Skip to main content

Brief Assessment of Meteorological Winter (Dec-Feb)

Brief assessment of Meteorological Winter (Dec-Feb):

The 6th warmest February in state history concluded earlier this week, along with the end of Meteorological Winter (in the northern hemisphere December through February). The Meteorological Winter definitely followed the climatic trends of recent decades by being both warmer and wetter than normal.

It was the 10th warmest Meteorological Winter in state history back to 1895, and the 15th warmer than normal one of the last 20 years on a statewide basis. Over the 90-day season approximately 700 daily temperature records were set within the state's climate observation networks, including 286 new daily high maximum temperatures and 414 new daily high minimum temperatures. During the Meteorological Winter Minnesota reported the coldest temperature in the 48 contiguous states only 9 times, a small number when compared to history. In December it happened 3 days, in January 4 days, and in February just 2 days.

On a monthly basis here is a summary of the daily temperature records set within MN observation networks:
December: 8 high daily maximum temperatures; 22 daily high minimum temperatures
January: 39 high daily maximum temperatures; 278 daily high minimum temperatures
February: 239 high daily maximum temperatures: 114 daily high minimum temperatures

Extreme values of temperature for the Meteorological Winter were 67°F at Redwood Falls Airport on February 17th (a statewide record for the date), and -46°F at Cotton (St Louis County) on January 14th (coldest in the nation on that date).

The Meteorological Winter was also the 7th wettest in state history, with northeastern, south-central, and southeastern counties averaging well over 4 inches over the 90 days. Within the state climate observation network 200 new daily precipitation records were reported. In southeastern Minnesota Lake City, Wabasha, and Minnesota City reported their wettest Meteorological Winter in history with totals of around 7 inches. An unusual character of this winter was that many Minnesota observers reported more rainfall events than snowfall events, especially in southern counties. In addition there was more than the usual amount of ice, which produced hundreds of accidents.

Most observers reported less than normal snowfall, except for far northern sections of the state. Isabella (Lake County) with 70.5 inches, Kabetogama (St Louis County) with 70.2 inches, and Ely (St Louis County) with 61.6 inches are all well above normal in terms of snowfall for the season

Weather Potpourri:

NOAA News provides a good summary of the "Late Winter Heat Wave" that affected the nation during February. Many states, including Minnesota recorded some all-time high temperatures on selected dates during the month.

A Tropical Cyclone was forming just northeast of Madagascar in the Southern Indian Ocean this week. It was expected to gain strength and more towards Madagascar later into the weekend. You can follow updates at the Joint Typhoon Warning Center Web site.

The United Kingdom Met Office release a summary of their recent Meteorological Winter (Dec-Feb). Generally it was warmer and drier than normal across the United Kingdom. Met Office climatologist say that Scotland reported its 4th warmest winter, Northern Ireland its 5th warmest winter and England its 9th warmest winter. It was also exceptionally dry in Northern Ireland where they reported just 66 percent of normal precipitation.

The World Meteorological Organization announced earlier this week that several all-time high temperature records have been reported from Antarctica and verified, some occurring in recent years. These temperatures have ranged from the upper 60s F to the teens F, depending on location.

MPR listener question:

I have heard you say that because our climate in Minnesota is so variable we hardly ever report a daily maximum or minimum temperature that is exactly average for the date. It is always either warmer or colder than "normal." What is the exact frequency for measuring an average value of temperature on any given date?


Indeed, because our temperatures are so variable, hitting the exact average is difficult. For example, the average maximum temperature on February 4th in the Twin Cities is 26°F plus or minus a standard deviation of 15°F. Since 1873, a period of 145 years, a measured maximum temperature of 26°F has only occurred 4 times (1924, 1929, 1945, and 1951). So we have actually reported a value of maximum temperature on February 4th that is exactly equal to the average only 3 percent of the time. Conversely, when the standard deviation (variability) is lower in the summer, we still hardly ever measure the exact average. For example, the average maximum temperature on July 31 in the Twin Cities is 83°F plus or minus a standard deviation of only 6°F. Since 1873, a period of 145 years, a measured maximum temperature of 83°F has only occurred 11 times, most recently in 2013. That is a frequency of measuring the exact average only 8 percent of the time in July.

So the reality is that regardless of the time of year the daily temperature measurements are not "average" over 90 percent of the time!

MPR listener question:

From Jeff Vetsch at the University of Minnesota Southern Research and Outreach Center in Waseca, “we did not measure a low temperature of 0 degrees F during the entire month of February 2017. How often does this happen?


Not often. Since 1914, this has happened in only three other years: 1992, 1999, and 2000. It might be expected to happen more often in the future, as temperatures are warming more significantly during the winter months than during other seasons of the year.

Twin Cities Almanac for March 3rd:

The average MSP high temperature for this date is 35 degrees F (plus or minus 10 degrees F standard deviation), while the average low is 19 degrees F (plus or minus 11 degrees F standard deviation).

MSP Local Records for March 3rd:

MSP weather records for this date include: highest daily maximum temperature of 65 degrees F in 1905; lowest daily maximum temperature of 6 degrees F in 1873; lowest daily minimum temperature is -13 degrees F in 1873; highest daily minimum temperature of 38 degrees F in 1983; record precipitation of 1.19 inches in 1970; and a record snowfall of 12.6 inches in 1985.

Average dew point for March 3rd is 16°F; the maximum dew point on this date is 52°F in 1983; and the minimum dew point on this date is -20°F in 2002.

All-time state records for March 3rd:

The state record high temperature for this date is 71 degrees F at Milan (Chippewa County) in 1905. The state record low temperature for this date is -44 degrees F at Embarrass (St Louis County) in 2014. State record precipitation for this date is 3.06 inches at Benson (Swift County) in 1985; and record snowfall is 18.7 inches also at Benton (Swift County) in 1985.

Past Weather Features:

Very cold start to March in 1843 at Fort Snelling with early morning temperature readings ranging from -16°F to -20°F each day. It was the start of the coldest March in history during which 21 mornings started out below zero F.

Very bitter start to the month of March occurred in 1873 as exemplified in these temperature readings from around the state: St Paul high temperature 6°F and low temperature -13°F; New Ulm high temperature 12°F, low temperature -11°F; and Fort Ripley high temperature 8°F, low temperature -35°F. In all cases there was over a foot of snow on the ground.

By far the warmest March 3rd in state history was in 1905. Over 30 cities reported daytime highs in the 60s F. It reached 60°F at Moorhead and 70°F at Beardsley, Winnebago, and St Peter.

Over March 3-4, 1985 a large winter storm brought mixed precipitation, strong winds, and blizzard conditions to the state. Freezing rain, sleet, and glaze, accompanied by occasional thunder closed roads in SE Minnesota counties. The rest of the state was subject to very high winds, heavy snow accumulation and blizzard conditions. Winds gusted to 68 mph at Rochester, 71 mph at the Duluth Airport, and even 90 mph on the Duluth lift bridge. Zero visibility and drifts 6 feet high or greater closed I-94 between Minneapolis and Alexandria. Many businesses and schools were closed. Total snowfall accumulations were quite large and record-setting for some communities. Amounts included 16.7 inches at MSP Airport, 18 inches at Duluth Harbor, 20 inches at Two Harbors, 22 inches at Canby and Morris, and 24 inches at Brainerd and Benson. Two deaths were reported from hypothermia, as a result of people leaving stranded vehicles on the highway.


Much warmer over the weekend under partly cloudy skies and with south winds. Temperatures will climb into the 40s, 50s, and 60s F. There will be increasing clouds on Monday with a chance for rain showers, and perhaps even thunder in some areas. Cooler and drier for much of next week, but temperatures will remain near normal or slightly above normal.
Print Friendly and PDF