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In the Grip of Cold and Snow

October 18-22, 2020 will be noted in the history books of Minnesota as one of the coldest and snowiest 5-day periods in October.

Despite an abundance of cloud cover over this period, temperatures have been exceptionally cold for this time of year, running from 12 to 18 degrees F below normal, especially daytime highs. On the 20th of October this week Orr, MN reported the coldest temperature in the nation with a reading of 9°F.

But the widespread significant snowfall has captured most of the media and public attention, starting a very early snow shoveling and snowplowing season. Several new daily snowfall records were set at long-term climate stations by the storm over October 20-21 including:
7.9” at MSP; 7.0” at St Cloud, 6.9” at Willmar, 6.5” at Redwood Falls, 6.4” at Jordan and Bird Island, 6.0” at Marshall, Red Wing Dam, Hastings, and Dawson, 5.8” at Duluth and Milan, 5.7” at Browns Valley and Brainerd, and 5.5” at Wabasha. Other locations not included in the long-term climate station records reported 7-10 inches. Addition snowfall on Thursday (October 22) fell in central and northern portions of the state. Alexandria and Long Prairie both report over 15 inches of snowfall so far this month. The statewide record in the modern era for total October snowfall is 19.4 inches at Mizpah (Koochiching County) in 1932.

The water content of the snowfall was high with melted snow amounting to 0.70 to 1.20 inches in some places. Red Wing Dam reported a daily record 0.91 inches of precipitation, while Faribault reported a daily record 0.79 inches, and Jordan a record 0.70 inches. Though the month started out very dry, some areas of the state have now reported a total of 2-4 inches of precipitation so far this month.

Back to the cold temperatures. On a number of days this week climate stations in Minnesota reported setting new record cold daily maximum temperatures, including:
October 18th: 28°F at Chisholm; 31°F at Brimson; and 32°F at Floodwood
October 19th: 28°F at Cotton, Tower, and Pokegama Dam; 29°F at Cass Lake; 30°F at Walker and Isle
October 20th: 32°F at Rosemount and Artichoke Lake; 33°F at Marshall and Ottertail; and 34°F at Waseca
October 21st: 31°F at Red Lake Falls; 32°F at Milaca and Wright; 34°F at Redwood Falls
October 22nd: 32°F at Kabetogama; 34°F at Owatonna; and 35°F at Lamberton and Madison

The persistent cold temperatures have accelerated early ice formation on many Minnesota lakes. The DNR reports that some of the earliest ice-in dates on area lakes range between October 22-29 historically. This may be one of those years, as cooler than normal temperatures look to be with us for the rest of the month.

Weekly Weather Potpourri:

Since statehood (1858) only ten years have brought heavy snowfalls during the first four weeks of October to portions of Minnesota. In only three of those years (30 percent) was the heavy October snowfall a precursor to a consistently long and snowy season that lasted until the next spring (following April). Those snow seasons were 1880-1881, 1916-1917, 1951-1952. So heavy October snowfall does not predict an unusually large amount of snow for the coming snow season.

The Joint Typhoon Warning Center reports that Typhoon Saudel was in the South China Sea producing sea waves over 30 feet and wind gusts over 100 mph. It was expected to weaken over the weekend.

This week’s AGU-EOS bulletin offers an update on the drought in the southwestern USA. The seasonal climate outlook models do not favor any mitigation of drought during 2021 in the southwestern states. In fact drought may persistent or even worsen in those areas, continuing the higher risk of fire danger.

MPR listener question:

What is the most ever total snowfall for the month of October anywhere in the state of Minnesota?


In the official state climate records three locations have reported 19 or more inches of snowfall during at October:
Baudette (Lake of the Woods County) 19.0” in 1916
Farmington (Dakota County) 19.0” in 1926
Mizpah (Koochiching County) 19.4” in 1932

However, Pioneer diaries, records, and photographs would suggest that portions of southwestern Minnesota saw over 30 inches of snowfall during October of 1880. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s story of “The Long Winter” was written about that snow season of 1880-1881.

Documents also suggest exceptionally snowy Octobers occurred in the Pre-Statehood Era during 1820 and 1835, but we have no measurements.

Twin Cities Almanac for October 23rd:

The average MSP high temperature for this date is 55 degrees F (plus or minus 11 degrees F standard deviation), while the average low is 37 degrees F (plus or minus 8 degrees F standard deviation).

MSP Local Records for October 23rd:

MSP records for this date include: highest daily maximum temperature of 82 degrees F in 1899; lowest daily maximum temperature of 34 degrees F in 1981; lowest daily minimum temperature of 17 degrees F in 1936; highest daily minimum temperature of 58 degrees F in 2000; record precipitation of 1.01 inches in 1995. Record snowfall is 1.4 inches in 1938.

Average dew point for October 23rd is 36°F; the maximum dew point on this date is 65°F in 1973; and the minimum dew point on this date is 9 degrees F in 1981.

All-time state records for October 23rd:

The state record high temperature for this date is 91 degrees F at Chatfield (Fillmore County) in 1927. The state record low temperature for this date is -10 degrees F at Grand Rapids (Itasca County) in 1917. The state record precipitation for this date is 3.00 inches at Garrison (Crow Wing County) in 1995. Record snowfall is 10.0 inches at Caribou (Kittson County) in 2001.

Past Weather Features:

October 23, 1899 brought a brief return to summer with the vast majority of climate stations in Minnesota reporting daytime highs in the 70s and 80s F. Even the overnight temperature never fell below 67°F at Lake City.

October 23, 1917 was the coldest in state history. Most communities reported morning low temperatures in the single digits and teens. In portions of northwestern Minnesota temperatures were subzero. The afternoon high temperature at Hallock only reached 27°F.

Over October 23-24, 1933 an early season snowstorm dumped 4-11 inches of snow across many northern Minnesota counties. Duluth reported nearly a foot of snow.


Continued cooler than normal temperatures for the weekend and much of next week. Chances for more snow late Saturday and on Sunday, then generally dry much of next week, but continued cold.
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Anonymous said…
The weather has been rather weird this year all over especially in the UK. It will be very interesting to see what happens in December.
Mark Seeley said…
Indeed you are right......despite a La Nina signature in the Equatorial Pacific Ocean, the correlated Northern Hemisphere weather patterns may not appear this time. We will see.