Record cold temperature of -168°F found in 2018 thunderstorm

Scientists are finding more evidence of “super cold” thunderstorms

"Super cold" thunderstorms (Copyright 2021 by WSLS 10 - All rights reserved.)

PACIFIC OCEAN – It’s easy to associate the warmer temperatures of spring with the return of loud, soaking thunderstorms to our corner of the Commonwealth. But what if I told you that a thunderstorm in 2018 in the Pacific Ocean produced the COLDEST temperature ever recorded on Earth?

A NOAA satellite recorded the very cold cloud tops in that thunderstorm on December 29, 2018 and it was determined that the temperature was 162 Kelvin (or -168° Fahrenheit). A recent study by Simon Richard Proud and Scott Bachmeier concluded that these cold temperatures were produced by the “overshooting top” in that thunderstorm.

Brightness temperatures in Kelvin of the December 2018 thunderstorm in the Pacific Ocean (NOAA/VIIRS/Simon Richard Proud/Scott Bachmeier)

You’re probably wondering: what exactly is an overshooting top? Well, the thunderstorm was being fed very warm water at the surface. The fuel allowed the updrafts in the storm to strengthen and some of those updrafts “overshoot” the top of the troposphere (tropopause). The troposphere is where all of our weather happens.

If you’ve ever seen an anvil structure on a thunderstorm in our area, you have an idea how far up in the air the tropopause is located. The scientists found that this overshooting top was a little more than a mile above the anvil!

According to Proud and Bachmeier, these “super cold” thunderstorms could become more common in the future as the climate warms.

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