After a generally cold December, January 1879 started out with a severe arctic outbreak across the state, leading to Columbus’ 2nd coldest temperature ever recorded (officially). The outbreak began on January 2nd, when a strong cold front moved in from the northwest in the early afternoon hours. The temperature fell rapidly during the evening, reaching a low of -13 on the 2nd for a total drop that day of 42 degrees. The core of the cold air moved across Ohio during the day of the 3rd, so temperatures warmed very little. Highs across the state were in the single digits south to below zero across the norther 2/3rds. Columbus had a rare below zero high of -4, which is the 2nd coldest January high on record and the 3rd coldest high of any month. The low on the 3rd was a frigid -20. This low stood as the coldest temperature in Columbus for 115 years, only being surpassed during the great arctic outbreak of January 1994, during which the temperature fell to -22.
The strong front was very moisture starved, and only a few tenths to an inch to an inch of snow fell with its passage.
Temperatures remained in the single digits for two more days before a gradual warming commenced. By the 8th temperatures went above freezing. The rest of January 1879 was fairly tame. 16 days after the 8th had highs of 35 or greater.
Of note is that the temperature of -20 occured two more times before the end of the 19th century, in January 1884 and February 1899.