CONGERVILLE – Rick Dickinson remembers very clearly the morning of Jan. 5, 1999.
A farmer from Congerville in the southeastern corner of Woodford County, 15 miles northwest of Bloomington-Normal, Dickinson also was a National Weather Service observer, just like his father. At first, his responsibility was to measure rain. Then, the NWS asked him to measure temperatures, too.
“There were three readings to check,” he said. “One measured the high temperature from the day before. One measured the low temperature from the day before and the other was the current temperature.”
Like other days, Dickinson went out that early January morning 20 years ago to check the thermometers before doing chores for his cattle.
“I see this thermometer and it read minus 36 degrees,” he said. “I knew it was cold that day, but I just thought the readings must be off, so I called the NWS because I wanted them to check it out. They had checked it in the fall and found it to be very accurate.”
When the NWS meteorologist arrived to verify the thermometer worked perfectly, he gave Dickinson some words of caution.
“He told me that I was probably going to get a few phone calls because it was a new record,” Dickinson said. “I thought that was surprising just for setting a new record for Jan. 5. But, he told me that this reading just set a new overall state record.”
A reading of minus 37 degrees in the northwestern Illinois town of Savanna that day was deemed inaccurate. Previous lows of minus 35 were recorded in another northwestern Illinois community, Mount Carroll, on Jan. 22, 1930, and again in Mount Carroll and the small town of Elizabeth, located in the very northwest corner of the state, on Feb. 3, 1966.
On Jan. 15, 2009, the new record appeared to be threatened at an airport near Rochelle in rural Ogle County. But when NWS officials investigated, the minus 37 degree mark was determined to be inaccurate.
The Congerville record stood. And still does.
Dickinson recollected there was no wind that day, which contributed to the record low.
“With no wind, the cold air will fall into a low spot and that’s where the thermometer happened to be,” he said. “A neighbor said he had a reading of minus 33 below, so it was not just a fluke.”
A check of temperatures around the state early Wednesday verified the record was still intact.
“It’s still good,” said Ed Shimon, a meteorologist with the NWS Office in Lincoln.
Employees at the NWS were eager Thursday morning to check results to see if the record remains, following another bitterly cold night.
“With calm winds and the center of the air mass shifting to the northeast with a lot of snow pack, it’s possible that we could get really cold again and see similar air temperatures or worse, to what we saw early Wednesday morning,” Shimon said.
While the overall state record is still on the board, several new lows for Jan. 30 were set early Wednesday.
In Bloomington-Normal, the temperature of minus 21 degrees broke the old mark of minus 15, which was set on that date 53 years ago. The coldest day on record in the Twin Cities is minus 24 degrees, set on the same day that Congerville set the new state record.
In Lincoln, the low temperature of minus 17 degrees on Wednesday broke the previous record of minus 12 degrees set in 1936. In Decatur, the low temperature of minus 15 degrees broke the old mark of minus 12 degrees set in 1966.
And, some might ask, what was the mercury in Congerville on Wednesday?
The answer…a relatively balmy minus six.