Minnesota weather for the year 1868
Forward Spring, Sweltering July, Dismal Fall (graphic)
A highly favorable agriculture season preceded by extreme January cold and followed by a dismal Fall featured Minnesota weather for 1868. January brought some of the lowest temperatures experienced statewide in many years, but March presented, by recent standards, a rapid warmup, wheat seeding carried out for the earliest time in almost a decade. More favorable weather in May and June spurred a record development pace of the State’s major crops, and July was the hottest month in nearly 40 years, helping corn to a record harvest. Fall, however, followed with one of the most unpleasant such seasons of the last half-century. Annual mean temperature in St. Paul was 41 F, just a degree higher than 1866 and 1867, and total precipitation was 31 inches. All quotes below, unless otherwise noted, are from the St. Paul Daily Pioneer.
Steady Cold – The New Year’s portion of the ’67-’68 winter brought another installment of the familiar climatolgical pattern peculiar to this time of year: arctic dominated temperatures over the first six weeks, abruptly followed by an abbreviated but impressionable thaw. January was of “uncommon coldness”, monthly average temperature in St. Paul (3 F) the lowest for any month since February ’62. Like its’ namesake of a year ago, all the temperatures at the prescribed observational times were sub-freezing; only a couple of afternoons after the first week were warm as the low 20’s. A series of heavy snows over the first few days got the sleighing going, reestablishing a “lively” trade between the towns and cities, and the 6th brought a cold wave, St. Paul morning temperatures on both the 7th and 8th -16 F and –20 F, respectively. Even lower temperatures followed, the 12th, with its bitterly cold -26 2/3 F average of the 7AM, 2PM, and 9PM readings, declared by the St. Paul Democrat as the “the Cold Sunday”. Spirit thermometers in some parts of the city on the following morning registered as low as minus 45 F. The 16th through 18th’s readings were each between -10 F and -14 F at 7AM, and the 27th and 29th‘s were each -18 F. February (mean temperature in St. Paul: 12 F) extended “the extreme cold which marked … January” until just before mid-month. Overnight temperatures through the 13th frequently dropped to minus 20 F and sometimes much colder, areas of the south as late as the 9th reporting -35 F to -40 F readings. Drifting snow also interfered with rail travel on occasion, the route between St. Paul and St. Cloud particularly affected. Like so many cold winters past, however, mid-February brought an abrupt thermal shift, eight successive days over the 14th-21st having afternoon temperatures in the 30’s and 40’s, including 45 F in St. Paul on the 18th. Conditions then deteriorated again, the State raked by a “furious and long-continued” winter storm over the 23rd and 24th. High winds, snow, sleet, hail, and even dust showers were experienced; in some instances hail drifted into railroad cuts, forming solid masses of ice which blockaded routes for as long as five days. In the storm’s wake, subzero cold settled over the State for Leap Year morning. Also at month-end, snow was reported so deep in the “St. Croix Pineries” that the workers in some instances [were] compelled to suspend work, it being impossible to carry provisions to them”.
Signs of an Early Spring, Then a Pause – March (mean temperature in St. Paul: 33 F) “in its few first days bid fair to rival in coldness its predecessors of 1866 and 1867”. In St. Paul, mid-afternoon of the 2nd was only in the mid-teens, overnight the mercury dipping to near -15 F. Thereafter, though, “a very steady progression of warmth” was felt, at least some thawing temperatures experienced on each day. Thanks additionally to some unseasonably early rains, most of the frost was out of the ground by the 20th, permitting March wheat sowing for the first time since 1860, “…a sure sign of a big crop and prosperous times”. The month closed exceptionally warm, each of the last four afternoons at least 60 F in St. Paul, the 31st hitting 70 F, accompanied by “…dust flying in clouds, to the great discomfort of pedestrians”. March’s seeming early spring promise largely “failed of fulfillment” during April (monthly mean temperature in St. Paul: 39 F). Slight advance “was made during more than half the month … ice form[ing] continuously in the nights and on some of the days”. Four of the first nine afternoons in St. Paul were confined to the low 30’s or colder, the 8th just 8 F at 7AM and 27 F at 2PM. Just two days through the 17th got as warm as 50 F, the morning of the latter in the low 20’s with a light snow cover. Still, with the month’s general “absence of rain” and the frost already “long out”, ground conditions remained mostly favorable, the “premature” wheat sowing continuing. Virtually the entire operation was completed statewide by the 20th, “one stage towards an early harvest successfully passed”. The last week was quite mild, the afternoons of the 26th-28th each in the low 70’s. The first boat through Lake Pepin had reached St. Paul on the 4th, “some 10 days earlier than the average of [the last] 25 years”.
“One of the Most Forward Seasons Ever Witnessed” – April’s general backwardness proved to be only a pause of sorts, as May followed with unusually warm temperatures (at least compared to recent years) and “a most desirable proportion of sunshine and showers”. Monthly mean temperature (59 F) in St. Paul, only an average figure by current-day standards, nonetheless qualified it as the second highest of the last 20 years in the combined record with Fort Snelling. Coming after the advantageous early seedings of the previous two months, grain fields at month-end “present[ed] a picture that must make all hearts rejoice”, according to Reverend Paterson. Afternoon temperatures in the 70’s and higher were a regular occurrence from the first week on in St. Paul, the 16th-24th the month’s warmest period with readings generally near 80 F or higher, the 24th 87 F at 2PM. The State’s weather during much of the month was in marked contrast with that of the East, local newspaper editors wasting no effort in reporting it: Snow reportedly falling in upstate New York as late as the 13th, and “cold rain storms” prevailing over the Eastern States at about the same time the long warm spell was predominating here. June (St. Paul mean temperature: 67 F) continued the favorable weather for agriculture. Temperatures, while showing some variability, were for the most part pleasant, rainfalls generally “moderate, and at such intervals that the crops were furnished with just the necessary amount of moisture”. Overall, a pace of development in vegetation and field crops was displayed that had “never been seen in the State [before]”, and by the close “crops of all varieties” were 15 to 20 days ahead of their usual stage, ten days to two weeks ahead even of some States “two and three degrees south”. The first nine days were rather cool, most afternoons in the 60’s, a few even in the 50’s. Much warmer weather set in over the 11th-18th, the majority of the afternoons in the 80’s. But prelude to the historically hot July now to follow, the last several brought a “heated term”; conditions on the 30th were “very severe” with a mid-afternoon St. Paul temperature of 94 F.
“The Hottest Month in the Recollection of the Present Generation” – July rewrote conventional wisdom as to what was really possible in Minnesota in terms of oppressive heat. In this early Statehood era of cool summers, hot, “close”, and sultry weather had certainly been the exception rather than the rule since ’58. Indeed, even when a spell of modest heat (judging from reported temperature figures) and humidity occurred, it seemed to have been an exceptional occurrence, worthy of mention in the newspapers. Just as the summer frosts of ’63 had refuted the “theory” of Minnesota’s seeming invulnerability to late and early frosts, July ’68’s heat must certainly have altered impressions as to the nature of mid-summer weather here, at least the expected limits of protracted heat. Monthly mean temperature in St. Paul (78 F) was easily the highest so far of the Territorial and Statehood era, exceeded only by July 1830 of the Snelling period. Virtually every day in St. Paul saw afternoon temperatures in the mid-80’s or higher, evenings “altogether too sultry to allow the soundest and most undisturbed sleep.” In Rochester, a thermometer reportedly “marked between 90 and 104 F in the shade” on each day through the 24th. Warmest day came on the 16th, 97 F recorded by the Reverend Paterson, his Smithsonian Observer counterpart in Minneapolis, William Cheney, noting 103 F on his thermometer. Newspaper accounts reported that daytime temperatures during the month were occasionally higher than either Mobile and Key West, no mean accomplishment for a State regarded by not a few outsiders as “a fragment of the Arctic regions”. Agriculture-wise, the steady hot weather and “the small amount of rain which fell” affected the wheat somewhat with berry-shrinking, but the harvest, well along during the month, was still expected to “prove the largest ever”. Corn, which of course responds favorably to heat, was three weeks ahead of its usual pace at month-end, with a secure, “unusually large” harvest assured. Excessive hot weather prevailed over the eastern United States during July as well, hundreds of persons reportedly perishing from heat stroke in the more crowded cities. August (mean temperature in St. Paul: 66 F) brought a quick abatement to the heat with cool weather spreading over the region late of the first week. The mercury hit 84 F in St. Paul on the 5th, but afternoon temperatures over the 7th-10th were confined to the 60’s only. The rest of the month had afternoons mostly in the 70’s except for a five-day warm spell over the 22nd-26th, including the month’s highest (88 F) on the 24th. The final three days were quite cool again, afternoons in the mid-60’s to low 70’s, nights in the 40’s. Some areas of the south were visited by frost about this time. Still, the advanced conditions of the crops going in to the month resulted in some spectacular harvest accomplishments over its course. Wheat was nearly completely harvested by the 10th, “the date of its commencement in ’67” [actually two days earlier]. Yields were good, a very large proportion of the highest grade. The corn crop was the largest ever realized, nearly all of it “beyond the reach” of frost as month-end.
An “Exceedingly Unpleasant” Fall – Fall was mostly miserable and depressing, probably the most so of any September-November period thus far during the settlement era. Except for “intervals of a day or two at a time”, Indian Summer weather essentially failed to make an appearance this year. September, “cold, wet, cloudy, and disagreeable”, resembled “very strongly” its namesake of 1866. Indeed, its monthly mean temperature figure (51 F) surpassed ’66 by 2 full degrees as the coolest September locally since ’20. Completing a great two month slide in monthly mean temperature, the month was 27 F colder than July, a remarkable contrast for the two months given the season. Highest observed temperature all month in St. Paul was 71 F, most afternoons after mid-month only in the 50’s, the mornings freezing or nearly so. A snowstorm “lasting about two hours” and “fairly whitening the ground” struck St. Paul on the night of the 23rd, the morning of the 25th 23 F at 7AM (accompanied by fog), this the coldest temperature ever noted in September in either the Fort Snelling or St. Paul records. Rainfall totals during the month were not exceptional, but being “distributed over so many days … the atmosphere was kept in a state of almost constant dampness and chilliness”. With the major crops already mature or harvested, though, the unseasonably chilly temperatures, frequent mornings of frost, and occasionally light snowfalls were of little consequence to agriculture. On balance, the weather was actually beneficial, the rivers kept relatively high, thus enabling an unusually large portion of the season’s surplus to be sent forward to market. Local weather prophets, recalling the great temperature reversal in October ’66, expected the same to happen this year, with many days of “delicious Indian Summer” to look forward too. This year, however, the cool and wet pattern continued through nearly all of October. Mean temperature in St. Paul (43 F) was the decade’s second lowest thus far, with a couple of sharp cold snaps bringing readings far below normal for the time of year. Total precipitation was the third most for an October in the combined 32-year Snelling-St. Paul record, 4.56 inches recorded by Reverend Paterson. On the 7th, an unseasonably early snowstorm dropped as much as several inches over the settled areas of the State, the mercury dipping to 26 F in St. Paul on the following morning. Conditions warmed over the ensuing days, most afternoons reaching the 50’s, but a second cold snap set in on the 16th, the morning of the 17th only in the mid-teens in the capitol city, as cold as it had ever been here so early in the last 38 years. Unseasonably late, heavy thunderstorms over the 29th-30th left more than 3 inches of rain in some localities. November (mean temperature: 32 F) was “damp and chilly” with a large number of “dark and cloudy days” and heavy precipitation. Another 3.68 inches fell in St. Paul during the month, making the combined October-November total (8.24 inches) the most ever for these two since records commenced in 1836. Except for the first few days, afternoon temperatures in St. Paul failed to rise out of the 40’s, most after mid-month in the low-to-mid-30’s. The 11th was the month’s coldest day, the mercury near 10 F in the morning and only 26 F at mid-afternoon. The frequent precipitation falls “both of rain and snow” saturated the ground in St. Paul and vicinity, causing numerous cellars to be flooded, an experience never before encountered this late in the season. At month-end the stage of the Mississippi was “remarkable”, river banks “quite full” with “no obstacle to the movement of boats”. The editor of the Rochester Post also remarked about this time as to the many successive days of “clouds, snow, rain, mist, and raw chilly wind”, and the “awful sight of mud and slop” on local roads.
A December of “Much Pleasantness” – December (mean temperature in St. Paul: 16 F) seemed to be a repeat of most of the Decembers of this decade with mostly moderate temperatures. Snowfall was generally light, with “commercial intercourse” between the Minneapolis-St. Paul vicinity and “distant portions of the State … almost at a stand” in consequence. The St. Paul 1st of December Steamboat Excursion, however, was “successfully renewed” after its cancellation of a year ago. Most days over the first week had thawing or near thawing temperatures, but a short cold snap over the middle of the second brought the month’s coldest readings. The mercury was subzero all day of the 10th in St. Paul, the morning of the 11th minus 17 F. A warmup followed, the 16th through 19th each reaching the mid-30’s, the remainder of the month’s days mostly in the teens and twenties for the afternoons, single figures or just below zero for the mornings. According to Reverend Paterson, the month’s generally pleasant weather conditions resulted in health-seeking visitors making “favorable reports of themselves”.