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Some Notes on Cold Temperatures

Some Notes on Cold Temperatures:

Coldest air of the winter season settled over the state this week.  International Falls and Hibbing both set new record cold maximums on February 14th with a daytime readings of only -5F and 2F, respectively.  Gunflint Lake set a new record low temperature on February 15th with a reading of -34F, while on that same date 11 other Minnesota communities set new records for the coldest maximum temperature value including a reading of 2F at both Brainerd and Theilman.  On February 18th, Duluth tied the record for coldest maximum temperature with a reading of -5F and Cotton reported a new record cold daytime maximum temperature of -13F.  Also on the 18th Kabetogama set a new record low temperature with a reading of -26F.  Thursday, February 19th brought even more record cold: Cotton set a new record low with a reading of -42F, the coldest in the nation, and the coldest reading in Minnesota for this winter; Seagull Lake set a new record low with -38F; Brimson and Embarrass set new record lows with a reading of -41F; Ely and Tower set new record lows with -37F; Orr reported a new record low of -36F; and Littlefork reported a record low of -34F.

It is interesting to note that the places in the state that set new cold temperature records this week were areas that also have the deepest snow cover (a foot up to 30 inches).  From a historical perspective these are the coldest mid-February low temperatures since those of 1966.

Frost Depths Increase:

The spell of abnormally cold weather combined with the thin snow cover continues to allow frost depths to go deeper into the soil.  In southern Minnesota counties frost depths now range from 25 to 35 inches, while in northern counties many frost depths are reported that are deeper than 40 and 50 inches.  Shallow soil temperatures, 2-4 inches have fallen this week into the teens F and even the single digits F in some places.  Such low temperatures present a threat of winter injury to alfalfa fields and other plants.  Maximum frost depths usually occur near the end of February or early March, so the depth of frost in Minnesota has likely not reached its maximum extent for this winter.

Weekly Weather Potpourri:

The Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory reported this week that the spell of cold weather has greatly increased the extent of ice on the Great Lakes this week, expanding ice coverage to 85 percent. Lake Superior is over 91 percent ice covered, with some ice thickness in western areas of the lake over 30 inches thick.  Widespread cold has been breaking records up and down the eastern states in the USA this week.  At Niagara Falls climbers have been scaling the ice cliffs next to the water.  

In NOAA's continuing efforts to improve climate literacy they offer web-based resources materials in a lesson plan titled "Life affects climate, Climate affects life."  If you are a teacher this might be worth looking at. 

The National Academy of Sciences also recently announced the publication of two useful resources on climate change: Climate Intervention-Carbon Dioxide Removal and Reliable Sequestration; and Climate Intervention-Reflecting Sunlight to Cool Earth.  You can purchase these as hard bound copies or download the pdf files from their web site.

An article this week in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics documents a study of air pollution in Europe.  The study shows that further emission restrictions are needed to improve the air quality in many European hot spots like Paris, Warsaw, and Milan.  Much more improvement in the reduction of particulate matter is possible by deploying modern technology.  A synopsis of the article is available from Science Daily.

Weather in coastal Australia was quite stormy this week affected by two Tropical Cyclones.  Cyclone Lam struck the Northern Territory east of Darwin on February 19th bringing strong winds and large waves.  Rainfall totaling 8 to 12 inches was expected from this storm before it dissipated.  To the east along the shores of Queensland Tropical Cyclone Marcia produced winds of 120-130 mph, and even stronger gusts, and sea wave heights of 25-30 feet.  It was expected to rake the coastal areas between Gladstone and Brisbane over Friday and into the weekend, bringing destructive winds and large rainfall.

The NOAA Climate Prediction Center issued a new seasonal drought outlook this week.  It favors a continuation of dryness in Minnesota and the eastern Dakotas even thought the 3-month outlook suggests equal chances for above or below normal precipitation.

United States Seasonal Drought Outlook Graphic - click on image to enlarge

MPR Listener Question:

I noted on back to back days this week Minnesota reported the coldest temperatures in the nation, -33F at Crane Lake on the 18th and -42F at Cotton on the 19th.  How many times has Minnesota reported the coldest temperature in the nation this winter?


For the core winter months, December (2014) through the current February, Minnesota has reported the coldest temperature in the nation 18 times, more than any other state.  However this pales in comparison to last winter (December 2013 to February 2014) when Minnesota reported the coldest daily temperature in the nation 44 times!  Here is a list of the readings from Minnesota that were coldest in the nation for this winter so far (December 1, 2014 through February 19, 2015):

December 6, 2014 -12 F at Embarrass
December 18, 2014 -9 F at Grand Marais
December 29, 2014 -20 F at Flag Island
January 4, 2015 -28 F at Brimson
January 5, 2015 -29 F at Togo
January 10, 2015 -29 F at Cotton
January 11, 2015 -27 F at Crane Lake
January 12, 2015 -28 F at Agassiz Refuge
January 13, 2015 -35 F at Cotton
January 16, 2015 -20 F at Ely
January 21, 2015 -18 F at Grand Marais
January 30, 2015 -19 F at International Falls
February 1, 2015 -29 F at Crane Lake
February 2, 2015 -31 F at Embarrass and Cotton
February 5, 2015 -26 F at Ely, Embarrass,and Crane Lake
February 12, 2015 -28 F at International Falls
February 18, 2015 -33 F at Crane Lake
February 19, 2015 -42 F at Cotton

Who knows how many more times this month Minnesota will report the coldest temperature in the nation.  But it is certain we won't see the same number of days as last winter.

Twin Cities Almanac for February 20th:

The average MSP high temperature for this date is 28 degrees F (plus or minus 12 degrees F standard deviation), while the average low is 11 degrees F (plus or minus 13 degrees F standard deviation).

MSP Local Records for February 20th:

MSP weather records for this date include: highest daily maximum temperature of 57 degrees F in 1981; lowest daily maximum temperature of -4 degrees F in 1918 and 1909; lowest daily minimum temperature is -20 degrees F in 1889; highest daily minimum temperature of 35 F in 1899; record precipitation of 0.85 inches 2011; and record snowfall is 11.8 inches in 2011.

Average dew point for February 20th is 12 degrees F, with a maximum of 43 degrees F in 1930 and a minimum of -26 degrees F in 1966.

All-Time State Records for February 20th:

The state record high temperature for this date is 65 degrees F at Tracy (Lyon County) in 1930 and at Luverne (Rock County) and Canby (Yellow Medicine County) in 1981. The state record low temperature for this date is -50 degrees F at Baudette (Lake of the Woods County) in 1966.  State record precipitation for this date is 1.60 inches at Caledonia (Houston County) in 1898, and at Gonvick (Clearwater County) in 1984; and the state record snowfall for this date is 16.0 inches at Marshall (Lyon County) in 1952.  

Past Weather Features:

A major winter storm brought plenty of snow to the state over February 19-20, 1952.  Many observers in the state reported over 10 inches of snow including 15 inches at Montevideo, 17 inches at Dawson and Cokato, and 18 inches at Milan. Many rural schools were closed on Wednesday, February 20th.

February 15-21, 1966 brought a week-long Cold Wave to Minnesota, one of the coldest ever spells of weather during the month of February.  Scores of daily record low temperature values were set.  At least two dozen communities saw the thermometer drop into the -40F.  On the 20th Hallock (Kittson County) reported a daytime high temperature of -15F.

Perhaps the warmest ever February 20th was in 1981.  With an absence of snow cover, a sunny day with southerly winds caused afternoon temperatures to soar into the 60s F in sixteen Minnesota cities.  At Marshall the temperature rose from a morning low of 19F to an afternoon high of 64F, and in nearby fields farmers were seen doing tillage and planting small grain crops.


Moderate cold on Saturday with cloudy skies and a chance for widely scattered snow flurries.  Colder on Sunday and Monday with some sun.  Somewhat warmer on Tuesday with a chance for snow, then remaining colder than normal into next weekend as well.

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