Iowa Caucus weather is expected to be bitterly cold — likely the coldest ever

Iowa may be looking at its coldest Caucus Day ever — raising questions about turnout.

The forecast for Jan. 15 looks clear of snow, but an "arctic cold" is on its way to the state, according to the National Weather Service in Des Moines.

Temperatures during the day Monday are expected to be below zero degrees but wind chills will make it feel even colder, said meteorologist Brad Small.

By 6 p.m., when people will be lining up to check-in before caucusing starts at 7 p.m., temperatures are expected to be minus 3 to minus 15 degrees, depending on what part of the state you're in.

Wind chills in the evening could dip to 35 to 45 degrees below zero, Small said. Frostbite can set in within 10 minutes at those temperatures.

“Wear multiple layers if you’re out and about in the temperatures that we’re expecting and limit your exposure," Small said.

More: Everything about the Iowa Caucuses that you should know

The cold and high winds are expected to start Saturday, and the Weather Service anticipates issuing wind chill warnings.

"Now is the time to check your car batteries. They will be flying off the shelves next week," the National Weather Service says.

GOP chair: No plan B for weather, but still expecting 'robust' turnout

Despite the frigid temps, Republican Party of Iowa chair Jeff Kaufmann said he expects large numbers of Iowans to show up to caucus at 7 p.m. Central.

"I think we're going to have a robust turnout," Kaufmann said. "Weather could prevent a record-breaking turnout, into a great turnout. But you know, it remains to be seen. We don't really have any metrics to guide that."

Kaufmann told reporters Monday morning the party does not have any contingencies in place for severe weather on caucus night, with the current schedule and caucus sites set to continue regardless.

"It's one of those things, kind of like a football game, that's going to go on no matter what," said Kaufmann, adding the party is putting "faith in people's patience to get there."

The turnout record for the Republican caucuses was set in 2016, with 186,000 Iowans who showed up.

Iowa Caucuses have a history of cold

While it may be blisteringly cold this year, this isn't the first time the Iowa Caucuses have seen a winter storm around Caucus Day.

According to an article by the Register's Daniel P. Finney in 2011, Mother Nature tried to put a stop to all this first-in-the-nation caucus business back in 1972.

That year, Iowa Democrats moved their caucuses up to Jan. 24, making them the first test in the presidential nomination process. But icy winds blew a lot harder than the bellows of campaign trail promises, according to Des Moines Register archives and data from former state of Iowa climatologist Harry Hillaker.

On Jan. 23, a blizzard battered the state with winds as high as 60 mph in parts of northwest Iowa. Snow piled 10 inches deep at Monona County's tiny Castana (1970 population of 211) and 4.4 inches in Des Moines. About a quarter of Democratic caucus sites postponed their polling until Jan. 25, and some didn't get theirs in until Jan. 26.

In all, about 20,000 party activists braved the ice and snow and plowed a path to the quadrennial parade of candidates trying to mint themselves as their party's front-runner for the nation's highest office.

Cold didn't deter big Iowa Caucus crowds in 2008

Cold nights greeted caucusgoers in 2008. On Caucus Day, Jan. 3, Cedar Rapids endured an overnight low of 4 degrees below zero. Des Moines also recorded a low of 4 degrees, and Sioux City, 9.

The day stayed dry, but there was plenty of snow on the ground — 10 inches in Cedar Rapids, 5 in Des Moines and 3 in Sioux City.

The cold deterred few. A then-record 119,000 Republicans turned out statewide, and nearly 240,000 Democrats caucused. Then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois won the Iowa Caucuses, and political experts credit the victory with helping him ultimately outpace then-U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York for the nomination and eventually win the White House.

The epic 2008 caucus cycle plays into the lore of the Iowa Caucuses and the weather in another way. Iowans are a hardy lot, used to the cold and snow, and can regard panic about severe weather as a sign of a newcomer who doesn't know Iowa.

Just before Caucus Day, Clinton's campaign, apparently worried about Iowans' ability to dig their way out of the snow, bought shovels for hundreds of her volunteers.

As volunteer Phyllis Peters of Ames later told David A. Fahrenthold of the Washington Post, "If you’re in Iowa, you have a snow shovel.” She accepted it, in the pattern of another Hawkeye State trait, being "Iowa nice."

“We’re not rude people,” Peters said.

Fahrenthold termed it "some of the strangest money a candidate has ever spent."

More: Do Iowa Caucus winners go on to earn their party's nomination for president? What we found

Kyle Werner is a reporter with the Register. Reach him at

Galen Bacharier covers politics for the Register. Reach him at or (573) 219-7440, and follow him on Twitter @galenbacharier.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Iowa Caucus weather forecast calls for historic cold