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Reviewing 2020 Weather and Climate

Reviewing 2020 Weather and Climate:

Weather/Climate Headlines for 2020

The year 2020 will certainly be documented in the history books for the global pandemic, widespread civil unrest, and highly contentious election in the USA, But it also brought dramatic and traumatic weather and climate events to various sections of the globe. There are too many to write about in this blog, but some of the most significant were:

-A record 30 named storms during the Atlantic Hurricane Season, a number of which made landfall in the USA, especially devastating in the state of Louisiana. The World Meteorological Organization has more details.

-June 20, 2020 brought the first ever measured temperature of 100°F within the Arctic Circle, at Verkhoyansk in Russia Siberia, shattering all previous records by several degrees. More information from the Weather Channel.

-2020 brought the most devastating bush fire season to Australia (ending on March 31) during which over 12 thousand buildings and homes were destroyed and 25 lives lost. Economic loss was estimated at over 100 billion in Australian dollar (AUD). Aljazeera reports.

-2020 also brought one of the worst wildfire seasons in history to the western states of the USA. Over 8 million acres were consumed by these fires, and tens of thousands of buildings damaged or destroyed. It is also estimated that 37 people were killed. Wikipedia reports.

-on August 10, 2020 a derecho (straight line wind storm) moved 770 miles across the central USA cutting a wide swath of damage with up to 100 mph winds. Cedar Rapids, IA was especially hard hit. This storm caused billions of dollars in damages as one of the worst derechos in USA history. Wikipedia reports.

Top Five Weather/Climate Events of 2020 in Minnesota

The DNR State Climatology Office has published the top five weather/climate events of 2020 for Minnesota. This list includes the strong winter storm on Easter Sunday, the heavy rains brought by Tropical Storm Cristobal, the first EF-4 (winds over 165 mph) tornado in over 10 years (Otter Tail County on July 8), the record October snowstorm, and the record warm period of early November. You can see the list and read more detailed narrative at the State Climatology web site:

Comments on 2020 Climate Signatures in Minnesota

As we wrap up the year, basically a warmer than normal one and slightly drier than normal one as well, we can look back at the statewide pattern month by month. Overall, 2020 ended up among the top 15 warmest in state history (back to 1895) and was drier than normal ranking about 43rd driest out of 126 years.

From a statewide perspective, using the average of all official climate station observations:

January 4.1 degrees F warmer than normal, 0.12 inches below normal precipitation.
February 1.4 degrees F warmer than normal, 0.31 inches below normal precipitation.
March 2.5 degrees F cooler than normal, 0.16 inches above normal precipitation.
April 3.6 degrees F cooler than normal, 0.98 inches below normal precipitation.
May 1.6 degrees F cooler than normal, 1.12 inches below normal precipitation
June 3.3 degrees F warmer than normal, 0.25 inches below normal precipitation.
July 2.4 degrees F warmer than normal, 1.06 inches above normal precipitation.
August 1.4 degrees F warmer than normal, 0.90 inches above normal precipitation
September 1.3 degrees F cooler than normal, 1.69 inches below normal precipitation.
October 5.9 degrees F cooler than normal, 0.65 inches below normal precipitation.
November 4.7 degrees F warmer than normal, 0.34 inches below normal precipitation.
December 6.8 degrees F warmer than normal, 0.23 inches below normal precipitation.

Extremes for the year included:
A high of 102 degrees F at Granite Falls on June 7th
A low of -40 degrees F at Baudette (Jan 11), Isabella (Feb 20), and Cotton (Feb 21)
Highest annual precipitation of 44.46 inches near Owatonna, lowest annual precipitation 16.09 inches at Ortonville.

Solar radiation was above normal in 2020 with an abundance of clear skies. The strongest low pressure systems were in March, April, October, and December. Winds were generally higher as well. Numbers are not yet final for 2020 but there were over 50 tornadoes reported in Minnesota during the year, nearly twice the annual average.

Weather Potpourri:

The Minnesota Climate Adaptation Partnership (MCAP) has announced that the Annual Statewide Conference will take place via Zoom on January 20, 2021 from 9:00 am to 12:15pm. This conference which is all about sharing climate adaptation research, knowledge, and practice is always a highlight of the year for me. I will be presenting the awards again this year. If you are interested in registering please check out the information on the web site.

The AGU-EOS Bulletin this week features an interesting article by Lucas Vargas Zeppetello of the University of Washington, Seattle. He recently received his Ph.D, and published a paper on his climate research which was misused by climate skeptics to argue against climate change evidence. It is a very good read about how scientists need to be more vocal on the interpretation of their research.

MPR listener question:

What do you think the climate signature of January 2021 will look like for Minnesota?


This is a difficult one to generalize about. Models diverge on expected patterns for January, but most suggest that the first 2-3 weeks of the month will be warmer than normal and drier than normal. Then the last ten days will bring more snow, and some episodes of colder than normal air. Overall, I would guess it will be warmer than normal for the month (a strong long-term trend shows this as well) and perhaps about normal or perhaps a little bit above normal on snowfall.

Twin Cities Almanac for January 1st:

The average MSP high temperature for this date is 24 degrees F (plus or minus 13 degrees F standard deviation), while the average low is 8 degrees F (plus or minus 14 degrees F standard deviation).

MSP Local Records for January 1st:

MSP records for this date include: highest daily maximum temperature of 48 degrees F in 1897; lowest daily maximum temperature of -12 degrees F in 1974; lowest daily minimum temperature of -30 degrees F in 1974; highest daily minimum temperature of 42 degrees F in 1897; record precipitation of 0.47 inches in 1891. Record snowfall is 4.0 inches in 1914.

Average dew point for January 1st is 8°F; the maximum dew point on this date is 36°F in 1950; and the minimum dew point on this date is -38 degrees F in 1974.

All-time state records for January 1st:

The state record high temperature for this date is 56 degrees F at Luverne (Rock County) in 1998. The state record low temperature for this date is -46 degrees F at St Vincent (Kittson County) in 1885. The state record precipitation for this date is 1.75 inches at Elk River (Sherburne County) in 2007. Record snowfall is 12.0 inches at Fairmont (Martin County) in 1911.

Past Weather Features:

The coldest New Year's Day in the upper Midwest, including the Twin Cities, was probably January 1, 1864. This predates the existence of the National Weather Service, so you won’t find this in official NOAA documents. Starting the night of December30, 1863 a blizzard and Arctic Cold Wave enveloped the Dakotas and Minnesota with snow squalls and strong northwesterly winds. The mercury plummeted over the next few days. The New Year's morning low in the Twin Cities was -37 degrees F, with overnight and early morning windchill readings of minus 50 F to minus 60 F. New Year’s afternoon highs only made it up to -25 degrees F in the Twin Cities and -16 degrees F in Chicago. The cold wave lasted through the first week of January, keeping the mercury below zero for a period of 226 consecutive hours in the Twin Cities.

January 1-2, 1911 brought a winter storm to southern Minnesota. Many climate stations reported 6-12 inches of snowfall. Fairmont and New Ulm ended up with over 20 inches of snowfall that month.


Mostly a dry period coming up with warmer than normal temperatures prevailing for Saturday through Thursday. There will be a chance for snow showers on Wednesday of next week but no major storms are in sight.

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