Minnesota (Fort Snelling area) Weather for the year 1822
Unseasonable Frosts, Summer Deluges, Early Arctic Cold –
Impressions of a harsh climate got further reinforcement in 1822 as Fort St. Anthony underwent a number of inclement weather events and spells. The spring breakup was much earlier than the past two years, but unseasonable frosts came in late May as well as early September. Torrential early summer rains caused the first reported damaging floods in the historical experience, and a long arctic siege prevailed almost uninterruptedly from late November through year-end. Annual mean temperature was again 43 F.
Wildly Oscillating Weather – January (mean temperature: 11 F) and early February (mean temperature for the month: 19 F) featured rapidly changing weather, temperatures fluctuating from thawing levels to intense cold and back again over several days or less time. Such changeability had not been experienced during the past two winters, and it prompted some special remarks in the register by Surgeon E. W. Purcell. The first episode came early in the month, as a cold wave on the 2nd drove the mercury from 38 F in the afternoon to -25 F by the morning of the 4th, only to have a mild surge push it back to near thawing levels by the very next day. Another occurrence came on the 16th, abrupt warming winds bringing evening mildness and rain following morning temperatures near zero: “Rain at half past 8PM – accompanied with a very sudden (and at this season) a very unexpected change in the weather (i.e., from a very cold to a very moist atmosphere with wind chiefly from the south)”. Snowfall had been slight since the 8-inch storm of early December ’21 and following mid-to-upper 40’s temperatures on the afternoons of the 20th-21st, some additional remarks appeared on the 23rd: “The very little snow cover which has hitherto fallen has almost disappeared…”. The last days of January and the first few of February displayed spectacular thermal gyrations. From -12 F at 7AM of 30 January, the mercury soared to 38 F by the following 7AM, fell to -4 F by the next 7AM on 1 February, rose to 34 F by 2PM of 2 February, then plunged 48 degrees in 17 hours to -14 F by 7AM of the 3rd. Following -20 F on the 6th, the weather finally reverted to a steady mild pattern destined to last the rest of the month. Numerous afternoons reached the mid-30’s to mid-40’s.
A Fast Start to Spring, Then a Long Pause – Spring ’22 got off to the most forward start in three years’ experience, March (mean temperature: 38 F) not to be surpassed in high average warmth for another sixteen. With little or no snow to melt and a favorable circulation pattern, afternoon temperatures over the first half of the month climbed to the 50’s and higher on a number of days. On the 4th, the mercury hit 60 F, the 11th reaching 61 F, and the 16th climbing to 68 F. On the 18th, the Mississippi ice broke up: “about 3/4 of an hour before sun-set”, a full month earlier than last year and 17 days sooner than 1820. Next, however, a wintry relapse set in with colder, windier, and more blustery conditions. The 21st was subfreezing all day with high northwesterly winds and drifting snow, and the 26th had “hail and snow about five inches deep” following a thunderstorm. April (mean temperature: 43 F) was only modestly warmer than March, the spring progression at a virtual standstill for much of the month. Grey and chilly weather predominated well into the third week, twelve of the first eighteen days “cloudy” with just one afternoon temperature out of the 40’s. Six days had snow, including a four-inch fall on the 10th. The last eleven days turned much warmer and sunnier, with upper 70’s and low 80’s occurring on several afternoons.
Back-to-Back Weather Calamities. – Late May (mean temperature for the month: 60 F) and mid-June (mean temperature for the month: 69 F) brought a pair of weather-related mini-disasters – killing frosts and floods. After mostly “fair”, warm, and otherwise uneventful weather over May’s first three weeks, a strong cold front accompanied by northwesterly winds swept through on the night of the 21st-22nd. Frosts occurred on each of the next two mornings, the 22nd’s visitation “destroying many garden vegetables”. Recovery had scarcely begun from this when a several-week long pattern of frequent and heavy rains started to develop, climaxing in maximum intensity during June’s second week. On the 10th, a 5 1/2 hour siege of “heavy thunder & lightning and rain” was noted, and over the 13th and 14th, two torrential storms over a little more than 24 hours deluged the Post. According to the meteorological register, “a very heavy storm of thunder & lightning & hail & rain” started at midnight of the 13th, lasting until 8AM. Then, at 2PM, another “heavy storm of thunder & lightning & rain recommenced, continuing till [illegible] AM today [the 14th].” The rapidly rising waters washed away the houses of Jacques Baptiste Faribault, a fur-trader/Indian-Liasion from Pike Island [Ford & Johnson, 1961], this the first recorded property-loss casualty from a Minnesota flood. The troops, safe from the rising waters atop the high bluff but still housed in makeshift tents, had their share of discomfort too. From register notes on the 16th: “The excessive inclemency of the weather for some days past and the great exposure of the troops [has] produced inflammatory fevers – catarrhs, pleurisys, etc.,” Another “heavy storm of thunder & lightning and rain” occurred on the afternoon of the 18th, but the remaining days of the month were thankfully drier with just three light to moderate falls. Conditions were considerably sunnier and relatively warm in July (mean temperature: 74 F), 22 predominately “clear” or “fair” days recorded compared to June’s ten, with about half the afternoons in the mid-80’s to low 90’s. Nine days had rain, most of these early and late in the month. Hottest afternoons of the summer came on the 17th and 18th with 93 F and 92 F, respectively. August (mean temperature: 72 F) was also warm and clear with an appreciable number of afternoons in the mid-to-upper 80’s, especially over the first half, and 26 “clear” days. Ten days had rain, seven of these in succession from the 12th. Judging from the diary wordings, none were likely as intense as the downpours of late May and early June. Notes had the Indians affected with dysentery on the 24th and pleurisy on the 31st.
Early Frosts and A Cold October – With scarcely three months having passed since late May’s killing frosts, The Post now got a prematurely early visitation over the first days of September, light frost occurring on three successive mornings starting with the 2nd. As a compensation of sorts, though, the balance of the month was warm with no recurrences. Afternoon temperatures were back in the 80’s by the 6th, and 88 F was registered on the 13th. Summer-type thunderstorm activity was also extended later than had been previously experienced, a day-long series occurring over the 26th. Monthly mean temperature finished at 60 F. On the 20th, the nightly calm was interrupted by a “large ball of fire” which reportedly fell into “the garrison garden on the Minnesota bottom”. Colonel Snelling went to the area where the object supposedly landed the following morning, “but the ground was marshy and he found no trace of the meteoric stone” [Williams, 1881]. October (mean temperature: 43 F), however, was mostly windy and cold, with 21 “fresh” or “high” wind days and a bitter cold snap after mid-month. Summer-like warmth lingered through the 5th, 80 F recorded that afternoon, but “a heavy gale of wind” brought sharply colder air overnight, and the 6th, a day with a cold rain “for 24 hours”, had just 41 F at 2PM. Falling temperatures on the night of the 18th with snow introduced an unseasonably early week-long cold snap with mostly “fresh” northerly winds. Morning temperatures sank to the mid-teens on some days, the freezing mark barely reached on other afternoons. Ice was seen running in the Mississippi on the 23rd and forming in the St. Peter’s on the 24th. During the month a construction milestone was attained when the Fort’s first building, the officer’s quarters, was completed and put in use [Ford and Johnson, 1961].
A Great Thermal Descent – November (mean temperature: 30 F) displayed great beginning-to-end weather contrasts, from mild Indian Summer early to brutal arctic cold late. Balmy weather ruled the first week, with clear skies and calm winds, afternoon readings reaching as high as 63 F on the 3rd. Temperatures continued mild through mid-month, afternoons mostly in the upper 40’s, a 24-hour rain occurring on the 9th. On the 16th, an eight-day spell of trademark November overcast and dreary weather set in, afternoon temperatures declining into the 30’s, and prelude to the second premature arctic invasion in three years, a six-inch snowstorm blew through on the 24th, the mercury plunging in its wake to minus 6 F on the 26th. Following passage of another, weaker storm, an even colder blast swept in, the post thermometer registering -23 F on the morning of the 30th, coldest November reading here locally for another 53 years. Amazingly, the bitter cold intensified even further over December’s opening days, the mercury at 7AM of the 2nd noted at -25 F, recovering to just minus 12 F by 2PM (both these readings about 40 F colder than “normal” for the date). On this same afternoon, Fort Howard (Green Bay, Wisconsin) noted -10 F and Fort Crawford -11 F. This introduced the coldest December ever to be recorded in the local vicinity (mean temperature: 2 F). Some 25 days had at least one subzero temperature reading with roughly half with “fresh” or “high” winds. A sudden but fleeting thaw did set in over the 9th-12th, afternoon temperatures reaching the upper 30’s to the mid-40’s on each day, but an abrupt cold wave then swept through on the night of the 12th, setting the stage for arctic cold predominance over the rest of the month. Just one day got warmer than 20 F over the reamainig nineteen, all but two of the mornings below zero. At 7AM of the 23rd, the Post thermometer registered 29 F below, coldest December temperature here for another 33 years. While not as cold in the mean as January 1820, December 1822’s frequent “fresh” and “high” wind days undoubtedly rendered it a much colder feeling and dangerous month than the former.