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Minnesota Weather for 1859

Minnesota weather for the year 1859

Cool, June Floods (graphic)

The closing year of the 1850’s featured generally colder than normal temperatures with some early June floods. The eight-month Twin Cities area daily record-keeping “hiatus” having ended, Reverend A. B. Paterson’s daily meteorological register (7AM/2PM/9PM temperature format) began on 1 January, a companion monthly newspaper column to start next year in the St. Paul Daily Pioneer & Democrat. Paterson, an Episcopalian minister, had moved to St. Paul from New Jersey approximately two years previous. Using his records (and adjusting for temperature observation method as was done with the Fort Snelling data), annual mean temperature for ’59 was about 40 F, tying ’57 for second coldest year since 1820 locally; total precipitation was 29 inches. Similar to two years ago, the 1859 advance to summer was also slow and erratic; April and June were each near-record cool months. Heavy late-May rains ultimately resulted in record and near-record flooding in early June. December was coldest in 28 years.

Variable January, Another Mid-February Break – January (mean temperature: 11 F) was a relatively clear month, predominated by short, alternating mild and cold spells or “cycles” as described by the St. Paul Daily Pioneer & Democrat. Six inches’ total snowfall was noted by Reverend Paterson in his first monthly summary, individual precipitation-days, however, not tallied or identified. The first arctic outbreak of the New Year brought -21 F on the morning of the 8th, the preceding afternoon having been minus 7 at 2PM. A warming trend brought five thawing afternoons in eight days starting with the 12th, including 43 F on the 19th but falling temperatures all of the next day heralded a new arctic invasion, the 21st registering -15 F, -14 F, and -14 F at the prescribed times, accompanied by a “freezing wind”, as noted by the St. Paul Daily Pioneer & Democrat. The mercury recovered to 30 F by the afternoon of the 24th, but following a 6-inch snowstorm on the 27th as reported by the Pioneer & Democrat”, another bitter outbreak on the 30th brought -23 F at 7AM, the month’s lowest temperature. February (mean temperature: 16 F) featured the familiar pattern sequence peculiar to this month – an arctic dominated first half followed by a thawing second. According to Reverend Paterson’s notes, snow fell on six days to 6 1/3 inches and rain on one, total water content 0.50 inch. Afternoon temperatures over the first two weeks were generally confined to the teens or colder, most days subzero at least some of the time. The 6th and 9th each registered -16 F, but for the third year out of the last five, a marked changeover to almost daily mild and thawing conditions took place after mid-month. Ten of the last 14 days reached the 30’s, including 40 F on the 17th and 45 F on the 21st.

Mild/Stormy March, Backward April, Wet May – March (mean temperature: 32 F) was mild and snowy overall with very uniform day-to-day temperatures. Observed monthly minimum temperature was a relatively mild 16 F, but less than one-third of the afternoons reached as warm as 40 F. Highest was a relatively modest 48 F. Paterson recorded some 3.33 inches’ precipitation on 17 days. The first two weeks were particularly dull and cloudy with average sky-cover at the 7AM/2PM/9PM observation times 9.1 tenths. On the 2nd, the Pioneer & Democrat” reported “hail and rain, also thunder”, and comments from the 10th noted “almost impassable streets” owing to the “late snow and spring thaw”. A massive snowstorm preceded by “heavy rain”, buried the city with twelve inches over the 10th-12th, and another storm (amount unspecified) blew through on the 14th. These being “spring-variety” snowstorms, temperatures did not fall off drastically in their wake. The 18th in St. Paul was only a “regular March day — thawing and freezing with a chilly North wind”; Paterson’s notes disclosed observed temperatures of 26 F, 32 F, and 25 F. April (mean temperature: 36 F), third coldest since 1820, showed almost no warming trend over its first three weeks. Total precipitation was 1.70 inches on 10 days, most of this snow. The early part was wintry enough with a heavy snowstorm dropping 7-8 inches over the 2nd-3rd. Temperatures on the 2nd were 26 F, 23 F, and 23 F at the prescribed observation times; 21 F, 31 F, and 19 F on the 3rd. Another .25 inch of snow and rain mixed came on the 10th, additional light snows totaling about an inch falling on the 13th-17th. Just three afternoons over the first sixteen days got as high as 40 F, and 50 F plus temperatures were still yet to be experienced as of the 22nd. The first boat from Lake Pepin did not arrive until the 20th. The last eight days brought sunny skies and a pronounced warming trend, 54 F recorded on the 23rd, 60 F on the 25th, 68 F on the 29th, and 73 F on the 30th. May (mean temperature: 57 F) was roughly seasonable, temperature-wise, with significant rains. Paterson registered 4.95 inches on 16 precipitation-days. Most St. Paul afternoon temperatures during the month were confined in the 60’s to low 70’s, though three reached 80 F, the highest 83 F on the 23rd. Frost was observed locally on the night of the 12th-13th, the mercury 37 F at 7AM on Paterson’s thermometer; just 53 F was recorded that afternoon at 2PM. Late in the month a pattern of heavy rains began to develop, both locally and to the West and North. On the 27th, the St. Paul Pioneer & Democrat reported: “It rained yesterday from daylight to dark without ceasing. The streets are muddy, vacant lots look like small lakes, the boardwalks are afloat, West St. Paul is gradually disappearing, and the sun hasn’t been seen for two days”.

Cool Summer, Early Flooding – Summer ’59 featured early freshets and mostly cool temperatures – just two modest warm spells were experienced over June, July, and August. Barely warmer than May, June (mean temperature: 61 F) still ranks as the second coolest month of its name in all local climatic history. Rainfall continued generous, 5.49 inches recorded on 12 days, and just three afternoons over the first 18 days reached as warm as 70 F. Frost was noted on the 3rd, a day with temperature observations of 42 F, 53 F, and 43 F at the standard times. While the visitations to the St. Paul vicinity and outstate areas were evidently not “injurious”, reports of much more severe injury came from “the whole of Ohio and larger part of Indiana”, “great damage” resulting to “the growing wheat, corn, and grape crops” and “gardening unusually injured … some places saw the mercury in the mid 20’s.” This was significant news, as it seemed to lend credence to a current home-baked theory that Minnesota was somehow less subject to early and late visitations than those relatively nearby States to the East and South. “The comparative exemption of the climate of Minnesota from casualties like these is worthy of consideration”, the Editor of the Pioneer & Democrat asserted. Related climatic events of the next few years would seem to support this view, though the summer of ’63 with its killing July frosts would effectively refute it. A different sort of weather-induced destruction, however, left its mark over the State during June’s first week, culmination of late May’s rains and the resulting rises of the streams and rivers. On the 5th, the Mississippi opposite St. Paul reached a level “as high as ever known”. Opposite St. Anthony, it got “nearly as high as 1850”. Upstream, numerous log booms were broken, and more than 30 million feet of logs were lost over the Falls. At the Falls itself, the overall scene, like nine years ago, was “grand and impressive with hundreds of persons, residents and strangers visiting daily”. Some 30-40 feet of rock was reportedly eroded away from underhanging rock by the “freshet”, and several Minneapolis bridges were carried away by the torrent. The Anoka bridge upstream across the Rum River met a similar fate. While it was evident on the 8th that “vegetation of all sorts [now] needs sunshine more than rain”, at mid-month: “accounts from all parts of the State are encouraging as to the crops, with the single exception of corn, which was suffered in some localities from the continued wet weather”. The first 80 F temperature of the month in St. Paul finally came on the 26th (84 F), this the month’s warmest. July (mean temperature: 71 F) featured cool weather early and late, separated by a thirteen-day stretch of moderately warm and humid weather. Total St. Paul rainfall was 2.95 inches on ten days. The first week had some more cool weather, the 4th only 57 F at mid-afternoon, light rain showers occurring during the day. Considerably warmer and humid weather then set in, the afternoons of the 7th through 12th exclusively in the 87 F to 90 F range; morning (7AM) temperatures over the period were frequently in the mid-70’s or higher. The 16th touched 93 F for the summer’s warmest, the 17th registering 91 F. Cooler weather closed the last ten days, warmest 2PM reading only 77 F, several afternoons confined to the 60’s. August (mean temperature: 67 F) was cool overall, with 2.72 inches’ rain on ten days. The 7th-16th had a few warm days, Reverend Paterson registering four afternoons at either 86 F or 87 F; nearly all of the others were between 83 F and 85 F. On the 11th, the Pioneer & Democrat reported that “we are now sweltering through another heated term … the small grains are being rapidly harvested, and corn will soon be beyond the reach of injury from frost.” Significant cooling followed, the last twelve afternoons averaging just 69 F at 2PM. The “Pioneer” noted on the 27th: “the weather [over the last several days] has had something of the feel of autumn to it, the days alternating between sunshine and cloud, the nights deliciously cool”.

Cool Fall/Early-Winter – Frequent spells of unseasonable cold characterized the remainder of the year, accompanied by a lengthy dry spell that encompassing portions of October and November. September (mean temperature: 58 F) brought mostly sunny but very cool conditions over the first half, relatively mild but very cloudy weather over the second. Precipitation totaled 3.65 inches on twelve days, most coming after mid-month. Decidedly autumnal weather prevailed over the first week, light frosts reported on each of the first four mornings in St. Paul (vines in low grounds “nipped a little”). An equal number of afternoons were confined to the 50’s, just 53 F noted for the 4th at 2PM. A “remarkable aurora” was also seen on the 1st. The last sixteen days were several degrees warmer overall and quite cloudy (average sky-cover at the 7AM/2PM/9PM times: 9.0 tenths, compared to the first two weeks’ 3.2 tenths). Highest temperature of the month (77 F) came on the 24th, just three days after the season’s first “heavy frost” visitation (mercury 37 F at 7AM on Paterson’s thermometer). October (mean temperature 42 F), was the coolest locally since 1844. Total precipitation was .46 inch on two days, average sky-cover just 1.9 tenths. Snow (unmeasurable) fell on the 17th and 29th. Except for the first four afternoons which had temperatures in the moderate to warm 67 F to 77 F range, just one afternoon as warm as 60 F was observed throughout the month. Near-freezing morning temperatures were almost a daily occurrence after mid-month. Such crisp weather was not necessarily unpleasant, the Pioneer & Democrat remarking on the 19th as to “the many days” of lovely weather this month. Out-of-view prairie fires made their presence felt, as reported on the 7th: “This week has exhibited the characteristics of Indian Summer, the atmosphere has been so smoky that we can hardly see across the river. Can anyone tell us where all this smoke comes from…?”. The 27th-30th was almost winter-like, with temperatures no warmer than the mid 30’s. Halloween morning was 23 F for the month’s coldest. November (mean temperature: 30 F) except for the early part, was characteristically dull and cloudy with uniform day-to-day temperatures. Measurable precipitation fell on two days to 2.01 inches. The first week brought a return of mild weather, the 3rd and 4th 57 F and 60 F, respectively. The 7th was a relatively balmy 50 F, 69 F, and 65 F at the standard times. The Pioneer & Democrat noted on the 8th: “Our fine fall weather continues. The air yesterday AM felt more like a day of June than in November”. Much cooler weather set in next day, light snow flurries seen during the day with the mercury 38 F at 2PM. An early arctic surge came on the 13th with 4 F noted at 7AM and 21 F at 2PM. Most of the balance of the month was grey and moderately cold, mornings typically in the 20’s, afternoons in the 30’s. A snowstorm, the first measurable precipitation in 36 days, dumped 7-8 inches on St. Paul on the 21st, this accumulation likely washed away just several days later by an unseasonably late, heavy rainstorm over the 24th-25th – 1.28 inches was dropped as temperatures hovered mostly in the mid 30’s. Prelude to a bitter December, the last day saw slowly falling temperatures, from 22 F at 7AM to 10 F by 9PM. December brought another of the succession of unseasonably cold months of this name that had been the rule almost without fail since 1848. Monthly mean temperature (5 F) was the lowest since 1831, snowfall about 9 inches. Except for the 11th and 12th which registered 38 F and 36 F mid-afternoon temperatures, respectively, the month was subfreezing in its entirety. Bitterly cold days were scattered throughout, the 2nd exceptionally severe for this early date with -21 F at 7AM and -8 F at 2PM. This rivaled December ’22’s unseasonably low temperatures on this exact same calendar day. Additionally cold days came on the 6th with -20 F, the 22nd also registering –20 F. The last two days brought the month’s most bitter temperatures, the 30th with -20 F, -14 F, and -23 F readings at the prescribed times; New Year’s Eve Day -23 F, -9 F, and -23 F. Nevertheless, journalistic complaints were few during the month, the deep freeze being healthier than an extended thaw, and also preserving a respectable snow cover for recreational and business-related sleighing activities.