Minnesota weather for the year 1869
Torrential August & September Rains
The decade’s final year repeated some of the more unpleasant features of the previous three with unseasonably protracted winter cold (reminiscent of ’66 and ’67), torrential growing season rains (not unlike ’67), and inclement autumn weather (similar to ’68). January started the year off with a mild and fine month, but this was succeeded by a cold and blustery March, heavy rains in both August and September, and an exceptionally cold October. Annual mean temperature in St. Paul finished at 42 F, total precipitation for the year about 32 inches; more than 18 inches’ of this fell over August and September alone. All quotes below, unless otherwise noted, are from the St. Paul Daily Pioneer.
[Almost] “One of the Most Pleasant Winters Ever Known” – January ’69 across Minnesota was a month of “remarkable and unusual pleasantness”. Frequent “clear, bright, and sunny days” together with “mild, equable temperatures” combined to make it one of the most enjoyable winter months for outdoor activities in years. Despite a light snowcover, the absence of storms and high winds preserved “excellent” sleighing conditions over most of the populated areas. Monthly mean temperature at St. Paul (18 F) was the highest since 1863, the minus 7 F observed minimum being the second highest figure for a January in 50 years. A handful of afternoons reached the mid-30’s, most confined to the teens and twenties. February (mean temperature in St. Paul: 18 F) opened with a heavy snowstorm. Rochester, having received just 8 inches all winter through the end of January, reported an accumulation over the 1st and 2nd “to the depth of 18 or 20 inches”. Long-term experience seemed to indicate that a bitter arctic blast was now to follow, but “instead of clearing off cold”, the mild temperature and “genial sunshine” pattern reestablished itself, to last through the 19th. In St. Paul, afternoon temperatures in the 30’s to low 40’s were general through that date, unseasonable (and heavy) rains over the 13th-14th “melting what little snow we had left”. The last nine days brought a colder turn, most mornings dipping below zero, including -15 F on the 27th in St. Paul, but the impression remained firm that the ’68-’69 winter would stand out as “one of mildest and pleasantest ever experienced in Minnesota.” Such a ultimate verdict, however, would not be realized, as for the fourth year out of the last five, March brought far colder than normal temperature spells. Monthly mean temperature in St. Paul (20 F) was just barely higher than that of January and February, some 21 inches of snow falling, added to the 18 inches received in February. Some of the coldest weather of the entire winter was experienced over the first week, temperatures in the south falling to levels far below zero on several mornings; New Ulm recorded -20 F on the 6th. In St. Paul, subzero or near subzero cold was felt almost every morning over the first eighteen days, -18 F registered on the 4th and -17 F on the 6th. Sleighing in Minneapolis continued through the 23rd, making the length of the season there a record 109 days. Mild temperatures finally set in over the last week, the majority of the afternoons near or above 50 F, the mercury reaching 53 F in St. Paul on the 28th. But on the 31st, a violent, drifting snowstorm” struck, dropping six to eight inches on the city, “rendering the appearance of mid-winter” again.
Slow Growing Season Advance – April (mean temperature in St. Paul: 41 F; 0.56 inches’ precipitation) was “cold and damp”, vegetation’s progress “scarcely noticeable” over its course. Just one-third of the wheat crop was sown by month-end, half the ’68 crop, in contrast, having been in the ground at the end of March. Just one out of the first thirteen afternoons reached as warm as 50 F in St. Paul, freezing or near-freezing mornings experienced without exception over the interval. The 3rd was a wintry 13 F at 7AM. The first boat through Lake Pepin was also delayed, arriving at St. Paul on the 19th, more than two weeks later than last year. Generally seasonable temperatures prevailed over the last ten days, half the afternoons in the 60’s, the month’s maximum, 68 F, coming on the 25th. May (St. Paul mean temperature: 57 F) brought seasonable temperatures but above average cloudiness. Rainfall totalled 2.23 inches. A few warm days were felt early, the mercury reaching 83 F on the 9th for month’s warmest in St. Paul. But the last week was mostly cool, afternoon readings confined to the 50’s on the 26th, 27th, and 28th. The late sown wheat gave few signs of development during the month, but being well-rooted and “having a healthy look”, it “gave promise of standing as long a drought as any to which are subjected to”. Obviously, at this point in history, the fear of drought was still very much in everyone’s consciousness. June (St. Paul mean temperature: 63 F) continued the slow seasonal advance. Except for “a warm day or two at intervals of a week” most of the month “had an atmosphere of coolness and cloudiness, calling for the use of fires and overcoats.” The afternoon of the 3rd was the month’s warmest in St. Paul with 89 F at 2PM, but the middle two weeks were quite cool, only one afternoon as warm as the 80’s, most of the others in the 60’s and low 70’s. Still, the prevailing weather proved favorable to nearly all the growing crops except corn. At month-end, wheat “probably never stood thicker on the ground”, and the growth of grass was “luxuriant”. July (mean temperature in St. Paul: 69 F) brought some severe weather during the first week. On the 6th, a “fearful tornado” passed over the vicinity of Lake City, with large trees “torn up”, fences “leveled”, and Lake Pepin “violently agitated”. Three days later, “another terrible tornado” struck Stearns and Pope counties, producing loss of life. Sauk Centre was especially hard hit with “houses torn to pieces” and “people blown 30 or 40 rods”. The rest of the month, though, was agreeable, with “a predominance of invigorating winds from the North and Northwest.” Only one afternoon in St. Paul reached higher than the mid-80’s over the period, a 90 F reading on the 24th.
Torrential Rains in August and September – August (mean temperature at St. Paul: 69 F), like June and July, featured “the absence of excessive heat” but with drenching rains. Some 7.66 inches fell in St. Paul during the month, most of it over the last twenty days. Only a few afternoons reached as warm as the mid-80’s, the highest, a relatively moderate 84 F, coming on the 12th. On the 8th, a partial solar eclipse was viewed across the State; at the time of greatest obscuration over St. Paul, “a gentle twilight prevailed”, the atmosphere displaying “a strange coppery hue.” Also noted were the customary fooling of hens and roosters. After this date, however, a cloudy pattern with frequent deluges of rains developed, nearly 10 inches to be received in some localities before the month was out. Concerns for the wheat harvesting operations were raised, but at month-end reports of widespread injury and wasting were still relatively few. The year’s crop appeared to be of “large seed and good quality”. Heavy as the rainfall was in August, it was exceeded in September, the cumulative effects of two successive extraordinarily rainy months taking its toll on virtually all aspects of economic life. Commenting on the long continued excessive rains on the 18th, the Rochester City News declared: “Never [has there] been so unpropitious a season for securing grain or the prosecution of any out-door labor”. Also, from the St. Paul Pioneer Press on the 16th: “Our oldest citizens say they never saw anything like it in Minnesota before”. St. Paul recorded 10.61 inches for the month, the heaviest total in city history thus far, a bit shy of Fort Snelling’s 11.10 record total in July ’38. Monthly mean temperature in St. Paul was 61 F, the highest observed temperature 86 F on the 18th, part of a two-day spell of unseasonably late heat and humidity. Having largely escaped harm last month, vast quantities of wheat not yet put in shelters were severely damaged by the excessive downpours. Large quantities of hay growing near streams were also swept away by high water, with similarly large amounts destroyed by the flooding of marshes. In the lumbering areas of the Upper Mississippi Valley, numerous bridges and roads were washed out, isolating the camps. Log booms on the Rum River and in the Anoka area were broken, several million feet of logs going over the Falls at St. Anthony on the 14th and 15th with the local mills being forced to stop. Work on the St. Anthony Falls apron also had to be halted. The uncompleted structure, along with tons of underlying bedrock would crumble early next month on the day in history that “The Falls went out”. Roads around the State for much of September were virtually impassable, severely restricting travel and ordinary day-to-day business. The stone culvert of the St. Paul water works was “swept away”, delaying its completion and the “turning on of the water … for a month or more”. The only consolation to all this seemed to be a delay in the first frost, the event not occurring until the 27th. As a result, the State’s late-starting corn crop was given time to fully mature, and a good crop was gathered in.
Dry & Cold October-November – “The weather seems to delight in extremes this year”, wrote William Cheney, the Minneapolis Smithsonian Observer in the Minneapolis Daily Tribune, referring to the exceptionally cold October, coming on the heels of extraordinarily wet August and September. Monthly mean temperature in St. Paul was 40 F, the third lowest figure locally since 1819. Precipitation was only 0.88 inches, about one-third of “normal”. The first week brought a few mild days, 70 F readings recorded on the 6th and 7th, but few got as high as the mid-50’s thereafter. Freezing mornings were nearly a daily occurrence through the close. A long spell of almost continuously subfreezing temperatures over the 22nd-26th “made it appear as if winter had set in earnest”. On the 23rd, ice formed “sufficiently strong for skating” in Minneapolis, the 24th brought light snow statewide, and the 25th produced a daily temperature range in St. Paul from only the high teens to the mid-twenties. Fall plowing and other agricultural operations, already set back significantly by the saturated ground conditions of last month, were suspended entirely about this time. The potato crop, already damaged seriously by rot, was now frozen in the ground and a total loss. November (mean temperature in St. Paul: 30 F) was “much pleasanter” but a bit colder than ’68. Precipitation continued relatively light, some .75 inches recorded in St. Paul. October’s late cold having “exhausted itself”, the first several days brought “beautiful, mild, and hazy weather”. The mercury reached 62 F in St. Paul on the 2nd and 65 F on the 3rd. But conditions then turned much colder again, all but three of the remaining afternoons of the month confined to the mid-20’s to upper 30’s’ range. Morning readings dipped into single figures several times over the last ten days, the ground at month-end frozen to “an unusual depth” for so early. In spite of all the bad weather this past harvest season, the ’69 wheat crop was very large, the price, however, “too low to pay a profit on its production”, at least in the Rochester vicinity.
The Decade Closes – December (mean temperature: 20 F), like so many others this decade was only moderately cold. The month opened with near zero morning temperatures, but The St. Paul First of December Steamboat Excursion still came off without difficulty, the Mississippi not closing with ice here until the 7th. Between Winona and La Crosse, the river was clear as late as the 9th. While fortunes on land had been somewhat different this year, the ’69 navigation season had been a good one for boats on the Mississippi. Never before had there “been a season when boats came through with more regularity and found a better uniform stage of water”. A two-day thaw over the 9th-10th with temperatures hovering between the mid-30’s and low 40’s accompanied by drizzle dissolved what little snow had fallen, subsequent falls producing just enough for good sleighing. However, it was becoming an established rule not to expect much before New Year’s Day.