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Cold Start to 2022

 Cold Start to 2022:

Sixteen of the last twenty-four months have brought significantly warmer than normal temperatures to Minnesota, with the most recent seven months all above normal in mean monthly temperature. But so far, this January has brought a screeching halt to that trend with most climate stations around the state averaging from 8 to 14 degrees F colder than normal. Furthermore, the vast majority of climate stations have reported many subzero temperatures during both night and day, some even record-setting.

Over 30 climate stations have reported at least one minimum temperature reading of -30°F or colder so far this month. On January 2nd Celina 2E (St Louis County) reported a low of -41°F and on January 3rd Warren (Marshall County) reported -44°F. Extremes yes, but the state record lows for those dates are -50°F (at Pokegama Dam in 1904) and -54°F (also at Pokegama Dam in 1904), respectively.

Some of the record cold temperatures reported from the state climate network so far this month include:

January 1st: Record lows at Ada (Norman County) with -39°F and at Georgetown (Clay County) with -32°F; record cold high temperatures of -16°F at Georgetown, -12°F at Artichoke Lake (Big Stone County), -10°F at Milan (Chippewa County), and -9°F at Hibbing (St Louis County).

January 2nd: Record lows at Cotton (St Louis County) at -39°F and at Brimson (St Louis County) with -38°F; record cold high temperatures at Red Lake Falls (Red Lake County) with -20°F, Ada (Norman County) with -18°F, Wheaton (Traverse County) with -13°F, St Peter (Nicollet County) and Redwood Falls (Redwood County) with -9°F, and Marshall (Lyon County) with -7°F.

January 6 and 7 brought many more subzero readings to the state, but as yet no record-setting temperatures have been reported. And continued subzero readings are likely in many places Sunday through Tuesday, but then several days of moderating temperatures with some above normal values are expected.

Despite the very cold start to 2022 in Minnesota, these conditions are mild compared to what happened in 1912, the coldest January in Minnesota history. It was 110 years ago but was long remembered by generations of Minnesota citizens. See the next section for more details.

Minnesota’s Coldest January Was 110 Years Ago:

For many Minnesota communities the year 1912 began with twelve or more consecutive days of subzero temperatures, a type of Arctic Cold often observed above 70 degrees North Latitude. For example, at the University of Minnesota Northwest Agricultural Experiment Station located at Crookston, MN (Polk County), 47.77 degrees North Latitude) January began as a deep freeze and stayed that way as every single night of the month saw temperatures plummet to subzero levels. Crookston reported 15 nights of -25°F or colder. Many daytime high temperatures were not warmer than -20°F. Little snow fell that month of January (just 1 to 6 inches in northwestern counties), so the soil froze to an extreme depth, beyond 5 feet. Despite some late month daytime readings that were above zero, the mean monthly temperature at Crookston was -11°F. Other nearby northwestern Minnesota communities reported even colder monthly average temperatures like -12° at Warroad, -13°F at Bagley, -14°F at Littlefork, -15°F at Detroit Lakes, and -16°F at Thief River Falls.

On a statewide basis the mean temperature for the month was just -9.5°F. For context, the statewide mean temperature for January of last year (2021) was 18.3°F, almost 28 degrees F warmer. Some moderation in the weather pattern brought above zero afternoon maximum temperatures to parts of the state over the 15th to the 17th. Some additional above zero afternoon high temperatures occurred over the last week of the month as well. This period of time predates the existence of the Wind Chill Index used by the National Weather Service, but some estimates can be made from using some of the observational data and it is safe to assume there must have been days with -40 to -60°F Wind Chill values.

Hundreds of low maximum daily temperature and low minimum daily temperature records were set within the Minnesota state climate network. Many of those records still exist today. Over 30 climate stations reported at least one nighttime minimum temperature of -40°F or greater, including St Peter (Nicollet County) and St Charles (Winona County). Seven climate stations reported at least one night of temperatures of -50°F or colder. Pine River (Cass County) still holds the statewide record low temperature for January 12th with a reading of -53°F in 1912. A reading of -22°F at Rochester on the 6th and -24°F at New Ulm on the 7th are still the coldest daytime maximum temperature every measured in January at those locations.

The dominance of Artic Cold during January of 1912 persisted. The first three months of that year, January through March rank as the 3rd coldest in state history, with the average daily temperature over the 91-day period (it was a Leap Year) being about 12 degrees F below normal. Only January through March of 1899 and 1936 were colder.

Weekly Weather Potpourri:

Recently NASA takes a look back at the weather and climate disasters of 2021 with images, graphics, and narrative from several scientists. It was a year of frequent extremes, many of them driven by climate change.

This week’s NOAA featured article is an interview with climate scientist and wetland researcher Dr. Ariane Arias-Ortiz, a NOAA postdoctoral fellow. She has focused her work on the study of saltwater and freshwater wetland restoration to mitigate net carbon emissions. It is an interesting interview.

Science Daily reports on a new study from Washington State University that highlights increased frequency of air pollution episodes in the western states due to coincident wildfires and severe heat waves. Wildfire and heat events are happening more often at the same time, worsening air pollution in many western states, as 2020 had the highest frequency of such events in 20 years. There is not only an increase in frequency, but also in duration and geographic extent of such events. Long term consequences on public health may become even more challenging.

MPR listener question:

Has there ever been a January that brought subzero temperatures every night of the month to Minnesota?


For most climate stations in Minnesota, especially in the southern half of the state, there has never been a January when all 31 nights brought subzero temperature readings. We know from climate records in northern Minnesota this happened at some locations in January of 1912 (see discussion above) like Crookston and Detroit Lakes. From Pioneer Era records which are sometimes incomplete, it looks like it could have happened in January of 1888, 1875, and 1857 as well.

In the Modern Era, it almost happened in January of 1982 as several climate stations reported every night with subzero temperatures except for the 27th, when a burp of warm air briefly invaded the state.

Twin Cities Almanac for January 7th:

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 10 degrees F (plus or minus 15 degrees F standard deviation).

MSP Local Records for January 7th:

MSP records for this date: highest daily maximum temperature of 52 degrees F in 2003; lowest daily maximum temperature of -11 degrees F in 1887; lowest daily minimum temperature of -34 degrees F in 1887; highest daily minimum temperature of 34 degrees F in 1965; record precipitation of 0.30 inches in 1989. Record snowfall is 3.6 inches also in 1989.

Average dew point for January 7th is 5°F; the maximum dew point on this date is 37°F in 1965; and the minimum dew point on this date is -33 degrees F in 1976.

All-time state records for January 7th:

The state record high temperature for this date is 60 degrees F at Fairmont (Martin County) in 2003. The state record low temperature for this date is -54 degrees F at International Falls (Koochiching County) in 1909. The state record precipitation for this date is 1.60 inches at Beaver Bay (Lake County) in 1861. Record snowfall is 36.0 inches at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center (Lake County) in 1994.

Past Weather Features:

On this date in 1873 a lethal blizzard hit southern Minnesota and northwestern Iowa, killing scores of pioneer settlers of all ages. It was estimated that over 70 Minnesota settlers lost their lives, though most counties were sparsely populated at the time. The storm moved over the region on a Monday afternoon which began as a rather mild January day with temperatures from 30 to 32 F. Observers noted the approach of a large, dark cloud system from the NW, moving very rapidly over the prairie landscape. The well-known meteorologist Bruce Watson studied this storm and reported that..."the clouds sloped to the ground, and where they intersected the ground, they were white, with smoke like swirls.." evoking an image of a moving wall of snowflakes. When the storm hit it almost immediately brought visibility down to just a few feet, and snow accumulated rapidly on top of an already snow-covered landscape. People caught in the open had to scramble for some kind of shelter. Many were put up in town or on the nearest farmstead. Trails and roads were closed down for days by huge drifts.
The New Ulm Smithsonian weather observer reported that the storm posed a serious threat in a matter of minutes because in addition to the snow, the wind blew the already existing foot and a half of snow cover all over the countryside. It snowed and blew on the 7th, 8th, and 9th finally coming to an end about 11 pm on Wednesday. Nine inches of snow was recorded at New Ulm with a drop of 43 degrees F in temperature and estimated wind chill values as low as -45 degrees F. The Minneapolis observer reported 8 new inches of snow with a temperature drop of 51 degrees F, and an estimated wind chill of -40 degrees F. Few blizzards of such suddenness and ferocity have occurred in Minnesota history.
The Governor, Horace Austin, and the Minnesota Legislature reacted by appropriating $5000 for a relief fund which was distributed to survivors in 34 Minnesota counties. Memories of this blizzard were as frightening and vivid to this generation of Minnesotans as those who xperienced the famous Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940. Evidence for this can be found in many historical documents and accounts.

The warmest January 7th in state history was in 2003 when over 35 Minnesota communities reported afternoon high temperatures in the 50s F. There was little snow cover. Only northeastern counties were in the grip of winter as Tower reported -7°F.


Breezy and warmer than normal on Saturday, then more cold weather settling in for Sunday and Monday with many overnight subzero readings. Warming trend for Tuesday through Friday next week with above normal temperatures. Generally a dry week as well.

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