Referring to Zane Stephens as a "weather fanatic" is an understatement. For eight years, the Utah State University student has searched for the country's coldest locale.

Saturday at 6 a.m., he thought he'd found it - right in Cache County.But Stephens, who braved the big chill, also weathered a big disappointment. It was only 51 degrees below zero at Middle Sink in Logan Canyon. Located about 200 yards off the highway, Middle Sink is an experimental site run by USU and the State Climatology Office.

Every year the temperature there drops to at least 50 below, and most years it plummets at least once to 60 below - a temperature that even makes Woodruff residents shiver.

While Stephens didn't get the record he was after, Salt Lake residents got one they probably didn't want.

Saturday's high of 2 degrees was the coldest high temperature in Salt Lake's weather history dating back to 1874. The previous record was 3 degrees set on Jan. 15, 1888. In 1883, Salt Lake City recorded highs of just 4 degrees on Jan. 19 and 20.

And for the second time in as many days, no place in the state was warmer than freezing.

But Middle Sink's higher-than-expected temperature Saturday didn't cool Stephens' spirits. He's confident it will get even chillier in the coldest of all cold spots Utah has to offer.

In fact, by Saturday night, Stephens was banking on a record temperature. "It was 55 below at 8:30, and I'm really optimistic that we'll set at least one record up there later tonight." At 10:30 p.m., Stephens was on his way back up to Middle Sink to wait for the record. "They're going down to 40 below in Logan - and if we're at 40 below in town, we'd could possibly be at or near 70 below up at Sinks."

Stephens can't think of a better Christmas present than having Middle Sink get colder than Rogers Pass, Mont. - the coldest spot in 48 states, with a recorded low of 69.7 degrees below zero.

According to Stephens, Middle Sink stopped four-tenths of a degree short of breaking that record on Feb. 1, 1985. The temperature at Middle Sink sank to 69.3 degrees below zero.

The weather optimist anticipated it would be 60 degrees below or colder Saturday, so he rallied the troops. But when fellow weather watchers opted to stay inside their warm homes Saturday morning, only Stephens' mother accompanied her son to Middle Sink. Kind of.

While her son trekked down to the Sink - elevation 7,510 feet - Mom waited in the car to make sure he made it back to warmer climes. At the road the temperature was 26 below.

Stephens is hoping for more brisk days ahead. But other Utahns, kept busy Saturday jump-starting cars, mending cracked water pipes and sliding on icy streets in record-breaking temperatures, don't share Stephens' enthusiasm for Jack Frost.

And, it appears, Utah won't get much warmer before Christmas.

William J. Alder, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service at the Salt Lake International Airport, said today's expected high would be about 12 degrees, with the high reaching into the upper teens on Monday. Alder said temperatures could get into the 20s on Christmas Day.

Forecast lows will also rise, with the Wasatch Front low temperatures finally expected to get out of the sub-zero range Christmas morning.

A weak northwest flow is expected to generate a broken weather pattern with periods of low cloudiness, haze and patchy ground fog. Little precipitation is expected because of the extreme cold. Most will be in the form of snow granules ranging from small traces to accumulations of about 1 inch.

Alder said both Randolph and Roosevelt recorded minus-40 for lows and minus-16 and -10 for highs. Fillmore, Coalvile and Alta also reported highs below zero.

Utah Highway Patrol officers spent the majority of their time Saturday at the side of the road investigating minor accidents.

"People are simply going too fast for the conditions," lamented a harried dispatcher. "Hopefully they'll start wising up when they see the others (accident victims)."

Most of the accidents were of the fender-bender variety and there were no reports of serious injuries. The most significant pileup occurred at the I-15 and U.S. 89 interchange in Farmington about 9 a.m., where seven vehicles were involved.

With temperatures expected to remain too cold to melt the ice, more of the same is expected today.

*****

(Chart)

City Temperature Old record Year

Salt Lake City -6 -5 1930

Cedar City -20 -12 1968

Park City -13 5 1983

St. George 9 11 1967

Vernal -29 -14 1967

Tooele -11 3 1968

Logan -22 -14 1983

Alta -18 -5 1968

Bryce Canyon -23 -10 1984

Kanab -9 0 1968

Tremonton -25 -9 1985

Coalville -25 -5 1976