Anyone traveling along U.S. 89 in northern Utah knows it gets very cold in Logan Canyon during the winter, but many motorists may not know that record-low temperatures for Utah were registered near the canyon summit.
That was nearly eight years ago on Feb. 1, 1985, when the temperature plunged to 69 degrees below zero at Peter Sinks, an uninhabited, desolate depression located at the 8,100-foot level in the canyon.The reading, which was confirmed as the lowest official minimum temperature ever recorded in Utah, failed to break the record - but by only 1 degree - for the continental United States.
The lowest reading was minus 70 degrees, taken Jan. 20, 1954, at Rogers Pass, Mont.
Peter Sinks is about 11/2 miles east of two-lane U.S. 89, which winds through scenic Cache National Forest and then descends to the ice-blue waters of Bear Lake.
Three other deep geographic depressions - Middle Sink, North Sink and South Sink - are located within about 21/2 miles of Peter Sinks. Temperatures in double-digit readings below zero also have been recorded with alcohol-glass thermometers in Middle Sink, one-fourth mile west of the canyon highway and about three-eighths of a mile west of the summit. A reading of minus 42 was recorded at Middle Sink on Jan. 10, 1983, and minus 65 on Jan. 18, 1984.
Topographic sinks in high, snow-covered mountain valleys experience unusually low winter temperatures and extreme inversions as cold air settles from surrounding slopes. The lowest temperatures occur when conditions are clear, calm and a cold Arctic air mass is present.
Why keep track of temperatures at such remote locations?
"It might seem extremely strange or crazy to do it. I wouldn't want to be out in such weather, but when you are interested in such things, you get a kick out of it - just as if you are going skiing, snorkeling or whatever. It's like being in a golf tournament or climbing Mt. Everest. It's a challenge," said Gaylen L. Ashcroft of the Utah Climate Center, located at Utah State University.
Ashcroft referred to the interests and accomplishments of Zane Stephens and another USU student; officials of Campbell Scientific Inc., a Logan firm that manufactures equipment for taking measurements at remote sites and relaying the information by radio; and meteorologist-weatherman Mark Eubank, who is now associated with KSL Radio and Television.
Ashcroft said it might seem odd to see such efforts to obtain temperature readings, but the two students and others were very interested in doing the work.
"They got a lot of satisfaction and positive feedback out of their studies. To them it was like conquering Mt. Everest."
Ashcroft, who has been affiliated with the climate center for 11 years, said the temperature studies resulted after the students contacted the late Arlo Richardson, then state climatologist, for research project ideas.
Richardson, who had become intrigued with temperature changes on a thermometer attached to his car while traveling through the Dry Lake area of Wellsville Canyon, suggested a study of that area and Middle Sink.
The students' plan was to study variations in temperatures from one elevation to another, especially in small mountain valleys. As the studies progressed and equipment from Campbell Scientific was hauled into the canyon by helicopter for placement in the sinks, the researchers learned that there were great variations in temperatures at various canyon locations and elevations.
On the morning of July 12, 1985, when a minus 50-degree reading was taken at the bottom of Peter Sinks, inversions were prevalent in the valleys of northern Utah. For example, the inversions ranged from a minus 12 degrees in the lower Cache Valley to 23 degrees at the top of Mt. Logan. But the inversion was much greater at Peter Sinks. The temperature ranged from minus 50 degrees at the bottom of the sink to minus 12 degrees on the top of a 90-foot tower that had been placed in the sink, Ashcroft said.
Ashcroft said he doesn't believe any readings have been taken at Peter Sinks or the other sinks for at least five years.
Jay M. Haymond, executive secretary of the Utah Committee for Geographic Names, said he doesn't know how Peter Sinks got its name, but that he thinks it may possibly have been named after Peter Maughn, a Cache Valley pioneer. He said the area has a national reputation for registering cold temperatures during the winter.