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October snowfall and temperature drop

October snowfall and temperature drop

The season's first significant winter storm crossed northwestern Minnesota this week over Wednesday night and Thursday, bringing strong winds, dramatic temperature falls, and significant snowfall to some places. Record snowfall reports for October 4th included:

4.5 inches at Hallock
6 inches at Karlstad (plagued earlier in the week by wildfires) and Crookston
7 inches at Roseau
3.0 inches at Grygla
3.5 inches at Grand Forks, ND
4.0 inches at Red Lake Falls, Thief River Falls, and Ada
8 inches at Angus
14 inches near Badger in Roseau County

All of these amounts broke the all-time state record snowfall for October 4th in Minnesota of 1.5 inches at Ashby (Grant County) in 1903. Lesser, though measurable amounts of snowfall were also reported from Bemidji, International Falls, Hibbing, Ely, and Cook. For many in eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota, this was the heaviest, and most significant early October snow storm since October 2, 1950. In far northern areas more snow is expected to fall on Friday, October 5th as well. Some lake-effect snow accumulation may occur around Lake of the Woods and threaten the state record snowfall amount for October 5th which is 4.0 inches at Indus (near International Falls) in 1952.

Supported by strong southerly winds ahead of the cold front temperatures soared on Wednesday into the 70s and 80s F in many parts of the state. Milan in Chippewa County hit a high of 83 degrees, while Madison (Lac Qui Parle County) reached 81 degrees. With the passage of the cold front Wednesday night, temperatures plummeted by over 40 degrees F in a period of about 16 hours. Milan fell from 83 F to 39 F, Madison from 81 F to 37 F, Fergus Falls from 75 F to 34 F, and Fort Ridgely from 80 F to 33 F.

Strong winds caused blowing and drifting of snow in northwestern Minnesota, along with very low visibility. Winds peaked overnight Wednesday and into Thursday ranging from 30 to 40 mph, especially in western areas of the state. These winds ushered in a much colder air mass, pushing temperatures to below normal values for the first time this month, and that looks like where we will stay for sometime. In fact, earlier this week the NOAA Climate Prediction Center revised their earlier monthly outlook for October and now call for temperatures to average cooler than normal for the entire month. Unfortunately we also desperately need surplus precipitation, but it is hard to see that feature in any of the forecast models.

Though uncommon, significant October snowfalls and blizzards have occurred in Minnesota's past.

Other significant October snowfalls and blizzards include:

October 11-14, 1820 up to 11 inches at Old Fort Snelling
October 21-22, 1835 brought the first 6 inch snowfall of the season to Ft Snelling and was a precursor to a harsh winter for the Great Lakes Region
October 16-18, 1880 paralyzing blizzard (drifts up to 20 feet) in southwestern Minnesota, written about by Laura Ingalls Wilder
October 18-20, 1916 a blizzard struck northwestern Minnesota with 5 to 16 inches of snow and zero visibility
October 23-24, 1933 brought a heavy snow to northeastern Minnesota, with amounts ranging from 7 to 11.5 inches
October 1-2, 1950 brought 1-5 inches of snow across northwestern Minnesota counties
October 7-11, 1970 brought some heavy snowfall to northern counties, record setting amounts of 6-14 inches for some, producing some road closures
October 4-6, 2000 brought snow to many northern Minnesota communities. Thief River Falls, Roseau, and Littlefork reported over 2 inches, while Baudette and Thorhult reported over 3 inches.
October 24-25, 2001 a blizzard with 55 mph hit northwestern Minnesota bringing snowfall of 10-14 inches, and huge drifts
October 12-13, 2006 brought snowfall to northeastern Minnesota, including 4-5 inches at Cook and Babbitt.

October wildfires

A number of wild fires were reported this week along and east of Hwy 59 in northwestern Minnesota between the towns of Hallock and Thief River Falls. The one at Karlstad forced evacuation of residents on Tuesday, October 2nd, but most were under control later on October 3rd, and dampened significantly by the snowfall on October 3-4. Wild fires are actually fairly common during the month of October, especially following summer drought. This was evident to Minnesota citizens even back in the 19th Century.

Much of the 19th Century fire history in Minnesota is documented from weather observer records, most notably those from Old Ft Snelling. From 1833 to 1874 observers noted prairie fires or forest fires in the Big Woods of southern Minnesota during 17 different Octobers (over 40 percent of those years). Sometimes the nighttime observer would note that the sky was bright in all directions as a result of these fires. In October of 1856 the infant communities of Henderson and Le Sueur were seriously damaged by wildfires. During October of 1861 wildfires burned most of the vegetation off the Dayton's Bluff area above St Paul. Perhaps the worst case of October wildfires happened in 1871. Following a serious summer drought prairie fires started near Breckenridge (Wilkin County) in early October and spread eastward and southward so that by the 7th fires were burning in Cokato, Howard Lake, Dassel, Lynd, Marshall, Windom, and New Ulm. The St Paul observer noted that "smoke hangs like fog.......... the air is full of cinders....and burnt spears of grass and twig fill everywhere." A summary of damages and deaths from those fires was never published for Minnesota, but that same month brought the devastating fires to Wisconsin (Peshtigo) and western Michigan (worst ever in those states), and the famous Chicago fire (started in Mrs. O'Leary's barn on October 8th). Those fires killed thousands of citizens in one of the worst fire outbreaks in USA history.

Weekly Weather potpourri

Bob Henson from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, CO offers an opinion about whether or not an El Nino episode will evolve yet this year and affect our winter season weather pattern. It is generally pessimistic that El Nino will have much effect on the North America weather pattern this winter.

The Joint Typhoon Warning Center was putting out warnings for Tropical Storms Maliksi and Gaemi in the Western Pacific Ocean this week. Tropical Storm Maliksi was off the east coast of Japan and slowly moving northeast, producing winds of 60 mph and wave heights of 18 feet. It was expected to dissipate by the weekend. Tropical Storm Gaemi was off the east coast of Vietnam and moving slowly towards the east with winds of 70 mph and sea waves of 21 feet. It was expected to weaken as it approached the coast of Vietnam this weekend.

Brad Rippey of the USDA World Agricultural Outlook Board once again provided a synopsis of drought in the USA this week. His summary statements include:

(as of October 2, 2012_>
-Nearly two-thirds (64.58%) of contiguous U.S. is in drought. The U.S. Drought Monitor record (January 2000 to present) was set a week ago, with 65.45% in drought.
-Hay in drought fell slightly to 67%, down two percentage points from last week’s peak.
-Cattle in drought fell to 73%, down three percentage points from last week’s peak.
-Winter wheat in drought stands at 71%. Nationally, planting was 40% complete by September 30. More than one-tenth (12%) of the crop had emerged, but emergence has been hampered by drought in several Central and Northwestern States, including South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, Oregon, and Montana.

All or parts of at least 55 Minnesota counties remain in severe or extreme drought this week according to the US Drought Monitor, and 96 percent of the state landscape is in moderate drought or worse. Most of the counties in extreme drought are in northwestern, southwestern, and south-central Minnesota. Much of the state's corn and soybean harvest is complete, and farmers will probably wrap up the fall harvest in another week or two. Similar to last year, fall soil sampling and fall tillage will be problematic in some areas because soils are so dry.

A new report from researchers in Australia documents that the fall season (April-May in the southern hemisphere) is becoming drier in recent years as the sub-tropical dry zone expands southward. South eastern Australia autumn dryness is related to a shift poleward in the major storm tracks across the region. This is a mechanistic explanation for the severe droughts that prevailed there over the 1997-2009 period. You can read more here.

An expert panel will call on Congress to create a Weather Commission to advise policy makers and lawmakers on weather/climate threats to the nation and mitigation of economic and infrastructure vulnerabilities to significant impacts from weather events and climate episodes. "Weather is immeasurably important to public safety and our economic competitiveness........and "improved weather information can be an engine of economic growth" are quotes from their recently release report. Can you read more about this at the UCAR web site.

MPR listener question

What do you think the weather will be like for the Twin Cities Marathon on Sunday morning (Oct 7)?

Answer: This may be one of the coldest ever Twin Cities Marathons. Temperatures may start out in the upper 20s F to lower 30s F with little or no wind. By the end of the race the temperatures may be in the low to mid 40s F. On the bright side, skies will be sunny, winds will remain light from the southwest, and it will be dry with no precipitation expected. It may be an environment more uncomfortable for the spectators than the runners.

Twin Cities Almanac for October 5th

The average MSP high temperature for this date is 64 degrees F (plus or minus 10 degrees F standard deviation), while the average low is 44 degrees F (plus or minus 7 degrees F standard deviation).

MSP Local Records for October 5th

MSP weather records for this date include: highest daily maximum temperature of 88 degrees F in 2011; lowest daily maximum temperature of 37 degrees F in 1952; lowest daily minimum temperature of 25 F in 1952; highest daily minimum temperature of 63 F in 2007; and record precipitation of 2.31 inches in 1911; Record snowfall is a trace in 1952 and 1991.

Average dew point for October 5th is 42 degrees F, with a maximum of 67 degrees F in 2005 and 2007 and a minimum of 14 degrees F in 1935 and 1952.

All-time state records for October 5th

The state record high temperature for this date is 98 degrees F at Beardsley (Big Stone County) in 1963. The state record low temperature for this date is 11 degrees F at Pine River Dam (Crow Wing County) in 1988 and at Tower (St Louis County) in 2000. State record precipitation for this date is 6.61 inches at Wild River State Park (Chisago County) in 2005; and the state record snowfall for this date is 4.0 inches at Indus (Koochiching County) in 1952.

Past Weather Features:

October 4-7, 1879 brought a taste of summer to Minnesota as temperatures soared into the 80s F for 4 consecutive days in many areas. Duluth reported a high of 78 degrees F on October 4, a record at the time, while the Twin Cities reached a high of 87 degrees F on the 5th, a record high not broken until 2011.

October 5-6, 1911 brought heavy thunderstorms to portions of southern and central Minnesota. Rainfall amounts ranging from 3-5 inches were reported from Pipestone, New Ulm, Mankato, St Peter, Redwood Falls, Farmington, Zumbrota, St Paul, Stillwater, and Glencoe. Farm fields were flooded for days.

October 5, 1935 was one of the coldest in state history. Several observers reported lows in the teens F, including 13 degrees F at Argyle, Hallock, and Beardsley, 14 degrees F at New Ulm, Crookston, Detroit Lakes, and Campbell, and 16 degrees F at Big Falls, Pokegama Dam, and Wadena. The daytime high at Albert Lea was only 39 degrees F, and only 36 degrees F at Brainerd.

The warmest October 5th in state history was in 1963 when over 30 Minnesota communities saw the temperature rise to 90 degrees F or higher, topped by 98 degrees F at Beardsley, the highest temperature ever measured in state so late in the year.

October 4-6, 2000 brought snow to many northern Minnesota communities. Thief River Falls, Roseau, and Littlefork reported over 2 inches, while Baudette and Thorhult reported over 3 inches. After the snowfall temperatures fell into the low to mid 20s F in many areas, and as low as 18 degrees F at Embarrass and 11 degrees F at Tower.

One of the worst ever October flash floods occurred over October 4-5, 2005 in east-central Minnesota. Heavy thunderstorms persisted over eastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin on these two days, resulting in rainfall totals that ranged from 5 to 9 inches across parts of Pine, Isanti, Chisago, Washington, Morrison, Anoka, and Dakota Counties. Several roads were flooded, and I-35 was closed for a time between Rock Creek (Pine County) and Harris (Chisago County). All-time record single day rainfall totals for October were reported from Wild River State Park (6.61"), St Francis (6.24"), Mora (5.78"), Hinckley (5.43"), Cambridge (5.20"), and Stillwater (5.04"), among others.

It was 90 degrees F on October 5, 2011 (last year) at Granite Falls, MN. Today's high is expected to be in the mid 40s F there.

Word of the Week: Roebber Method

The National Weather Service uses the Roebber Method in snowfall forecasting. It is based on research done by Paul Roebber of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The Roebber Method helps in determining the snow/water ration or snow density. Important factors considered in this method include solar radiation, vertical temperature structure, vertical relative humidity structure, and surface condition in terms of compaction and snowpack metamorphism. The Roebber Method was developed in 2002 and is still in use. In fact this method was used by forecasters for estimating snowfall from the winter storm in the Red River Valley this week. You can read more about the Roebber Method here.


Cool and dry weekend coming up with temperatures well below normal. Warming trend on Monday, with increasing clouds and a chance for scattered precipitation. Temperatures will be closer to seasonal normals. Then cooler again for the rest of next week, with a chance for precipitation towards next weekend.
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