Spearfish’s World Record Temperature Change – 1943

by Gary Enright – Director – 1881 Courthouse Museum – Custer
• Published on January 4, 2021 • Last modified on January 5, 2021

There’s an old saying in these parts. “If you don’t like the weather in South Dakota, just wait around a few minutes and it will change”.

That saying was certainly correct in the Northern Black Hills during the winter of 1943 when a warm chinook wind brought the temperature in Spearfish from minus 4 degrees to plus 45 degrees Fahrenheit in just two minutes, a world record for fastest temperature change. The record still stands.

The morning of January 22, 1943 dawned cold in the towns of Spearfish, Lead, and Rapid City. The day began with a sunrise temperature of minus 4 degrees. Then, at about 7:30 AM, shortly after dawn, a freakish chinook wind began blowing. Two minutes later, the thermometer stood at 45 degrees above zero Fahrenheit, a change of 49 degrees! In the next few moments, car windows and windows on houses began to fog up. Several cracked in the drastic temperature shift.

The big warm-up hit Rapid City next. The temperature reading in the Canyon Lake neighborhood was near zero when the phenomenon arrived in the city, and within two minutes, residents were basking in 55 degrees. Motorists in the Canyon Lake neighborhood had to stop their cars to scrape off a thick coating of frost generated by the chinook.

Newspaper accounts of the phenomenon revealed that this wasn’t the first time such an unusual event weather had hit the South Dakota territory. The area’s Native Americans already had words to describe the sudden change in weather. Their description of the weather contrast phenomenon was called “the snow eater” wind.

The Rapid City experience lasted more than a half hour with temperatures rising to 60 degrees before returning to the winter temperatures around the zero mark. The temperature Spearfish also dropped quickly. By 9:30 AM, the wind had stopped blowing and the temperature was once again -4 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Guinness Book of World Records entered the event as the fastest temperature change ever recorded anywhere in the world. The Guinness Book of Records does not take its history responsibility lightly and continues to list this remarkable event in the Black Hills of South Dakota as an all-time record.

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