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Cold week with some records broken

Cold week with some records broken

This week's weather pattern brought the coldest temperatures in years to many parts of Minnesota, and coldest in the 48 contiguous states on some dates. There were many reports of lows ranging from -30 degrees F to -40 degrees F across the northern counties, with windchills ranging from -35 to -50 degrees F at times. The coldest temperature was -42 degrees F at Embarrass on January 24th (Thu) and the coldest windchill was -54 degrees F at Grand Marais Airport on January 21st (Monday).
Some new station record lows were set on selected dates, including:
January 22 (Tuesday): Record low of -34 degrees F at Brimson, Gunflint Lake, Isabella; Record low of -38 degrees F tied at Babbitt (with 1922)
In addition the high temperature of -18 degrees F at Gunflint Lake on Tuesday was the 2nd coldest for the date of all-time, and 3rd coldest high temperature ever measured at that station.
January 24 (Thursday): Record low of -35 degrees F at Gunflint Lake, Isabella, and Kabetogama; Record low of -34 degrees F at Kettle Falls; Record low of -37 degrees F at Orr; Record low of -40 degrees F at Babbitt; and record low of -42 degrees F at Embarrass. Many other observers came close to record lows for the date on Thursday as well, but no reports were anywhere close to the state record of -57 degrees F at Pokegama Dam in 1904.

Absence of snow, frost goes deeper

A relative absence of snowfall has been prevalent in most Minnesota counties this month. Many observers are reporting just 1 to 3 inches for the month so far. In many parts of the state snow cover is non-existent or less than 1 inch. Only a few observers like Roseau, Crookston, Warroad, Kettle Falls, Wolfe Ridge, and International Falls have received 8-15 inches of snowfall for the month so far.

The absence of deep snow cover exposed the soil to the Arctic-like cold blast this week. As a result frost depths increased significantly, in some cases going from 4-6 inch depth down to 16 to 20 inches in depth. Actual soil temperatures plummeted as well, dropping into the low to mid 20s F at the 4 inch depth, and into the single digits and low teens F at the shallower 2 inch depth. These low soil temperatures can damage plants, and is one of the reasons so many gardeners use mulch or straw (insulation) to cover the soil in the winter. In agricultural pasture lands and alfalfa fields such low temperatures pose a risk of winter injury.

Weekly Weather potpourri

Cyclone Garry was spinning in the Southern Pacific Ocean just east of Pago Pago and west of Bora Bora. It generated wind gusts over 105 mph and sea wave heights greater than 20 feet. Garry was expected to move southeast and not present a threat to any islands over the weekend, dissipating by early next week near 30 degrees south latitude in the open ocean.

More snow and rain visited the United Kingdom this week, as January continued to be a cool and stormy winter month. More precipitation is expected over the weekend and may pose the threat of flooding in some areas. In Scotland and northern England up to 4 more inches of snowfall was forecast. It is also expected to be windy, but temperatures will warm closer to seasonal averages.

Reuters reported this week that federal crop insurance payments to farmers in the USA will likely establish a new record in 2012, perhaps topping $20 billion. This was not entirely unexpected with over 63 percent of the country in drought during the growing season. Illinois and Iowa topped the list for federal crop insurance payments, mostly based on corn. You can read more about this report here.

Weekly highlights on USA drought from Brad Rippey in the USDA World Agricultural Outlook Board Office include:
-Overall U.S. drought coverage decreased to 57.64% of the contiguous U.S., down 1.23% from last week and down 5.01% in the last eight weeks. Last week’s decrease came on the strength of additional heavy precipitation (rain and snow) in the lower Midwest and the Southeast­excluding the southern Atlantic region.
-The portion of the contiguous U.S. in the worst category – D4, or exceptional drought – was nearly steady at 6.36%. D4 coverage has ranged from 5 to 7% for 24 consecutive weeks (August 14 – January 22).
-The percent of hay in drought (59%) and cattle in drought (68%) fell two percentage points from a week ago. Winter wheat in drought (59%) was down a point. The last time “hay in drought” was less than 60% was July 3, 2012.
-For the 29th consecutive week (July 10, 2012 – January 22, 2013), drought encompassed more than two-thirds of the domestic cattle inventory.

MPR listener question

Our friend Paul Douglas asked if records showed that extreme cold (-40 F or colder) was visiting the state with less frequency in recent years. This is his perception and that of many others, but what do the data show?

Answer: I examined the climate records of 8 northern Minnesota climate stations that showed some frequency in their history of reporting -40 degrees F or colder. I then compared the relative frequency of such temperature measurements over the period from 1951 to 1980 against the more recent period of 1981-2010. The results showed the following shift in frequency:
Location 1951-1980 1981-2010 (percent change)
Baudette 31 days 12 days (-61 percent)
Roseau 24 days 15 days (-38 percent)
International Falls 21 days 16 days (-24 percent)
Big Falls 34 days 22 days (-35 percent)
Itasca State Park 17 days 11 days (-35 percent) No reading of -40 F since 1997
Warroad 16 days 10 days (-63 percent)
Thorhult 31 days 23 days (-26 percent)
Waskish 12 days 15 days (+25 percent)

Thus 7 of the 8 climate stations show a significant drop in the frequency of -40 F or colder. Concerning this change in frequency of such temperatures and its potential impact on Minnesota, Dr. Lee Frelich, University of Minnesota Forest Ecologist comments: "An invasive species from Asia, the emerald ash borer, has killed tens of millions of ash trees in Michigan, Ohio, and southern Ontario, and is also likely to be killed by -40 temperatures (or perhaps even -30). It arrived a few years ago in the Twin Cities, where its probably not cold enough in winter these days to kill the insect. Whether it will be able to kill millions of ash trees in the ash swamps of northern Minnesota could depend on winter minimum temperatures and a warmer climate in the future."

Twin Cities Almanac for January 25th

The average MSP high temperature for this date is 20 degrees F (plus or minus 15 degrees F standard deviation), while the average low is 4 degrees F (plus or minus 15 degrees F standard deviation).

MSP Local Records for January 25th

MSP weather records for this date include: highest daily maximum temperature of 58 degrees F in 1944; lowest daily maximum temperature of -16 degrees F in 1904; lowest daily minimum temperature of -31 F in 1904; highest daily minimum temperature of 42 F in 1944; and record precipitation of 0.50 inches in 1950; Record snowfall is 7.5 inches in 1950.

Average dew point for January 25th is 5 degrees F, with a maximum of 48 degrees F in 1944 and a minimum of -35 degrees F in 1972.

All-time state records for January 25th

The state record high temperature for this date is 67 degrees F at Springfield (Brown County) in 1981. The state record low temperature for this date is -55 degrees F at Pokegama Dam (Itasca County) in 1904. State record precipitation for this date is 2.65 inches at Theilman (Wabasha County) in 1967; and the state record snowfall for this date is 16.5 inches at Isabella (Lake County) in 1982.

Past Weather Features:

Nearly 241 years ago on January 27, 1772, the famous "Washington and Jefferson Snowstorm" occurred. So named because an account of this appears in both gentlemen's diaries, a total snowfall ranging from 30 to 36 inches was reported at both Washington's home in Mt Vernon and at Jefferson's home at Monticello. Colonists were unable to travel around Virginia for two weeks because of the depth of snow and the colonial postal service did not resume for five weeks. To this day these figures, though unofficial, remain the highest snowfall amounts reported in those areas from a single storm. An interesting footnote to this storm concerning Jefferson's life: Jefferson and his 22 year-old bride Martha had just been married at her family plantation (The Forest) near Williamsburg on New Year's Day. It was a cold and snowy January throughout the colonies and they travelled the 130 miles to Monticello (near Charlottesville) very slowly, arriving just ahead of this famous storm which caused them to be homebound for two weeks. Nine months later, their first child, daughter Martha, was born in September.

January 23-27, 1897 brought an Arctic Cold Outbreak to northern Minnesota. Temperatures plummeted to into the -30s and -40s F across northern counties. Morning lows ranged from -38 F to -49 F at Pokegama Dam, while on January 25th the mercury rose no higher than -28 degrees F at Ada (Norman County).

January 24-25, 1967 brought a strong winter storm to many parts of Minnesota with a mixture of rain sleet and snow. Many areas received over an inch of precipitation and some reported over 2 inches. Where precipitation froze, roads became icy as well.

January 25, 1981 was the warmest in state history, with most observers reporting record-setting high temperatures. Even the Red River Valley reported highs in the 50s F. At least a dozen communities saw an afternoon temperature reach into the 60s F. There was little or no snow cover under bright, sunny skies.

January 23-27, 1996 brought another Arctic Cold Outbreak to Minnesota, in some cases breaking cold temperature records that had been set back in 1897. Many communities reported lows of -40 degrees F or colder, and some were colder than -50 degrees F. Abundant snow cover, high pressure, and clear skies contributed to the extreme cold.


Warming trend begins over the weekend, bringing with it a chance for mixed precipitation, perhaps snow, freezing rain and drizzle. Temperatures will moderate into the 20s to lower 30s F by Sunday. There will be a continued chance for snow and rain on Monday and Tuesday, and some areas may see more freezing rain. The weather pattern will get colder and drier by the middle of next week.

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