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Minnesota Weather Summary for the 1850s

Minnesota Weather Summary for the 1850’s

Cold Winters, Occasionally Droughty Summers.

Frequent cold and sometimes snowy winters combined with occasionally precipitation-deficient growing seasons marked Minnesota’s weather during the 1850’s. Now organized politically, the Territory (and in 1858, the State) saw its population explode nearly thirty-fold from just over 6000 in 1850 to more than 170,000 by 1860. To go with this rapid influx of new settlers was a shift in seasonal anomaly patterns from the 1840’s, the most impressionable being the significantly colder, snowier, and more drawn out winters. Seasonal temperature anomalies underwent a major pattern shift from those of the 1840’s, the winters 3 F colder on average, the springs 2 F cooler, the summers 2 F warmer, and the falls 2 F milder (especially the Octobers which were 5 F warmer). The uncommonly severe winter cold spells of the successive seasons’ 1853-1854 through 1856-1857 seemed to create some erroneous first impressions as to what the real Minnesota winter “norm” was, the less consistently cold and snowy ones of the coming decade, the 1860’s, to cause consternation and puzzlement among boosters and publicists who were engaged in promoting the State’s “invariably” cold winter climate as a health mecca. Not a single winter went by at Fort Snelling from ’49-’50 through ’56-’57 without at least one spell of extremely cold temperatures (in the -25 F range or colder), and start of a new trend that had been largely unexperienced in previous recorded history, bouts of arctic cold consistently extended into March and sometimes later. This new trend would persist through much of the coming two decades as well. After cold but mostly “open” winters over the first five years of the decade, snowfall received during the ’54-’55 season was a near record maximum, that for ’56-’57 easily the greatest in history, the ’57-’58 total second only to ’56-’57. The rare occurrence of Spring and Summer floods in the same year occurred in 1850, but 1852 was dry, growing season (May-August) rainfall less than 60% of normal as we now know it. For the three successive seasons May-August seasons in 1855, 1856, and 1857, rainfall was less than 2/3rds of average. High waters and floods, though, were experienced again in 1859.