By the end of last week, an ice cone nearly 20 feet tall had formed beneath Yahoo Falls in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. (Photo: Greg Davis/Greg's Images)

It will go down as one of Scott County’s coldest-ever starts to a new year.

The 2018 calendar year entered with bitterly cold temperatures. With the exception of fewer than four hours on Wednesday, Jan. 3, Scott County spent the first 168 hours of the new year below freezing — and most of it in a hard freeze, which is defined by meteorologists as temperatures at or below 28 degrees.

By the time the arctic plunge released its grip on the region Monday morning, the average temperature in Oneida was running a full 20 degrees colder than normal. Most ponds, lakes and even slow-running streams were frozen several inches thick — enough to walk on safely.

The depth of the cold air was impressive and historic in its longevity, and was made even more notable by the lack of snow cover, which is ordinarily needed for bitterly cold air to entrench itself in the Mid-South. On two occasions, Jan. 2 and Jan. 3, the low temperature dropped to zero — which hadn’t been seen since Oneida dropped to 11 degrees below zero on February 2015. On two other occasions, Jan. 6 and Jan. 7, the temperature in Oneida dropped to just one degree. On four out of the first seven days of the month, the high temperature only got to 21 degrees. On only one of those seven days did it climb higher than 26.

While there was no snow cover, spotty light snow showers led to a dusting of snow and created isolated slick spots on Jan. 2 and again on Jan. 4. The latter forced both the Oneida Special School District and the Scott County School System to cancel classes. It was to have been the first day back from Christmas break for county students.

Oneida schools opted to report two hours late on Wednesday and Friday due to the bitterly cold temperatures, while Scott County schools were also two hours late when students finally returned on Friday.

Ironically, the most significant wintry weather occurred as the cold air was retreating on Monday. Rain briefly froze on impact Monday morning with temperatures hovering right around freezing, creating some slick roads and again forcing Oneida and Scott County schools to cancel classes. By Monday afternoon, however, temperatures had climbed into the mid 40s as gusty south winds helped scour out the remnants of the cold arctic airmass.

With Old Man Winter in retreat Monday evening, the National Weather Service was predicting much more pleasant temperatures later in the week, with highs expected to climb into the mid 60s today (Thursday). By this weekend, however, colder weather is expected to return, and the NWS’s forecast was for Sunday’s temperatures to again stay in the mid 20s in Oneida.

Long-range meteorologists said a more sustained warmup might have to wait at least another week.