Minnesota Weather for 1867

Minnesota Weather for 1867

Minnesota weather for the year 1867

A Year of “Freshets”

Climatic conditions continued mostly unpleasant across Minnesota during 1867, with prolonged mid-winter type cold in March, an extraordinarily backward April and May, and three major flooding episodes over Spring to late Summer. St. Paul annual mean temperature was 40 F, tying last year’s figure for second coldest to date in the combined record with Fort Snelling – more than 33 inches’ precipitation was recorded. After a relatively benign January and February, a new progression of anomalous, mostly unpleasant weather patterns developed, persisting through late Summer. March was nearly 20 degrees colder than normal, and April and May were each exceptionally cool, damp, and dismal. Heavy April rains added to the winter snowmelt runoff resulted in severe flooding in the southern areas, torrential June and late July rains across wide areas of the State also generating more flooding events. All quotes below, unless otherwise noted, are from the St. Paul Daily Pioneer.

Mostly Agreeable Winter Weather, except for March – January (mean temperature in St. Paul: 6 F), according to Reverend Paterson in his monthly newspaper summary, was a “pleasant month, notwithstanding a large amount of cloudy weather”. While colder than last year, it seemed more moderate – “doubtless the absence of high winds … “contribut[ing] to make this impression”. “We become insensible to a very low degree of temperature when the atmosphere is still”, he further explained. The absence of snow continued to generate much comment over the first days of the month, considering the “terrific storms of snow and violent winds” that were reportedly visiting “our downeast cousins”. But starting the second week, a series of moderate falls gradually accumulated the long-awaited covering, “the best” of sleighing conditions in place by late in the month. Except for the afternoon of the 3rd, which was near thawing (31 F) at 2PM, temperatures in St. Paul got no higher than the upper 20’s all month. The mornings of the 17th and 29th were each quite frigid, both -27 F at 7AM. February (mean temperature in St. Paul: 15 F) displayed a succession of alternating thaws and cold snaps. Snow fell at intervals enough to keep the sleighing “very fine”, the railroads virtually free of the great drifts that plagued their first winter of service last year. The 7th reached 40 F in St. Paul at 2PM, but that night “the wind swung around to the N”, bringing a fresh impulse of arctic air. The mornings of the 9th and 10th were -20 F and -24 F, respectively. A warmup ensued, most afternoons through the 19th in the upper 20’s to low 30’s, but another cold snap early of the last week dropped the mercury to -23 F on the 24th, the 28th, however, thawing again almost in its entirety, accompanied by fog. March significantly surpassed its namesake of a year ago in “excessive degree of cold”. “Winter lingering in the lap of spring” was certainly not an unknown phenomenon in these parts, especially in view of the series of cold Marches experienced over the last decade or so, but this year’s lagging was “downright, absolute, obstinate possession”. Monthly mean temperature in St. Paul (12 F) was 6 F colder than last year, and colder than both December and February. “Once again, winter has been protracted far beyond what are considered [its] usual limits”, Reverend Paterson wrote, “… making everyone weary of its stay”. Subzero or nearly so temperatures were registered almost every morning through the 19th in St. Paul, most afternoons confined to the teens. A January-like arctic spell gripped the area over the 11th-17th, each morning in the St. Paul vicinity minus 10 F or colder. The 13th, 14th, and 17th were all around -20 F. Red Wing recorded a remarkably low minus 30 on the 13th. The mercury finally warmed to 42 F on the 20th in St. Paul for the month’s highest temperature, still, however, more than 15 degrees lower than the climatological average. More wintry weather returned on the 24th, readings in St. Paul that day ranging from near zero in the morning to the upper teens by afternoon. Minus 8 was registered next morning, the 25th. Some of the stormiest weather of the whole winter came on the 26th, Rochester receiving “nearly or quite one foot” of snow, accompanied by a “driving wind”. In the St. Paul area, trains were “annoyed by drifts”, with business “generally interrupted”. Sleighing was possible in the city through the 30th.

An “Extraordinarily Backward Spring” – Spring made “very slow progress” during April (mean temperature in St. Paul: 39 F). “There was scarcely a night in which ice [did] not form”, and at month-end “the aspect of the country present[ed] no indications that a warmer season [was] approaching.” Less than a third of the afternoons in St. Paul reached as warm as the mid-50’s, highest recorded temperature all month just 60 F. Down the Mississippi at Dubuque, Iowa, the ice did not move out until the 7th, almost equaling the 30-year late-date record set on the 8th in 1843. At Winona the ice didn’t go until the 9th, and as late as the 13th there had yet to be any boat arrivals “from above or below”. Frequent and heavy rains after mid-month together with the ongoing melting of the “large bodies of snow” produced severe flooding in the Lower Minnesota country, among the casualties being the [Minnesota] Valley Railroad (inundated) and numerous bridges spanning tributary streams and rivulets. At St. Paul, the first boat through Lake Pepin reached the city on the 21st, second latest date on record. Also on this day and the next, the Mississippi opposite the city reached its highest level since 1859, overflowing levees and inundating warehouses. The bottomland shantytown of West St. Paul was also swamped with water, prompting the usual fears of a cholera and typhoid fever outbreak. May “was spoken on all sides as remarkable for its coldness and humidity”. Monthly mean temperature in St. Paul (48 F) surpassed 1842’s previous low mark by 2 F, a colder May in the mean not to be experienced in the Twin Cities vicinity for another 40 years. Over the first week, freezing or near-freezing mornings were experienced every day. Six of the first eight afternoons, as well, were no warmer than the 40’s. On the 1st, the editor of the Rochester Post declared that “It isn’t a good day for May poles here … indeed the weather is much more suggestive of the North Pole – the only way of realizing it is May day is by studying the calendar.” Temperatures trended up very slowly over the following days, the growing season at mid-month estimated to be 10 days even further behind than last year. Similar accounts of damp, cold, and disagreeable spring weather came from “every portion of the Western & Middle States” also. While this marked the State’s fourth consecutive backward Spring, the cool, damp, and dreary-to-the-senses variety was far more preferable to wheat farmers than the droughtier types that had been exhibited during ’64, ’65, and ’66. Cool and damp weather caused wheat to root “all the more vigorously”, better equipping it to withstand a summer dry spell that might develop. The year’s first recorded 70 F plus afternoon temperature did not come until the 30th (76 F at 2PM), about seven weeks later than the average date. With river stages generally high around the State, an “old-fashioned June-rise” was now expected, the first bona-fide such event since 1861.

A Summer of “Freshets” – Heavy rains were the predominant weather features of most of June and the last half of July, contributing to the most damaging floods and protracted high water periods since arrival by whites. June (mean temperature in St. Paul: 67 F; more than 10 inches’ rain) was the wettest calendar month since July 1838 in the combined climatic history with Fort Snelling. Afternoon temperatures were generally pleasant, only a handful reaching the mid-to-upper 80’s, most of these over the first half. Heavy rains late on the night of the 6th caused great amounts of property damage in the Upper Mississippi country, all the bridges spanning the Sauk River being washed away with numerous mills at nearby St. Cloud sustaining damage from runaway logs. The excess runoff caused the Mississippi downstream at Minneapolis-St. Anthony Falls to crest above its 1859 record high water mark on the 11th. The Falls themselves were “absolutely terrific, the water plunging over with sufficient force to displace stones weighing tons.” Along with the boulders went an estimated 10 million feet of logs from broken booms, both from local and upstream sources. Additional severe weather visited the Southeast on the 13th, Wabasha pounded by “one of the most terrific thunderstorms ever seen by the ‘oldest inhabitant’. In addition to the heavy precipitation, numerous telegraph poles in the area were split by lightning strikes, disrupting out-of-state communications for several days. Farther west at Cannon Falls, “an immense quantity of rain” swept away the city’s grist mills, along with part of a dam. Telegraph poles also were “shivered” by lightning. The next ten days across the State were mostly dry, river levels falling rapidly, but another pattern of deluges returned during the last week, including almost “heavy daily” falls in the St. Cloud vicinity. While the worst was yet to come for that part of the state, a local commentator reported about this time that he had “never [seen] so much rain in more than 14 years’ residence”. Up the Minnesota River Valley, New Ulm recorded 6.35 inches over the 23rd and 24th, total fall in that community during the month of June some 11.75 inches. At the close, most major streams across the State were back to near record levels. Somewhat surprisingly for the State’s agriculture interests, though, only corn and hay on low ground had sustained significant damage during the month. July (mean temperature in St. Paul: 67 F) brought “the unparalleled fall of water” after mid-month, producing another round of floods. While the month’s rainfall was “very unequally distributed … some little in excess of the average in and around St. Paul and in other sections of the State …”, “almost incredible” amounts fell in other areas, “seemingly after the manner in which we read about of tropical storms”, according to Reverend Paterson. Temperatures were “remarkably equable” and cool, no 2PM readings above 83 F all month in St. Paul, just five as high as 80 F. Dry and sunny weather, fortunately, predominated over the first half, “working wonders in the vegetable world”. In St. Paul, the 9th was “almost the first dusty day we have had this season” and at mid-month, prospects for good crops around the State seemed to be “highly promising”. In areas where it had been feared earlier that the “unprecedented wet weather would use up the growing grain …”, most crops were now “putting on a healthy green and growing rapidly”. During the second half, however, storms even more severe than those of June ravaged parts of the State. A great storm between Crow Wing and Sauk Center on the 18th and 19th lasting 12 to 16 hours reportedly dumped enough rain to fill pork barrels 36 to 40 inches deep “without connection with any conductor or shed”. Testimony from Indians and Whites alike agreed that in this area, at least, it was the most severe storm ever known. The Mississippi at St. Cloud rose 12 feet in 24 hours, and all the booms downstream between the latter at St. Paul were carried away by the force of the flood. Between 35 and 45 million feet tumbled over the falls at St. Anthony on the 21st, a “disaster” to the Minneapolis-St. Anthony lumbering interests. Coming after years of complaining that there wasn’t enough water for the logs “to come down”, this was a cruel sort of relief. Later in the month, another severe storm carried away track and bridges between Rochester and Winona, and a “terrible storm” lasting “with scarcely an intermission for 24 hours” struck Owatonna, causing a 15 to 18 foot rise in The Cannon River. Heavy rains were also reported during the month in the western part of the State, water levels in all the tributaries of the Upper Minnesota “unprecedentedly high”. The four-mile divide between Lake Traverse and Big Stone Lake became submerged, “water flowing from the former to the latter, so that a steamboat could run from the former to the latter”. Such a phenomenon, according to local Indians, had not occurred in 20 years. Despite the late rains, the maturing wheat crop seemed to be in generally good condition in most areas as the month closed.

Anxiety for the Harvest – With so much inclement weather experienced this summer and the memory of last year’s partial crop failures still fresh, there was not a little suspense felt for the upcoming wheat harvest as August began. “Seldom has the progress of a month been watched with greater interest” wrote Reverend Paterson. The harvest didn’t start until the 12th, a late date, but with “a large proportion of clear days … rarely equaled”, a bountiful crop was ultimately reaped. “Never has a harvest of its extent and importance crowned the labors of the husbandman, the prosperity and business of the state must receive a strong impulse from this one product of the soil.” Overall, the month was of “great pleasantness”, monthly mean temperature in St. Paul 67 F for the third month in a row. Completing another summer devoid of 90 F weather, highest observed 2PM temperature in the city was only 86 F. Four days of distinctively autumnal weather closed the month, afternoons generally in the 60’s, the 31st only 59 F at 2PM. The Mississippi River at month-end opposite the city was down 12 feet from its highest stage earlier this summer, but it still had “plenty of water for purposes of navigation”.

Pleasant Fall and December – In contrast with most of the year up to this point, Autumn ’67 was distinguished by its mostly “mild, beautiful weather”. September (mean temperature in St. Paul: 56 F), a month of “great beauty and pleasantness” came in, however, “with a frigid temperature”. Light frost occurred on the 1st, and a more severe visitation on the 6th did damage to an estimated one-sixth of the corn crop. The 9th was also quite cool, daily temperatures ranging from the mid-30’s to mid-50’s, but thereafter mild temperatures prevailed, only a few mornings cooler than the mid-40’s, most afternoons generally in the 60’s and 70’s. A mid-month rainy spell dropped more than 5 inches over the 15th-19th in St. Paul, although the “extraordinary amount had but a small effect upon the Mississippi — doing little more than checking its fall”. Vegetation “was as green and growing on the last day of the month as on the first”. October (mean temperature in St. Paul: 47 F) was dry and “very pleasant”, with a fair number of “smoky, hazy, and warm” Indian Summer days. “First ice” came on the 12th, nearly a month later than last year, and only once did the mercury fall below 30 F (at 7AM) in St. Paul, green foliage of the trees being retained “much longer than usual”. The 13th-20th was the month’s mildest extended period, afternoons consistently in the mid-60’s to low 70’s, the month’s warmest (73 F) coming on the 15th. Only “drawback”, according to Reverend Paterson, was a minor snowstorm on the 29th accompanied by high winds that prevailed all day. The rivers continued to fall during the month, and sandbars, some of them newly formed by the summer’s floods, began for the first time this boating season to interfere with traffic. November (St. Paul mean temperature: 34 F) displayed a steady mildness until the last week or so when mid-winter cold gradually started to take control. The first three weeks in St. Paul moved along “very smoothly and cheerfully … with much pleasure to all”, afternoons frequently in the 50’s and occasionally higher. The 1st reached 65 F for month’s highest, 61 F observed on the 13th, and 58 F on the 22nd. Over the remaining days, however, the mercury “started to trend sharply downward”, the 29th a mid-January-type day with the 2PM mercury reading just 10 F, the morning of the 30th -6 F at 7AM. The Mississippi also closed on the 30th, a week to ten days earlier than the past few years, causing cancellation of the First of December excursion. December (mean temperature in St. Paul: 15 F) displayed “an absence of snow” but “a large amount of cloudy weather”. Most afternoons reached the 20’s and occasionally the low to mid-30’s, a few “short periods of cold interven[ing] at …. regular intervals”. Most mornings after mid-month were near zero or colder, the most frigid temperature occurring on the morning of the 30th with the mercury -13 F at 7AM. According to Reverend Paterson: “on the whole the month was … duly appreciated by those who are seeking to renew their strength and health in this invigorating climate”.

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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