Minnesota Weather for 1857

Minnesota Weather for 1857

Minnesota weather for the year 1857

Deep Winter Snows, Backward Spring, Dry Mid-Summer

The last full year of Minnesota Territorial status brought the snowiest winter (’56-’57) since the arrival of the white man to go with the coldest January and April in all history down to the present. May and June were each exceptionally cool as well, annual mean temperature at Fort Snelling (40 F) the second lowest in 38 years, surpassed only by 1843 in this regard. Heavy June rains helped offset a droughty July, although the historic ’57 grasshopper invasion would still wreak havoc. The early-year heavy snows and the substantial November and December precipitation falls helped produced more than 31 inches’ total for the year, second highest figure in 21 years.

Even Colder Than Last Year, Record Snows The ’56-’57 winter culminated the recent years’ run of cold and sometimes snowy cold seasons with the most frigid recorded calendar month (January) in all history down to the present. Also experienced was perhaps the snowiest season (estimated at 100 inches) in the Fort Snelling span of records. January (mean temperature: -4 F) eclipsed last year’s coldest-month-on-record mark by 3 full degrees F. Total snowfall (about 40 inches) was probably as much any received during an individual calendar month since records commenced. Subzero temperatures were felt on 25 days and 2PM readings were zero or lower on twelve. The month’s first arctic blast swept through on the 3rd, the mercury -16 F at 7AM, some 36 F lower than 24 hours’ previous. Five of the succeeding six mornings were -15 F or colder, the lowest, minus 25, coming on the 5th. A slight moderation followed over the next several days, mornings mostly in the single figure subzero range, afternoon temperatures reaching the low 20’s on the 10th, but after a 12-inch (estimated) snowstorm on the 13th, another even more severe and protracted spell set in. Seven of the eleven mornings from the 15th through 25th, inclusive, registered 20 below zero or colder, including -31 F on the 15th, -26 F on the 17th, -35 F on the 18th, and -24 F on the 23rd. Observed temperatures were zero F or colder continuously over the 21st-25th, and dangerous windchills were experienced on the 23rd with a minus 15 temperature at 9PM combined with Force 5 (35 miles per hour) northwesterlies. Following a monthly maximum 30 F on the 30th, another powerful storm set upon the area, an estimated foot and a half of what must have been dry, fluffy snow left at Fort Snelling by the following afternoon, the mercury plummeting in the storm’s wake to minus 15 F by evening. February (mean temperature: 15 F) replayed a familiar pattern, with contrasting first and second halves. Week one was more moderate in temperature, a few afternoons reaching the 20’s. But following two back-to-back snowstorms over the 5th-7th that left another 14 inches (estimated), the latter system “one of the most violent in recollection of oldest residents” according to the St. Paul Daily Pioneer & Democrat, a new mass of bitter arctic air descended over the area, producing four successive mornings at minus 10 or lower starting with the 8th, including –35 F on the 10th. Up at Fort Ripley that morning, the post surgeon noted -50 F at 7AM with “… three feet of snow on the level at least”. Another station in the vicinity of Ripley also reported -56 F this bitter morning. Almost like climatic “clockwork”, though, another mid-February pattern break followed, the 12th climbing to 37 F at Snelling, most of the remaining afternoons in the upper 20’s to 30’s, the 23rd 42 F. A one-inch snowfall on the 26th was the only other measured precipitation.

Very Backward Spring Spring ’57 was the most backward since 1843 with frequent much below normal temperature spells in March, April, and May. Similar to a year ago, March (mean temperature: 24 F), opened with deteriorating weather. Near or below zero mornings were felt on most mornings over the first two weeks, the month’s lowest, -19 F, coming on the 7th. Four inches of snow fell the next day, the month’s only appreciable storm. Mostly seasonable temperatures comprised the remaining days, afternoon readings principally in the mid 30’s to 40’s; the monthly maximum (57 F) was recorded on the 29th. April was extraordinarily backward, monthly mean temperature (32 F) the lowest ever recorded for this month in the Twin Cities vicinity. Precipitation was heavy, 4.25 inches falling on 9 days. Only three afternoons over the first eighteen got as warm as the 40’s, and numerous days over the period experienced blustery northerly winds. On the 4th, a heavy rainstorm dropped 1.10 inches, the following afternoon just 22 F at 2PM with force 6 (45 miles per hour) northwesterlies. A January-like 3 F was recorded next morning, the 6th. Following another storm on the 9th that dropped .70 inches of rain and snow mixed, a nine-day spell of some of the coldest weather ever experienced this late in April followed. The 10th was only 18 F at 7AM with force 7 northwesterlies (60 miles per hour), midafternoon just 25 F with force 5 (35 mile per hour) winds from the same direction. Six of the next eight afternoons failed to rise above 32 F, 7AM readings on the 15th and 16th only 13 F and 11 F, respectively, with force 4 northwesterlies (25 miles per hour) on each. Fort Ripley was 4 F on the 17th, “the [Mississippi] river yet closed & the earth covered with about a foot of snow”. The first 50 F reading of the month (and year) at Snelling didn’t come until the 24th, the Pioneer & Democrat reporting that day that the “snow has [finally] disappeared and grass is shooting up”. On the 29th, the mercury reached 64 F at Snelling for virtually the only seasonably mild afternoon of the month, the first boat through Lake Pepin finally docking in St. Paul on the 1st of May, a record-late date. May (mean temperature: 53 F – a tie for third coldest to date) had continued sporadic outbreaks of unseasonable cold. Precipitation was 2.05 inches on seven days, but there was just one measurable fall over the first twenty-two. Further evidence of the spring’s backwardness across the Territory, the last snowbank at Fort Ripley reportedly did not disappear until the 24th. At Snelling, afternoon temperatures over the first week continued mostly in the 60’s. The morning of the 2nd had “white frost”, and prairie fires were observed to the south on the 3rd. Behind force 6 (45 miles per hour) southeasterlies, the mercury soared to 80 F on the 8th. But a powerful cold front passed through overnight, the following 2PM just 37 F, next morning of the 10th 26 F at 7AM, still after two hours’ daylight had elapsed. The month’s first measurable rain (.50 inch) came on the 14th, a cold, raw day with force 4 northeasterlies and temperatures hovering in the 40’s. A gradual warming trend then set in with 80 F, 84 F, 80 F, and 78 F registered on the 21st-24th, respectively. An inch of rain fell on the 24th, but much colder weather followed, the 25th and 26th each only 47 F at 2PM with force 4 northerlies and northwesterlies, respectively. The 31st was only 51 F at the same hour with force 6 northerlies.

Cool & Wet June, Warm & Very Dry July Continuing the slow seasonal advance, June (mean temperature: 63 F) was also the third coolest of its name since 1820. Rains were relatively few but heavy. Some 6.22 inches was recorded on seven days, all of these between the 7th and 23rd, inclusive. Afternoon temperatures failed to reach 70 F over the first five days, but on the 7th the mercury soared to 90 F. A “violent thunder storm”, however, with 1.20 inches’ rain, dropped it to 65 F for the 9PM reading. The Pioneer & Democrat reported hailstones from the storm “varying in size from a pea to an english walnut”. Only two other afternoons got as warm as the mid-80’s again through the close and over the 14th-16th a series of heavy thunderstorms dropped 4.10 inches’ more rain. The 17th was an exceptionally cool day with just 52 F at 2PM coupled with force 5 (35 miles per hour) northwesterlies. The recent rains were quite welcome, “doing comparatively little damage to land [and] great good as this year’s crops will doubtlessly testify”. A gradual warming trend then ensued, afternoon temperatures hitting the 80’s on four successive afternoons from the 25th to 28th with 86 F recorded on the 26th. July (mean temperature: 74 F) was warm and dry, measurable rainfall just .65 inches, the lowest July figure since records commenced in 1836. Twenty-eight predominantly “fair” days were indicated from the register, all the measurable rain coming from three storms over the 10th-13th. Conditions began to heat up over the first week, afternoon temperatures in the upper 80’s to low 90’s each day from the 4th through 10th, including 91 F on the 10th. The 15th through 18th were each between 88 F and 90 F, with the 24th and 25th 90 F and 91 F, respectively. Late in July, the Pioneer & Democrat reported that St. Paul had been plagued by frequent dusty days, but on the positive side “was never so free from violent sickness as during this summer season at present”. August (mean temperature: 69 F) was relatively warm over the first half, cool over the second. Measurable rain fell on only five days to a total of 2.03 inches, 1.50 inches of this on the 7th. Warm but not oppressive weather persisted into the second week, with a number of afternoons reaching the upper 80’s to as high as 90 F. But a marked cooling set in after the 12th, no 2PM readings as high as 80 F until the final two days. Grasshoppers, one of the major stories of the year, were seen “in great numbers” from Snelling on the 4th, “destroying a large part of vegetables, principally onions”.

Extremely Dry October, Wet November, Mild December Fall/Early Winter ’57 was one of interesting month-to-month anomalies, October almost precipitation-free, November with a record amount, and December with the mildest such mean temperature in 20 years. September (mean temperature: 61 F) continued the light precipitation pattern. Just three measurable rains totaling 2.46 were recorded, 1.70 inches from a 5-hour storm overnight of the 3rd-4th. Just one fall was recorded over the remaining 26 days, that being 0.60 inches on the 16th. Occasionally sultry weather comprised the first ten, southerly winds predominating most every day, five of the afternoons in the 80’s. The 9th was 86 F at 2PM (the month’s warmest) accompanied by force 4 southeasterlies, the mercury still 83 F at 9PM. Surgeon J. Frazier Head characterized the 10th as “… very oppressive”: 73 F recorded at 7AM, 85 F at 2PM, and 76 F at 9PM. Cooler temperatures and mostly cloudy skies predominated the next two weeks, afternoons mostly in the 60’s. The 20th-22nd each had morning readings in the low 40’s, but another 4-day warm spell prevailed over the 23rd-26th, three of the afternoons around 80 F. No frost was evidently experienced at Snelling during the month. October (mean temperature: 48 F) was without measurable precipitation, the only falls being a trace of rain on the 11th and a trace amount of snow on the 18th. Indian Summer weather prevailed over most of the first ten days, the 6th through 10th each in the 70’s, the warmest, 75 F, coming on the 10th. A cooling then followed, the season’s first white frost noted for the 13th, nearly all of the remaining afternoons confined to the 40’s and 50’s with most of the mornings freezing or near-freezing. The 19th had “ice 1/2 inch thick this morning”, the 2PM temperature just 36 F with force 5 northwesterlies. The following morning was 23 F for the month’s lowest reading. November (mean temperature: 25 F), tied for third coldest in 38 years. In completely opposite contrast to October’s precipitation shortfall, the Post was swamped with 5.75 inches on 15 days, a Twin Cities’ area November maximum record that still stands to this day. The afternoons of the 1st and 4th each reached 53 F, highest temperatures of the month, but relatively few days got above freezing over the rest of the month. First in a series of three big storms to occur during the month, 0.95 inches’ rain was left over the 4th-5th. Just three days later over the 7th-8th, a much more powerful system deluged the Post with 2.95 inches’ more, six inches of this estimated as snow. Gradually colder temperatures followed passage of this system, the 13th only 18 F at 2PM, the next morning 5 F. Temperatures moderated to 41 F on the 17th, but following a 5 inch snowstorm on the 18th accompanied by force 6 northwesterlies, a mid-winter-type arctic spell swept in to predominate the next seven days’ weather. Four of the mornings were subzero, including minus 11 F on the 23rd. The month went out, though, with another heavy rainstorm, the 28th-29th recording 1.10 inches, temperatures hovering mostly in the mid-to-high 40’s throughout. December (mean temperature: 25 F) was unseasonably mild, equal in mean temperature to November and the mildest December since 1833. Total melted precipitation was nearly 3 inches, the entire result of three more big storms. A steady mildness prevailed over virtually the whole month, 19 days with at least one daily temperature observation in the 30’s, and no readings lower than 4 F. Over the 5th-6th, a an estimated 4-inch snowstorm visited the Post, temperatures, however, showing no appreciable decline in its wake. The mercury hit 47 F on the 13th for the month’s warmest, and temperature readings at thawing or above were registered at all the prescribed times from 2PM of the 14th thru 9PM of the 17th. The latter featured a 13-hour rainstorm, leaving .85 inches of rain and snow mixed. New Year’s Eve brought a 9-inch snowstorm,  After so many frigid Decembers since the late ’40’s, it’s not surprising that Surgeon J. Frazier Head, in a special diary entry at month-end, declared this “the mildest Dec’r for many years”.

Charles Fisk

I'm a research meteorologist with an interest in environmental statistics, statistical climatology, statistical graphics, and most recently Data Mining.
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