Skip to main content

Coldest readings of the winter so far

Coldest readings of the winter so far

Some of the National Weather Service Offices issued Extreme Cold Warnings for parts of Minnesota this past Wednesday and Thursday (Jan 18-19) as a result of an arctic air mass advancing across the state and associated strong winds that produced wind chill values from -35 to -40 F. In fact overnight near Grand Marais a katabatic wind (drainage wind from higher elevation) peaked at 59 mph. These high winds made for some extreme overnight and early morning wind chill (WC) values along the north shore of Lake Superior with WC of -50 degrees F at Isabella, -51 degrees F near Grand Portage, and -53 degrees F near Grand Marais. On Thursday morning Minnesota reported the coldest temperature in the 48 contiguous states for the 3rd time this month with a low of -26 degrees F at Hallock, Park Rapids, Fosston, Babbitt, Orr, and Crane Lake. And again on Friday morning, Cook reported -27 degrees F (same as Churchill, Manitoba along the shores of Hudson Bay!).

Snowfall was generally light associated with this arctic cold front. Nevertheless some observers reported 1 to 4 inches of new snowfall. Hibbing reported 3.9 inches. But the arctic air mass reinforced by the presence of fresh snow cover brought very cold temperatures across the entire state, the coldest of the winter. MSP International Airport fell to -1 degrees F just before midnight on January 18th tying the record date (set in 1889 and 2002) for the latest below 0 F temperature reading during any winter season back to 1871. Later that night MSP dropped all the way to -11 degrees F, the coldest reading of the winter so far in the Twin Cities. As far south as Austin and Albert Lea fell to -9 degrees F. Daytime high temperatures remained below 0 F in many locations, and only reached the single digits above 0 F in some southern Minnesota communities.

Soil temperatures plummeted by over 40 degrees where there was no snow cover, and frost depths grew deeper going down to depths of 20 to 24 inches. Fortunately Friday brought more snow to southern counties (1-3 inches) and further snow was expected over the weekend, so perhaps some insulting snow cover will be present next week across much of the Minnesota landscape.


New Seasonal Climate Outlook

The NOAA Climate Prediction Center (CPC) issued new seasonal climate outlooks this week for the balance of winter and early spring. Their models suggest a warmer than normal February for parts of Minnesota, but equal chances for above or below normal temperature values for the balance of winter and early spring. The models also suggest wetter than normal conditions across much of Minnesota during the spring (March-May).

Course on Minnesota's Severe Weather

I will be teaching another course for the College of Continuing Education this winter called: "From Hurricanes to Fresh Water Furies: Severe Storms and Their Consequences." The course is offered during only 3-Tuesday night meetings (7:00 to 9:00 pm), concluding with a tour of the National Weather Service in Chanhassen on March 6th. I will attempt to make the class informative and educational, so if you are interested please check it out!

Weekly Weather Potpourri

A strong winter storm brought rain, freezing rain, sleet, and snow to the states of Washington and Oregon this week. Snowfall amounts of 4 to 12 inches were common on Wednesday with a record 6.8 inches at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Olympia reported over a foot of snow, while Mount Hood in Oregon received over 50 inches. Additional snowfalls were expected in higher elevations for Thursday as the storm moved further east over Idaho and Montana.

The NOAA National Weather Service announced recently that 2011 saw the fewest lightning deaths across the USA of any year on record. The NWS reported only 26 lightning deaths during 2011, less than half of the historical average. This may provide evidence that citizens are more aware and educated than every before regarding lightning safety measures, a good sign. You can read more about this here.

In addition NOAA announced two additional weather events in 2011 that resulted in an economic impact of $1 billion or more. This brings the total number of billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in 2011 to 14. You can read more about this here.

Tropical Cyclones Ethel and Funso were spinning away in the Southern Indian Ocean this week. Funso was bringing heavy rainfall and high seas to Madagascar and Mozambique, while Ethel was staying generally over open water.

Featured this week on the NOAA web site are some interesting ocean facts, some often overlooked. If you want to read about them further you can go here.

Research published in the current edition of the journal Nature documents changing climate patterns in the southern and eastern Amazon Basin as a result of land disturbance (notably deforestation and fire). This work documents some changes in the hydrological cycle and drought frequency. You can read more here.

MPR listener question

I heard that the below zero degrees F reading in the Twin Cities on Wednesday this week (Jan 18) tied the historical record for the latest such reading during a winter season, set in 1889 and 2002. I am curious to know what was the weather pattern like for the rest of the winter snow season during those earlier years, and if they are similar might that be the case this year?

Answer: Unfortunately, there is little similarity between the winters of 1888-1889 and 2001-2002. In 1889 there was a very cold February, followed by a cold March and April, with abundant snowfall towards the end of winter. In 2002, a moderately cold February, was followed by a warm March and April, with only 8 inches of snowfall after January 31st. As for the rest of this winter, please see the discussion above on the new seasonal climate outlook.

Almanac for January 20th

The average MSP high temperature for this date is 23 degrees F (plus or minus 15 degrees F standard deviation), while the average low is 6 degrees F (plus or minus 15 degrees standard deviation).

MSP Local Records for January 20th

MSP weather records for this date include: highest daily maximum temperature of 52 degrees F in 1908; lowest daily maximum temperature of -17 degrees F in 1888; lowest daily minimum temperature of -32 degrees F in 1888; highest daily minimum temperature of 35 degrees F in 1921; record precipitation of 0.80 inches in 1982; record snowfall is a 17.1 inches in 1982.

Average dew point for January 20th is 4 degrees F, with a maximum of 36 degrees F in 1909 and a minimum of -38 degrees F in 1985.

All-time state records for January 20th

Scanning the state climatic data base: the all-time high for this date is 61 degrees F at Madison (Lac Qui Parle County) and Montevideo (Chippewa County) in 1944. The all-time record low for this date is a very cold -57 degrees F at Tower and Embarrass (St Louis County) in 1996. The all-time record precipitation amount for this date is 1.76 inches at Preston (Fillmore County) in 1988. State record snowfall for this date is 17.1 inches at MSP International Airport in 1982.

Past Weather Features:

An arctic air mass brought a severe cold wave to the state in mid-January of 1888. On January 20th downtown St Paul reported a morning low of -41 degrees F (-46 F at Fort Snelling) and an afternoon high of only -20 degrees F. In the far north at St Vincent, MN they were in the midst of a long cold wave which kept the temperature at 0 degrees F or below for 288 consecutive hours. On the 20th the morning low was -45 degrees F with an afternoon high of -22 degrees F.

Conversely a warm, sunny day greeted Minnesota citizens on January 20, 1944. Over two dozen Minnesota cities reached temperatures of 50 degrees F or higher, topped by 61 degrees F at Montevideo.

January 20, 1982 started one of the snowiest 4-day January periods in Minnesota history. Over that period of time Duluth received 24.2 inches, Cambridge reported 18 inches, Rosemount reported 24 inches, and the Twin Cities reported an incredible 37.4 inches.

In the famous drought year of 1988, January 20th brought one of the heaviest precipitation events of the year to some southern Minnesota communities. Windom, Worthington, and Mankato reported over 1.20 inches. Theilman reported 1.69 inches, while Preston reported 1.76 inches, mostly falling as snow, but these amounts were the second largest daily precipitation amounts for the entire year of 1988 at those locations.

Following a fresh snowfall, severe cold prevailed across the state on January 20, 1996. At least 35 communities reported morning lows of -40 degrees F or colder, while in the north 7 climate stations reported lows of -50 degrees F or colder.


Increasing cloudiness over the weekend with chances for occasional snow and moderating temperatures. Daytime temperatures will climb into the 20s and 30s. Drier by Tuesday with temperatures near normal, then warming again towards the end of next week.
Print Friendly and PDF