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Commentary produced January 17, 2014

  • Significant January snows
  • Visited by windchill and blizzard conditions
  • New climate outlook
  • Weekly weather potpourri
  • MPR listener questions
  • Almanac for January 17th
  • Past weather
  • Outlook

Significant January snows

Sunday brought a surge of warm, moist air into the state. Many communities saw the thermometer reach the 40s F on Sunday afternoon, topped by 43 degrees F at Ottertail, 44 degrees F at Winona, and 45 degrees F at Cass Lake. Later on Sunday night freezing drizzle and significant snowfall began to occur.

In fact, Monday through Thursday (Jan 13-16) brought the first significant snowfalls of the month for many Minnesota weather observers. A number of climate stations reported 4 or more inches of new snowfall this week. Among the higher snowfall reports were: 5.0 inches at Lake City, 5.5 inches at Grand Marais, Red Wind, and Elk River, 6.0 inches at Wabasha, 6.1 inches at Forest Lake, 7.0 inches at Afton, 7.2 inches at Minnesota City, 9.0 inches at Isabella, and 10 inches at Lutsen. Amounts of new snowfall in western Wisconsin were generally higher, ranging from 7-12 inches. Yet more snowfall is expected off and on through the weekend and into the Martin Luther King holiday.

Visited by windchill and blizzard conditions

Strong winds ranging from 30-50 mph on Tuesday (Jan 14) combined with falling temperatures caused the National Weather Service to issue windchill advisories, especially in western counties. Continued strong winds combined with moderate snowfall brought the need for blizzard warnings in central and western counties on both Wednesday and Thursday. A number of counties reported whiteout conditions with zero visibility for driving. A number of Minnesota highways were closed for a time due to zero or very low visibility and development of large snow drifts.

New climate outlook

The NOAA Climate Prediction Center released new seasonal outlooks on Thursday (Jan 16). For the Western Great Lakes Region, including Minnesota the outlook for February through April calls for cooler than normal temperatures. This continues the trend established during the previous months of November, December, and January. There are equal chances for above or below normal precipitation during the February through April period across our region. You can find more on this at

This outlook concurs with that from Environment Canada, except that the Canadian outlook favors above normal snowfall for northern Minnesota counties over the next three months. You can find more information at

Weekly weather potpourri

Brad Rippey, USDA meteorologist, reported some further facts about California's extreme drought in 2013......." California's driest year on record (2013) featured an average of 7.37 inches of precipitation, 33 percent of normal. By comparison 1976 was a "garden year" with 11.87 inches (3rd driest on record). Number two was 1898 ........with an average of 9.90 inches. On the flip side, an average (precipitation) of 42.33 inches fell in 1983 (an El Nino year)."

Melbourne, Australia suffered through a 3-day Heat Wave this week with daytime temperatures peaking at 111 degrees F. The persistent heat caused a suspension of play at the Australian Open Tennis Tournament. Fortunately following some thunderstorm activity, cooler temperatures are expected to prevail there, putting temperatures in the 60s and 70s F for the next several days.

According to a NOAA press release there were 7 weather/climate disasters which produced at least $1 billion in losses during 2013. This was down from 11 such disasters which occurred in 2012. For a listing of these events, you can go to their web site....

The NOAA web site also offers an explanation of the Polar Vortex and its role in atmospheric circulation. Because the cold wave suffered earlier this month was related to an unusual displacement of the Polar Vortex this article might be of interest to several readers. You can find it at...

A recent paper published in the New Phytologist by research biologists at Boston University shows that trees and shrubs of Walden Pond leaf out about 18 days earlier than they did when Henry David Thoreau made his observations there in the 1850s. This is a measure of climate change for the Concord, MA area. You can read more about this study and what it means for invasive species at...

MPR listener question

"Can you settle a bet with my neighbor? He says we have never seen a 70 degrees F temperature reading in Minnesota during January, but I swear I remember such a day back in the early 1980s? What does the data show?"

Answer: No official thermometer reading in Minnesota's rich climate history has ever reached 70 degrees F in January. The closest we have measured officially is 69 degrees F at Montevideo (Chippewa County) on January 24, 1981. I suppose that some "unofficial thermometers" may have registered 70 degrees F that day. By the way that reading at Montevideo was 45 degrees F above normal for the date!

Twin Cities Almanac for January 17th

The average MSP high temperature for this date is 22 degrees F (plus or minus 14 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 17th

MSP weather records for this date include: highest daily maximum temperature of 44 degrees F in 1894; lowest daily maximum temperature of -12 degrees F in 1962; lowest daily minimum temperature is -26 degrees F in 1967; highest daily minimum temperature of 35 F in 1876; record precipitation of 0.90 inches in 1996; and a record 5.1 inches of snow fell on this date in 1932. Maximum snow depth on this date was 20 inches in both 1970.

Average dew point for January 17th is 5 degrees F, with a maximum of 39 degrees F in 1973 and a minimum of -37 degrees F in 1962.

All-time state records for January 17th

The state record high temperature for this date is 58 degrees F at Winona (Winona County) in 1889). The state record low temperature for this date is -52 degrees F at Tower (St Louis County) in 1982. State record precipitation for this date is 2.20 inches at Byron (Olmsted County) in 1996; and state record snowfall for this date is 15.0 inches at Fort Ripley (Crow Wing County) in 1870.

Past weather features

January 16-17, 1870 brought a widespread blizzard to Minnesota. Visibility was near zero even in downtown St Paul. Snowfall amounts ranged from 8 to 15 inches, but the winds blew snow into drifts of 8 to 10 feet.

January 15-19, 1919 brought one of the mildest mid-January spells of weather in Minnesota history. Daytime temperatures climbed into the 40s F as far north as Warroad. In the southern part of the state observers at Luverne, Worthington, and Fairmont reported temperatures in the 50s under sunny skies and light south winds. Most of the Minnesota landscape had little or no snow cover January 17, 1982 was the coldest in state history. At least 20 Minnesota communities reported a low temperature of -40 degrees F or colder. Cook reported -50 degrees F, while Tower reported -52 degrees F. The windchill conditions that day were quite dangerous, ranging from -35 to -55 degrees F.

January 17, 1996 brought an ice storm to central Minnesota, including the Twin Cities. Ice accumulations ranged from 1/2 inch to 1 inch thick on power lines and trees. Power outages were widespread affecting over 200,000 residents. In western and northern counties blizzard warnings were issued and a number of schools and businesses were closed.


Partly cloudy, breezy, and a chance for occasional snow on Saturday, especially in southern Minnesota counties. Generally dry on Sunday under partly cloudy skies. Colder Monday through Wednesday next week, then some moderating temperatures toward the end of the week, but still cooler than normal.


Further information

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