Coldest temperatures in Arkansas recorded in Gilbert from Frost Lane

CARYN ROUSSEAU
Associated Press Writer
Published Monday, October 20, 2003

GILBERT - The man who has been checking weather conditions for 22 years in the town that has the reputation as Arkansas' coldest lives on - Frost Street.

The National Weather Service pays retired, 75-year-old Harold Bing $1 a day to take the daily temperature measurements in this town of 28 on the Buffalo River in Searcy County that historically records the lowest readings in the state.

"I was listening this morning and they said Marshall was at 53 degrees," he said, wearing camouflage overalls with fishing lures hanging from his cap. "I said, 'Oh gosh, it's 53.' I wish it was 53 here."

That morning, the low at Gilbert had dropped to 37.4. In February he recorded a zero.

This October day he stands fiddling with a butane heater in his living room that sits next to his wood-burning stove, which he uses when it gets really cold. The town is making preparations for the expected cold winter to come.

"I fire that up at night and it cuts on and off, so when I wake up the next morning this house is just as hot as toast," he said.

Bing helped his wife take the National Weather Service's measurements for years, but she died in 1992 and he took over, checking the instruments every day with his little dog, a white mutt named Yapper.

John Robinson, a forecaster at the weather service in North Little Rock, said the chill is so great in Gilbert because the town is in the Buffalo River valley. The weather service set a station there to capture the cold temperatures.

"All that cold air drains down to the river valley," Robinson said. "In a region like that, you can have some amazing temperature swings from the low to the high. Places like Gilbert you end up with a 50-degree difference."

Each morning and afternoon, Bing checks a digital box in his living room that is wired to a high-tech thermometer on his front lawn. He records the highs and lows into a dog-eared notebook, separated into columns with a ruler and black ink where he writes down the day's high, low, morning and evening observations, rain amounts and conditions.

He has records dating back to 1994 and a recipe for mince meat pie in the notebook.

Gilbert's weather station opened July 1, 1924 and Robinson said it's local knowledge that it sees the lowest temperatures. But recently, the weather service opened a station at Lead Hill, just a few miles from the Missouri border in Boone County. Sometimes that station steals Gilbert's coldest-town distinction, but not often.

"The river has a lot to do with this really, because it will fog over and that will make it cooler," Bing said. "There's lots of gravel on the river and we're the closest weather service station to the river."

Down the street from Bing's house, Betty Adkins tends the town's general store. She said tourists coming through to float the river often comment on the town's reputation.

"They'll say, 'Oh, this is the coldest place in the state,"' she said. "A lot of people come in and ask about it."

Adkins said residents are tough and start making preparations for winter months in advance, stocking up on food and supplies.

"If there's an ice storm and we're out of electric, we're out for a long time," she said. "Although we're probably more prepared then the city folk are. We get more of the ice here, freezing rain. The stuff that freezes in your hair when you're standing there."

Some folks in town call Bing regularly at his white clapboard house on Frost Street to check their thermometers against his sophisticated equipment, but he has another way of telling them what the weather will bring.

"If my knees hurt, it's going to be changing weather," he says, sitting down and rubbing his leg. "I've done it so many years I can guess it pretty close."