-summer high of 106 degrees, and a year-round high of 86 degrees. Tourists might consider visiting in spring or fall to discover the area’s many attractions — such as Camelback Mountain and Desert Botanical Garden — in milder temperatures.
Syracuse, New York
This upstate New York city stands in stark contrast to the blazing hot Southwest. Syracuse is the snowiest city in the U.S. with an annual average snowfall reaching 124 inches. Syracuse is located less than 40 miles southeast of Lake Ontario, and its weather is heavily impacted by lake-effect snow, caused by cold air moving across the relatively warm waters of the Great Lakes. Perhaps the best example of this is the infamous snowstorm of December 2010, which lasted four days and dumped a total of 43.2 inches of snow on Syracuse. If you visit the city in winter, embrace the white stuff with activities like snowshoeing, sleigh rides, ice skating, and viewing the snow-loving animals at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo.
No list of extreme weather cities is complete without the Mile High City. At 5,280 feet above sea level, Denver is prone to quick and extreme shifts in temperature and weather. Sudden, strong cold fronts are not unusual in Denver, with several instances that have taken the city from record highs to near-record lows within a 24- to 36-hour period. On September 12, 1993, temperatures soared to 92 degrees Fahrenheit, and then 5.4 inches of snow fell the next day. On October 9, 2019, the city saw balmy temperatures in the 80s, followed by snowfall just eight hours later. Even more recently, on September 5, 2020, temperatures spiked again in Denver, breaking record highs with two days of 90-plus degree temperatures. But just three days later on September 8, an Arctic cold front abruptly swept through and knocked temperatures below freezing and brought an inch of snow. If you plan to visit Denver in the fall, make sure you pack your summer clothes along with plenty of layers, so you can enjoy the great outdoors regardless of the weather.
Fargo, North Dakota
Many will point to the 1996 namesake movie as Fargo’s claim to fame, but the city’s extreme temperature changes over the course of a year may be a close second. In the dead of winter, temperatures plummet to an average of just three degrees Fahrenheit and rebound fiercely in the height of summer, when the typical high is 82 degrees. The city’s hottest temperature on record was 106 degrees Fahrenheit on July 6, 1988; the coldest was -38 degrees on January 10, 1982. Fargo has a number of options for visitors in varying weather, though: There are museums and a local brewery that visitors can check out on inclement days, while summer is an opportune time to try your luck at the North Dakota Horse Park or check out some of the world’s rarest cold climate species at the Red River Zoo.
St. Cloud, Minnesota
Like neighboring North Dakota, Minnesota is truly a place that experiences all four seasons. The Midwest state has some of the most excessive temperature swings in the country. St. Cloud’s location in the middle of the state puts it in the center of the warm air that pushes up from the Gulf of Mexico as well as the continental polar air that sweeps down from the Arctic. Residents endure cold and snowy winters with temperatures plunging into the single digits, and then swelter throughout the summer when temperatures reach over 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Favorite summertime activities include strolling around the Munsinger Clemens Garden, discovering the Sculpture Walk, and enjoying the natural wooded area of Beaver Island Trail.
Though Chicago’s Windy City nickname doesn’t actually come from the weather, it’s true that Chicago experiences more than just a light breeze over the course of a year. The winter temperatures frequently dip into the teens while the prime summer months see highs in the 80s. Extreme situations far exceed the averages, like the heat wave of 1995, when temperatures soared up to 106 degrees Fahrenheit, and the Groundhog Day snowstorm of 2011. Nicknamed “Snowmageddon,” it dropped more than 20 inches of snow in the city over the course of only a few hours. In addition, Chicago also sees frequent thunderstorms and is even prone to tornadoes. The good news? There’s plenty of pleasant weather in between for discovering outdoor attractions like trails, parks, riverwalk, and Lake Michigan. And when the weather doesn’t cooperate, the bar and restaurant scene will more than make up for it.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
The waterfalls that flow through the center of town are Sioux Falls’ signature attraction, but this South Dakota town is also well-known for its fluctuating seasonal temperatures. The average low of 7 degrees Fahrenheit is a drastic change from the average summer high of 84 degrees, but residents make the best of weather in every season. Major outdoor events like the LifeLight concert take center stage in the summer, while skiing and snowboarding dominate the snowy months at Great Bear Ski Valley. A stroll around Falls Park is a must regardless of the weather. It can be especially magical in winter when the below-freezing temperatures suspend the water into frozen cascades.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
With a location smack dab in the middle of “Tornado Alley,” it’s no surprise that Oklahoma City has a reputation as one of the most tornado-prone cities in the U.S. A record 146 twisters touched down in the state as a whole in 2019, several of which touched the capital city, and hundreds more have been recorded in the previous decades. Oklahoma City was hit five times in a single day on three separate occasions in 1974, 2013, and 2018. Staying up to snuff on twister protocol and having access to a tornado shelter is a way of life for residents, but it’s a good idea for visitors to also review tornado safety procedures before visiting. While tornadoes can happen year-round, conditions are most likely from late March to August, so visiting outside of those months is the best time enjoy OKC’s excellent entertainment options. Catch a concert at Scissortail Park, check out the newly renovated National Memorial Museum, or immerse yourself in the city’s booming arts and culture scene.