Minnesota weather for the year 1852
Colder, Dry and Short Growing Season (graphic)
Colder and drier conditions predominated Minnesota Territory’s weather during 1852. Annual mean temperature at Fort Snelling (43 F) was down 3 F from 1851, less than four months separating the first and last killing frosts. Annual precipitation at Snelling was just over 15 inches, and for the first time in Territorial history, there was a shortage of summer rains, “plants suffer[ing] from want of rain” and “boating being detained by lowness of water”. The harvest ultimately proved successful, but not after some anxiety was felt for the crops along the way with the attendant negative publicity.
Unseasonably Late March Cold – Abbreviated but intense cold spells in January and March sandwiched around a mild February highlighted the first three months of ’52. Snowfall was again scanty, total for the ’51-’52 season, estimated from recorded (melted) precipitation amounts, less than 10 inches (again allowing for a faulty snow-gauge). January (mean temperature: 11 F) had a couple of brief arctic intrusions along with two “slight” snows totaling 1-2 inches. Temperatures through the start of the second week were moderate for the season, most afternoons as well as a few nights in the 20’s, but the year’s first arctic outbreak brought –10 F on the 11th and -13 F on the 12th. A second more intense blast swept in on the 17th, –25 F recorded at daybreak of the 18th and a bone-chilling –32 F at the same hour of the 19th. It was still minus 25 at 3PM of the latter, but soon after, the mercury commenced a slow but steady rise through the nighttime hours, reaching zero by the following sunrise. A heavy thaw closed the month, 44 F and 42 F, respectively, recorded on the 29th and 30th. February (mean temperature: 22 F) was very mild with scanty precipitation, the latter consisting of 1-2 inches’ snow and two light rain events. The first nine days featured some exceptionally balmy temperatures, 49 F recorded on the 4th, 55 F on the 6th, and 57 F on the 9th. An “exceptionally brilliant Aurora Borealis” also occurred on the 2nd. In its February 12th edition, the Minnesota Pioneer proclaimed: “… last week has been as mild as April. The mud is drying up in our streets and the roads are becoming settled… a few days more of such weather will make it dangerous crossing the [Mississippi] ice”. Generally seasonable to mild temperatures comprised the balance of the month, the warmest being some low to mid-40’s afternoon readings on the 21st, 22nd, and 23rd. The 28th, however, brought the coldest day in six weeks, the mercury -13 F at daybreak and just -6 at 3PM. March (mean temperature: 26 F), cold and blustery, was 14 F colder than its’ namesake of a year with a mid-winter-like arctic spell just prior to the equinox. Precipitation was 2.04 inches, the bulk of this from two rainstorms, however. Following an opening week of sunny but mostly sub-freezing weather, a mild and wet spell set in, possible harbinger of an imminent Spring breakup. The 11th was in the 40’s all day with a quarter inch of snow and rain, and the 13th reached 50 F, the latter day also featuring a .64 inch thunderstorm. But, in what must have been a surprising turn, gale-force northwesterly winds brought falling temperatures all of the next day into the low 20’s, and following a light snowstorm on the 16th, a bitter mass of unseasonably cold arctic air swept over the area. Daily temperature spread on the 17th was only -1 F to 6 F, attended by 25 mile per hour northwesterlies, the next three days’ temperature ranges just -4 F to 4 F, -8 F to 0 F, and 2 F to 12 F, respectively. A pronounced but fleeting warmup ensued, 49 F noted for the 24th and 57 F for the 25th, but following .90 inches’ rain on the 29th-30th, another cold blast closed the month, the 31st just 22 F at 3PM, accompanied by force 4 northwesterlies.
Cool But Bright Spring – Spring, mostly cool and sunny, had a few well-spaced heavy rains, a late breakup of the rivers, and killing frosts past mid-May. Only a few afternoons got as warm as 60 F during April (mean temperature: 42 F), most nights near or below freezing. Nearly all the month’s 2.49 inches’ precipitation came from two rainstorms. The 1st dawned clear and frigid, 4 F read at sunrise, the mercury still just 24 F at mid-afternoon. A gradual warming trend followed, 58 F recorded on the 6th, 63 F on the 8th, and 67 F on the 12th (the month’s highest), but most of the remaining afternoons retreated back to the upper 40’s and the 50’s. The Mississippi cleared of ice on the 15th, 1.20 inches’ rain falling on this day and the next. The season’s first steamboat, the Galena, arrived from St. Louis on the 17th (Lake Pepin had opened the day before). Light snow fell on the 25th and another heavy rainstorm left 1.27 inches over the 29th-30th. May (mean temperature: 58 F) was predominantly sunny with spells of both unseasonable coolness and heat. Precipitation was rather heavy (4.72 inches). The first week remained cool, diurnal ranges typically in the 30’s to the 50’s, three rains also leaving .80 inches. A significant warming trend ensued, most afternoons through the end of the second week in the upper 60’s to mid-70’s, the majority of the nights in the mild 50’s. Prelude to a major cool relapse, heavy rains over the 12th to 16th dropped 3.74 inches, triggering a “freshet” at nearby Stillwater that inundated parts of the city [Williams, 1881]. Temperature ranges on the 16th-19th at Snelling were only in the 30’s to 40’s, and on the night of the 18th-19th a killing frost set in, “destroying early vegetation”. The last eleven days brought a summery turn, with afternoon temperatures consistently in the 80’s, light southeasterly winds, and almost cloudless skies (average clearness at the four observation times: 9.0).
Dry Summer with Temperature Extremes – Summer brought a meteorological state of affairs unknown in the three years of Territorial status – drought. Local newspaper editors were forced to undertake journalistic damage-control to assure new and prospective settlers that such was not the Minnesota climatic norm. June (mean temperature: 69 F) featured high and low temperatures extremes together with just 0.08 inches of rain. Average clearness of the sky was 7.8. On the 1st, the mercury soared to 96 F, hottest ever so early here up to this point in history, but the 8th brought a chilly 34 F at sunrise, the mercury recovering to just 57 F by 3PM, accompanied by force 4 northerlies at the latter. The middle third of the month was warm and occasionally sultry, afternoons generally in the upper 80’s, to as high as 95 F, but the 24th’s range was only 38 F to 67 F, with more force 4 northerlies. At month-end, the Minnesota Pioneer reported the ground being “perfectly parched and cracked open”, the local rivers very low with lighter draft boats required to get across bars and rapids. July (mean temperature: 73 F; average clearness: 7.6) brought “opportune” rains over the first part, staving off damage to the crops. Some 2.74 inches fell at Snelling over the first eleven days, with cool and warm days alternating. The 1st’s range was 46 F to 74 F, the 4th’s 67 F to 89 F, the 10th’s, however, 45 F to 69 F. No rain fell over the last twenty, though. A sultry spell prevailed over the 21st-30th with afternoon readings in the upper 80’s to mid-90’s, nighttime temperatures in the upper 60’s to mid-70’s. August (mean temperature: 71 F; average clearness: 7.8) was warm, sunny, and dry with just two rains, .84 inches on the 8th and .05 inches on the 30th. Except for 89 F on the 1st, cool weather prevailed over the first two weeks, most afternoons in the 70’s, a few mornings near 50 F. A warming trend next ensued with some “hot and Illinois-like weather”, most days after mid-month reaching the mid-to-upper 80’s, and 91 F was recorded on the 16th for the month’s highest. In spite of the summer’s light rains, the Pioneer on the 29th reported that corn “never looked better”, the potato crop “bids fair to yield well… with no signs of the rot.”
Dry, Mostly Cold Autumn/Early Winter – This year’s fall to winter transition combined light precipitation and anomalous temperatures, mostly cold. September (mean temperature: 54 F) tied for coldest in 33 years, no measurable rain recorded until the very last day. After an opening cool snap, temperatures warmed to the 80’s on three afternoons out of four over the 5th-8th, the latter reaching 86 F. Much cooler weather then followed, the 12th only 56 F at mid-afternoon, the night of the 13th-14th bringing the season’s first frost, “destroying all vegetation”. Just 118 days had separated this year’s last and first frosts at Snelling, five days longer than 1844’s record short span. Daily temperature range on the 15th was only 30 F to 48 F, most of the other remaining mornings in the 30’s, afternoons in the 50’s and 60’s. First appreciable rain in more than seven weeks, a four-hour storm dropped .72 inches on the 30th. In spite of the summer’s scanty rains and early hard frost, the ’52 harvest was successful, corn for example, “ahead of the frost several weeks.” Still, Minnesota Pioneer editor James Goodhue sought “to assure all strangers on official authority that this is not an average specimen of the weather in our climate”. October exhibited a large anomaly contrast with September, temperaturewise. Monthly average (53 F) was just 1 F lower than September’s, and the third highest October figure in Post history to date. Three rains over the first nine days dropped 0.82 inches, the rest of the month precipitation-free with many days of delightful Indian Summer weather. The 1st’s diurnal range was a summery 64 F to 81 F, but a number of frosty mornings followed, the 4th and 5th 32 F and 33 F, respectively, the 13th 26 F. The 6th, according to the Pioneer was “… an Indian Summer Day of perfect cast… a gossamer haze hang[ing] like a fringe over the [Mississippi] river…”. Numerous warm, sunny afternoons were felt over the last half, 83 F recorded on the 17th, 79 F on the 19th, 76 F on the 23rd, and 68 F on the 29th. Average clearness over the 16th-31st was 8.2. November (mean temperature: 25 F) saw a 28 F plunge in average from October. Precipitation continued light (0.22 inch), all of this melted snow. A last bit of Indian Summer weather came on the 5th with 55 F at 3PM, along with clear skies and light southeasterly winds, but decidedly colder weather then set in, predominating the next two weeks. Most mornings over the interval were the teens or single figures, afternoons only in the 20’s. The Mississippi froze over temporarily on the 14th, and daily temperature range on the 17th was only 0 F to 14 F. The last ten days turned more moderate, nights in the teens and 20’s, afternoons in the 20’s and 30’s. December (mean temperature: 11 F) brought premature arctic cold for the fifth straight year, after mid-month. Total Snelling snowfall, judging from the daily melted totals recorded in the register, was 1-2 inches, though the Minnesota Pioneer reported a 12-inch storm in St. Paul late in the month, evidence that something was probably not right with the gauge at Fort Snelling, less than ten miles away. Seasonable to mild weather made up the first eleven days, the 1st to 3rd thawing almost continuously, a 45 F reading registered on the 2nd. On the 13th, however, an arctic blast dropped the mercury to -12 F for the sunrise reading, the days’ remarks noting the Mississippi as (finally) being shut with ice. Eleven of the last 14 days had at least some subzero weather, including a near December record -27 F recorded for the 20th. Next morning, the 21st, was hardly better with –24 F, and –19 F was registered on the 26th.