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Minnesota Weather for 1854

Minnesota weather for the year 1854

Bitterly Cold January, but a mild Spring & Autumn, and Warm Summer

Except for a near-record cold January, weather conditions across Minnesota Territory during 1854 were mostly pleasant and favorable, especially for agriculture. There was a mild early spring with a March breakup of the rivers, Summer was warm with ample rains, and Autumn was mild with delayed killing frosts. Annual mean temperature at Fort Snelling (44 F) was the 2nd highest in eight years, total precipitation about 26 1/2 inches.

Six weeks of Cold, Then A Mid-February Break- January (mean temperature: 1 F) provided decisive “compensation” for December’s late closing of the rivers, with the coldest calendar month at Fort Snelling since January 1820. In this decade of cold January’s, however, even colder ones were still to come, in 1856 and 1857. This year’s January registered subzero temperatures on 23 days, most of the afternoons failing to reach 10 F. Six snows dropped about 7-8 inches. The first half was cold but not unbearably so, “only” two days as cold as -20 F, including the 6th with -26 F and the 16th with -25 F. On the night of the 20th, however, force 6 westerly winds and falling temperatures heralded a four-day spell with some of “… the coldest days experienced in this territory for many years”. From -17 F at 9PM, the Snelling thermometer plummeted to -36 F by the following 7AM (the 21st), the coldest reading here since 1840. Minus 32 F, 28 F, and 26 F temperatures, respectively, followed on each of the next three mornings. At Fort Ripley at 8AM of the 23rd, “… some mercury was put in a charcoal cup & exposed. It froze solid in less than 15 minutes.” Similar to two years ago about this time, a sudden heavy thaw closed the month. Temperatures on the 31st at Snelling were at balmy levels all day, from 30 F to 45 F, accompanied by light south to southwesterly winds. February (mean temperature: 15 F) was mostly cold over the first half, very mild over the second. A single “unmeasurable” snow was the only recorded Snelling precipitation. Eleven of the first seventeen days had subzero temperatures, minus twenty readings recorded on both the 3rd and 16th. But on the 17th, however, about that “usual” time, an almost chinook-like warm surge spread over the region, the mercury in the Fort Snelling thermometer soaring from -17 F at sunrise to 35 F by 3PM. Lac Qui Parle, a couple of hundred miles up the Minnesota River, recorded a similar spectacular rise from -7 F at 7AM to 40 F at 2PM. At Fort Snelling, nearly all of the remaining February afternoons were thawing, a few reaching the mid-40’s. Diary notes reported “buds of the bar willow begin to swell and redden” on the 20th.

Warm Spring – Spring ’54 was considerably more forward than a year ago and that of ‘52, providing a March breakup of the local rivers and record April warmth. March was windy, dry, and slightly warmer than normal, mean temperature (31 F) the second highest in eight years. Temperatures reached thawing levels on all of the first 16 days but one, the monthly maximum, 58 F, recorded on the 15th. Just .28 inch’ precipitation, mostly rain, fell through the 20th. Prairie fires were frequently observed “burning in every direction” from Fort Snelling, although a .75-inch thunderstorm, the month’s only other fall, evidently extinguished them on the 21st. The Mississippi also opened on this day, at a “low” stage. Day-to-day temperatures after mid-month were highly fluctuating, the mercury just 3 F on the morning of the 18th, but mid-50’s readings experienced again just two days later on the afternoon of the 20th. A second arctic outbreak brought 4 F on the 27th, but at month-end, anticipations were for an imminent first boat arrival, “if Lake Pepin would only open sesame and allow the boats the pass through”. April (mean temperature: 48 F), second warmest in ten years, featured some unseasonable cold early but record early heat after mid-month. Much of the month’s precipitation (2.61 inches) came from six thunderstorms. The month opened with the third outbreak of late arctic cold in as many weeks, 12 F recorded on the 1st and 9 F on the 2nd. The Mississippi was full of ice on the former and displaying “running ice” on the latter. Much warmer weather then suddenly spread over the area, the mercury soaring to 76 F on the 5th with the “first flower in bloom” noted. But the 9th was very blustery again, temperatures hovering around the freezing mark all day accompanied by gale-force northerly winds with .65 inches of “snow and rain” falling. This marked the last of the snow, final total for the ’53-’54 season about 25 inches. Following another week of mostly freezing mornings and afternoons in the upper 40’s to low 50’s, a strong summer-like surge brought, on successive days, the warmest Snelling temperatures ever felt this early in the season: 85 F on the 19th and 86 F on the 20th. Similar unseasonable warmth prevailed on the 24th (82 F at 3PM) and the 30th (80 F at 3PM). May (mean temperature: 57 F) was more seasonable in temperature with just over 4 inches’ rain. The bulk of this came from a spell of torrential falls around mid-month. The first days continued mostly warm, 76 F recorded on the 3rd and 78 F on the 6th. But early of the second week a cool, cloudy, and wet pattern set in to persist through the next two, most afternoons in the 50’s and low 60’s, the llth 32 F at sunrise. Like ’52 and ’53, raw, wet, and generally unpleasant weather comprised the middle portion, some 3.70 inches’ rain drenching the Post over the 12th-17th. Nearly 3 inches of this came on the 16th and 17th alone, gale-force northeasterly winds and temperatures in the mid-40’s noted on each. Warmer, drier, but increasingly humid weather made up the remaining days, most afternoons in the upper 70’s to low 80’s, nighttime readings in the 60’s.

Warm Summer – Summer’s weather was like most of the others of the Territorial era thus far, with adequate rains coupled with numerous warm, humid days. With a few exceptions, June (mean temperature: 70 F), was generally pleasant temperature-wise; monthly rainfall totaled 3.29 inches. The 6th through 8th were quite cool, mid-afternoon of the 6th only 50 F with force 6 (45 miles-per-hour) northeasterlies. Generally seasonable temperatures followed, prevailing through the start of the final week, afternoons principally in the upper 70’s to low 80’s. The 25th-27th, however, were each quite sultry, sunrise readings in the 70’s, afternoons in the low to mid-90’s. July (mean temperature: 75 F), warm and humid, had numerous nights holding in the 70’s and afternoons reaching the upper 80’s to mid-90’s. The month was full of thunderstorm activity, if not actual falls of rain, at least sightings of distant lightning. At Snelling, 19 days had occurrences of one, the other, or both. Total precipitation receipt was 3.92 inches. The most oppressive temperatures came early and late, 93 F recorded on three afternoons over the first week and once more on the 31st. Sunrise readings of 76 F and 80 F were noted on the 2nd and 3rd, 76 F also observed on the 7th and 75 F recorded on the 31st. During a “great storm” on the 12th, Surgeon Charles McDougall observed two “currents of clouds NE and S”. On the 18th, lightning from a “severe” thunderstorm in the afternoon struck the ice house “150 yards from the hospital”. A couple of hundred miles to the West, a “terrific hailstorm” on the 25th “near the Red Pipe Stone Quarry” struck an Indian camp, the elkskin lodges “riddled to pieces” and several individuals injured. August (mean temperature: 71 F) brought unseasonably high temperatures late, precipitation for the month a modest 1.75 inches on six days. The first half was almost devoid of hot days with much “cool and delicious” weather, most afternoons in the 70’s, several nights dropping into the low 50’s. On the 16th, corn was reported ripe in the vicinity of Fort Snelling, the Minnesota Pioneer on the 18th quoting visitor’s surprise as to the “luxuriance of the crops raised this season in Minnesota”, predicting a large exodus in coming years “from older states” to the Territory’s “rich lands”. Starting with the 19th, though, weather “of the torrid zone” moved in to produce the longest hot spell of the whole summer, lasting eleven days. Afternoons temperatures reached the 90’s seven times at Snelling, including 95 F on the 21st and 28th. But showers on the 30th broke the spell, the mercury only 70 F at mid-afternoon. Further agricultural reports on the 28th told of an “exceedingly large grain crop” and “abundant” vegetable yield across the Territory.

Mild, Mostly Dry Autumn/Early Winter – The remaining four months of 1854 were the mildest such period since 1846, precipitation with the major exception of September quite light. The latter (mean temperature: 61 F) was warm with frequent and substantial rains, 6.55 inches measured at Snelling, nearly all of it over the first eighteen days. Temperatures warmed to near 90 F a couple of days over the first week, but a cooling trend then set in, afternoon readings confined principally to the 50’s and 60’s through the close of the third. The month’s only frost at Snelling, a “slight” visitation, came on the 12th. The 14th, with a temperature range of 44 F to 56 F accompanied by strong northwesterly winds, necessitated “gloves and overcoats” on St. Paul streets, “stoves and fires indoors [also feeling] very comfortable”. A long spell of warm, occasionally mid-summer-like weather set in for most of the remainder. Clear skies, southerly winds, and temperatures in the 70’s and sometimes the 80’s prevailed. The 26th was particularly warm for such a late date, the daily range 60 F to 86 F. October (mean temperature: 52 F), second warmest since 1839, had a delightful spell of Indian Summer closing the month. Precipitation was 1.23 inches on seven days. Late September’s warm pattern extended into the first week, the mercury 80 F on the 6th, but much colder weather followed, the next 16 days crisp and autumnal with afternoons typically in the 50’s. First heavy frosts of the season came on five straight nights starting with the 14th, overnight temperatures dropping into the upper 20’s on some. “Little injury” was done to agriculture, however, the Minnesota Pioneer reporting that “fortunately our farmers had previously garnered everything that could be affected by it”. In the usual mid-autumnal fashion after a major frost episode, a significant warming trend followed, the last ten days, influenced by almost daily southerly winds, regularly reaching the mid-60’s to low 70’s; nights were no lower than the mid-40’s. November (mean temperature: 32 F) was also relatively mild and dry. No arctic intrusions occurred and there were just two days’ precipitation totaling .50 inch. Indian Summer weather continued its predominance into the second week, afternoons reaching the 50’s or higher on six straight days starting with the 5th, the 8th touching 60 F. Sharply lower temperatures then ensued. The 10th through 12th was no warmer than the mid-20’s, with a 2-inch snowfall left on the 10th. Afternoon temperatures were back to 54 F on the 16th and 56 F on the 22nd. But the last nine days were seasonably cold with sunrise readings mostly in the teens, the afternoons confined to the 20’s and 30’s. December, mild and dry, had almost no cold or blustery days. Average temperature (21 F) was several degrees warmer than last year, just two measurable snows falling, a 2-inch accumulation during the first week and a 3-inch fall over the third. Lowest observed temperature all month at Snelling was -8 F. A brief spell of subzero cold early closed the Minnesota on the 5th and the Mississippi on the 8th, but except for a couple of additional fleeting cold snaps, thawing or near thawing weather was almost a daily occurrence thereafter. The 24th-27th was almost autumn-like with clear skies and daily temperature ranges typically in the low 30’s for the nights to the low-to-mid-40’s for the afternoons.