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Minnesota Weather for 1858

Minnesota weather for the year 1858

Early Spring Breakup, Hot Early Summer

The 1858 statehood year featured a mild, but snowy winter, a hot early summer, but a cool and dreary autumn. Political history was made on May 11 when the coveted status was finally achieved, Fort Snelling, in administrative anticipation, having ceased operations at the close of April (reopening in 1861 as a Civil War training center). This brought an end to more than 38 years of almost daily weather observations. Growing and boating season rains during ’58 were generally higher than the last several years, but in a return back to an old trend, December brought premature and intense arctic cold.

Balmy, Rainy January, March Opening of Rivers – Early ’58 brought a weather regime virtually unexperienced in recent years, a mostly balmy January to March period along with an early opening of Lake Pepin. Continuing the snowy winter trend, however, total accumulation for the ’57-’58 season (about 60 inches) was likely the second heaviest up to this time, exceeded only by only last winter. January (mean temperature: 21 F) was the mildest since 1846, with unprecedented heavy rains for this time of year. Total Snelling precipitation was 1.71 inches, more than half of it rain showers. The first three weeks brought brief alternating spells of thaws and subzero cold, never more than three successive days of either. The 3rd and 4th were 43 F and 42 F, respectively, the 7th -15 F, the 18th -11 F. On the 22nd, though, an exceptionally heavy thaw set in. Post temperatures hovered in the high 30’s to low 40’s almost continuously from approximately mid-day of the 22nd to late afternoon of the 26th. Some 1.13 inches’ rain was measured over the 23rd through 28th, easily surpassing the combined amounts of the previous January rains back through mid-1836 (start of the rain-gauge era), and probably all amounts back to 1820. Measured amounts were even heavier to the North, the Smithsonian Institution volunteer observer at Princeton reporting: “from the 22nd-28th, it was raining more or less every day, during which 3 to 4 inches of rain fell, which with the melting of the snow made quite a rise in the rivers.” On the 27th, The St. Paul Daily Pioneer & Democrat exclaimed: “… the snow entirely washed from the hillsides … with mud 3 inches deep … the river rising rapidly and expectations of a general breakup and all this in the middle of January in that terrible cold country of Minnesota. Is it any wonder that people should talk and wonder what we are coming to?” February (mean temperature: 12 F) brought more typical weather for the season, in the form of frequent, abbreviated cold snaps. Precipitation was 7-8 inches’ snow. Following 32 F on the afternoon of the 1st, no thawing readings would be observed at Fort Snelling for another 23 days; subzero temperatures occurred on fourteen. A powerful arctic front brought numbing wind-chills on the night of the 9th-10th. The mercury was -10 F at 9PM on the former, with force 6 (45 miles per hour) northwesterlies, and -21 F next morning with force 4 (25 miles per hour) southwesterlies. Another outbreak, preceded by 4-5 inches’ snow, brought -16 F on the morning of the 15th with force 4 northwesterlies, a third surge producing -19 F on the 22nd, light winds, however, accompanying it. Preview of next month’s thermal character, the afternoon of the 24th climbed to 44 F, the 26th’s daily range a balmy 30 F to 53 F. March (mean temperature: 37 F) was the mildest since ’51 with a record early boat arrival at St. Paul through Lake Pepin. Precipitation at Snelling was 1.24 inches, about 6 inches of this snow. The first few days were cold and blustery again, the 1st minus 4 at 7AM, both this day and the next 14 F at 2PM with force 4 northwesterlies. After a four-inch snowstorm on the 5th, though, a gradual but steady warming trend ensued. The mercury reached 51 F on the 12th, 58 F on the 14th, and a near-record-for-so-early 68 F on the 15th. Winds on the latter were southerly at force 6 at 2PM, the morning temperature at Snelling a mild 57 F with force 4 southerlies. Most of the succeeding afternoons were in the 50’s and low 60’s, the 18th 62 F, the 19th 61 F, and the 30th 60 F. On the 20th, the “First Steamboat from St. Paul to Chacopee” was reported, and on the 25th, the “First Boats through L. Peppin at St. Paul this morning” were noted. This was six days earlier than 1846’s previous early arrival record. April (mean temperature: 42 F) turned cold, windy, and wet. Total precipitation was 3.79 inches on 10 days, about 7 inches of this snow. The first few days continued unseasonably warm, the 2nd 69 F and the 3rd 70 F, but a strong cold front rushed through overnight of the latter, the 4th just 31 F at mid-afternoon, accompanied by force 8 southwesterlies (75 miles per hour, allowing for observer estimating subjectivity). The 5th was only 29 F at the same hour, also with force 8 northwesterlies. Afternoons seldom reached 50 F again until the month’s final days, nearly all the mornings near-freezing or freezing. A heavy storm from 10AM on the 10th to 8:30AM on the 11th, dropped 1.15 inches, including “snow all night”. Another storm over the 18th-19th dropped 1.14 inches’ rain, and following .40 inches over the 21st-22nd, a hard freeze left “ice half an inch thick in a barrel of water this morn’g” (mercury 28 F at 7AM). Afternoon temperature on the previous afternoon (the 22nd) was only 32 F, combined with force 5 northwesterlies. The last few days brought a brief warm spell, the 28th hitting 70 F, the 29th soaring to 85 F. Force 7 northwesterlies, however, dropped the mercury to 55 F by 9PM, .45 inches’ rain also left from a storm that prevailed the “whole night”.

Close of the Fort Snelling Record – The end of April marked the close of the Fort Snelling record, some thirty-eight years and seven months having elapsed since observations commenced in the river bottomlands at Cantonment New Hope (observations would resume in the 1860’s). For the remaining months of the year a combination of Smithsonian Institution volunteer observations from Princeton (about 90 miles north of the Twin Cities), military recordings from Fort Ripley (near the present-day site of Little Falls), intermittent temperature recordings by a St. Paul druggist W. H. Morton, and newspaper accounts from the latter city serve as the means of filling in its climatic details. May, as indicated from these above sources, seemed to have been cool month, with frequent and heavy rains. The 6th reached a summery 81 F in Princeton, 82 F  at Fort Ripley, but the next eighteen days were quite cool, only a few afternoons reaching out of the low 60’s. A number of 7AM readings at Princeton were in the low 40’s, indicative of overnight minima down in the 30’s. A warming took place over the last days, though, the 26th-30th each in the mid-to-upper 70’s. The 11th of May, the first day of Statehood, was mostly sunny and mild in Princeton, the Smithsonian Observer there recording temperature observations of 47 F at 7AM and 65 F at 2PM.

Warm June, Heavy August Rains – Summer brought a long June hot spell plus heavy August rains, the latter resulting in flooding along the Minnesota River. Temperatures over June’s first two weeks were pleasant to cool, with just two afternoons at Princeton as high as 80 F over the period. Most were confined to the high 60’s to mid-70’s. The rainy pattern continuing to hold sway, Daily Pioneer & Democrat newspaper accounts on the 11th indicating: “the Spring of 1858 has been one of the most remarkable. For a period of nearly two months rain has been but briefly intermittent. The amount of rain must have been large without precedent in a like period. The whole country has been drenched completely and the streams are unusually high at this season from all parts of the country. We have had much damage done to property and much life has been imperiled”. Shortly after mid-month, though, attention switched to the sudden onset of a protracted heat wave, ninety degree and warmer weather the rule almost daily through month-end. On the 17th, St. Paul hit 100 F, with Princeton registering 102 F. Morning (7AM) readings over the 17th-20th at the latter station were 85 F, 84 F, 84 F, and 84 F, respectively, indicative of some very uncomfortable nights. Princeton also recorded 98 F on the afternoons of the 19th, 20th, and 27th. A welcome shower in St. Paul on the 24th reportedly “cooled the burning air … and pedestrians could move about [again] without thawing entirely and subsiding into their boots.” July brought much more seasonable and tolerable weather. Afternoon readings over the first nine days remained warm but not hot, most in the mid-to-upper 80’s, but a cooler term then set in, most of the next ten in the 70’s. The balance showed a mix of high 70’s to low 80’s, generally. On the 30th, a “tremendous hailstorm” visited Faribault County, destroying crops, damaging dwellings, smashing windows, and killing poultry and hogs “in heavy masses”. August brought a return of heavy rains together with some autumn-like coolness. Temperatures through late of the third week were mostly seasonable to warm with afternoons typically in the low to mid-80’s. The 13th, around 90 F in St. Paul, was being described as “very warm”. A resumption of heavy rains during the month brought high river stages, Daily Pioneer and Democrat newspaper accounts from the 14th reporting that the Minnesota river [probably in the Mankato vicinity] was rising rapidly, “in consequence of heavy rains … the country in many places is thoroughly flooded.” Other reports a week later had the Minnesota “… still at flood stage, injuring many farms and almost totally destroying the hay crop”, those from the 22nd reporting the injuring of crops in the Blue Earth and Wahtowan river valleys. Cool, autumnal-like weather prevailed over the last twelve days, nearly all the afternoon temperatures confined to the 70’s or cooler, some nippy mornings felt over the last several days, with readings down into the low 40’s. Princeton reported “slight frost” on the 23rd, “white frost” on the 28th, and “slight frost” on the 29th.

Gloomy Fall – A cool and cloudy October/November and an early arctic invasion in December marked this year’s fall/early-winter transition. Autumn-like weather prevailed during September almost throughout, only a few afternoons reaching as warm as 70 F. A last, brief, summery turn came on the 19th, though, afternoon temperatures across the settled areas well into the 80’s; Princeton recorded 88 F. But much cooler weather quickly set in again, most afternoons through the close in the 60’s, mornings in the 40’s. October was relatively cloudy with uniformly cool temperatures. Warmest readings at St. Paul and Princeton (71 F and 75 F, respectively) came on the 2nd. But only a few afternoons got as warm as 60 F thereafter, most confined to the 40’s and 50’s. Up at Fort Ripley, 22 days were designated “cloudy” at both the 7AM and 2PM observation times. Fourteen days at Princeton were between 8/10 tenths cloudy and completely overcast. The “first heavy frost to affect vegetation” in the Twin Cities vicinity occurred on the 7th, ice also “found in Stillwater 1/4 inch in thickness” that morning. Morning readings were near or below freezing again as well over the 18th-22nd. November was also cold, cloudy, and dreary. Ripley had 20 days “cloudy” at both the 7AM and 2PM observation times, average sky cover 7.6 tenths at Princeton. Warmest temperature in St. Paul all month was not likely higher than the low 40’s, about as low a November statistic of this kind in the entire climatic record down to the present. Following a monotonous succession of mostly cloudy days with daily temperature ranges confined to the 20’s/30’s through the 12th, a seven-day cold term set in. At Princeton, morning temperatures dropped to single digits on five of the mornings, the 15th 1 F and the 19th 0 F. Slightly more moderate conditions ensued, the last eleven days much like the first twelve with generally overcast skies and mornings in the 20’s, afternoons in the 30’s. The 30th was colder, observed daily range from 1 F to 22 F. December had contrasting halves of weather, a very frigid first half but a mild second. At Princeton, only two days as warm as 32 F were experienced over the first two weeks. Numerous mornings were subzero. A brief but particularly intense cold spell brought minus 30 F on the 8th and minus 32 on the 9th. At St. Paul the mercury dropped to -27 F on the latter morning, Fort Ripley registering -29 F. Relatively mild weather prevailed over the last two weeks, the majority of the afternoons over the settled areas in the twenties to low 30’s, only one morning (the 24th) subzero. On the 29th, The Daily Pioneer & Democrat reported: “Yesterday was in all respects disagreeable, reminding natives of the Middle and New England States of the winter weather experienced in their old homes — a drizzling rain from morning to night”.