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Extreme Weather In Minneapolis – 19thC Style!

June 25, 2016

By Paul Homewood






I mentioned the long term weather records for Minneapolis a while ago, which have been carefully researched and archived by the Climate Stations website.

Amongst other things, they have this archive of annual weather reports, many of which highlight some of the extreme weather of the time. The list runs from 1820 to 1869, and are based on contemporary newspaper reports.

What is noticeable is that pretty much every year has some sort of extreme weather, not that they used the term in those days.

Each year links to the reports:



  • The 1820’s – Cool First Half, Warmer Second with Closing Drought.
  • 1820 – Cool, Sharp Seasonal Transitions.
  • 1821 – Cold Winter & Spring, Uneven Summer Heat.
  • 1822 – Late Spring & Early Autumn Frosts, June Deluges, Historic December Cold.
  • 1823 – Incoming Winter & Summer Temperature Extremes, Droughty Spells.
  • 1824 – Cool Spring/Early Summer, Mild December.
  • 1825 – Exceptionally Mild Winter/Early Spring.
  • 1826 – Backward April with a Great Flood, but Unseasonable May Heat.
  • 1827 – Mild Winter & Spring, Very Warm Late Summer.
  • 1828 – A Trend to Drought after Mid-Year.
  • 1829 – “The Dry Year”.
  • The 1830’s – Warm and Dry First Half, Colder and Wetter Second.
  • 1830 – Continued Dry, Oppressive July, Abnormally Warm October/November.
  • 1831 – Dry with Late & Early Frosts, Bitter December.
  • 1832 – Contrasting Winter Temperatures, Mild Spring & Fall.
  • 1833 – More Relative Warmth and Dryness.
  • 1834 – Continued Mostly Warm, Wet Summer.
  • 1835 – Unseasonably Cool After Mid-Year.
  • 1836 – Backward Early Spring, Cool Late Summer & Fall.
  • 1837 – Cool Spring & Early Summer, Wet Autumn.
  • 1838 – Temperature Extremes, Wet Summer.
  • 1839 – Warmest Year to Date.
  • The 1840’s– Abnormal Cold Lapses, “Open” Winters.
  • 1840 – Warm and Dry First Half, Cool and Wetter Second.
  • 1841 – Premature Spring Heat, Very Cold Early Autumn.
  • 1842 – More Abnormal Cold Lapses. – Coldest June and November in history
  • 1843 – Coldest Year in History.  – Also Coldest March and October
  • 1844 – High Waters in Spring, Late Spring and Early Autumn Killing Frosts.
  • 1845 – Much Warmer.
  • 1846 – Warmest Recorded Year of Nineteenth Century (tie with 1878).
  • 1847 – Much Cooler, Dry Winter & Fall.
  • 1848 – Abnormally Cold after Mid-Summer.
  • 1849 – Long Cold Winter, Heavy Spring & Summer Rains.
  • The 1850’s – Cold Winters, Occasionally Droughty Summers.
  • 1850 – Heavy Winter Snows, Spring & Summer Floods.
  • 1851 – Forward Spring, Unseasonably Lingering Heat in September.
  • 1852 – Colder, Very Dry and Abbreviated Growing Season.
  • 1853 – Drawn Out Winter, Wetter Growing Season.
  • 1854 – Bitter January, Mild Spring & Fall, Hot Summer.
  • 1855 – Heavy Winter Snows, Dry Growing Season.
  • 1856 – Another Severe Winter, Dry Summer.
  • 1857 – Deep Winter Snows, Backward Spring, Dry Mid-Summer.
  • 1858 – January Rains, Early Spring Breakup, Hot Early Summer.
  • 1859 – Cool, June Floods.
  • The 1860’s – Coldest Decade in All History, Precipitation Extremes.
  • 1860 – Early Spring Breakup, Favorable Growing Season.
  • 1861 – Backward Spring with Floods, Cool Summer.
  • 1862 – Severe Winter, More Spring Floods, Fall Drought Signs.
  • 1863 – Drought, Summer Frosts.
  • 1864 – Continued Drought.
  • 1865 – Heavy Summer Rains Break the Drought.
  • 1866 – Abnormal Spells and Deadly Storms.
  • 1867 – A Year of “Freshets”.
  • 1868 – Forward Spring, Sweltering July, Dismal Fall.
  • 1869 – Torrential August and September Rains.



Just to pick a couple of years at random:





Just read that again:

Very little in the way of weather was “normal” or ordinary over the settled areas of Minnesota during 1866. Protracted abnormal spells, both in temperature and precipitation, seemed to follow in an almost unbroken succession.


I wonder what Paul Douglas would have made of that year?






Although they did not know at the time, the winter of 1832/33 coincided with an El Nino, which brought the warm winter just as it has again this year.  

Note the annual mean temperature of 47F. This compares with 48.4F last year.




It is also reported that:

The Mildest Winter Yet – Continuing December’s mild pattern, the opening seven weeks of 1833 featured almost uninterrupted unseasonable warmth, December-February mean temperature (22 F) the highest such (winter) mark of the Snelling era (1820-58), and the highest here locally until 1877-78.


NOAA report that the 2015/16 winter mean was 24.4F.

Are current temperatures in Minneapolis really a degree or so higher than in 1833? Maybe, but given the indisputable UHI effect there now, (temperatures are currently measured at the international airport), the real difference between the two years must surely be much less.


People in Minnesota will probably be shocked to discover that their weather in the past was every bit as volatile and extreme as nowadays. They might be horrified to find out that they have been lied to about it.

  1. John F. Hultquist permalink
    June 25, 2016 2:39 pm

    The 1860’s – Coldest Decade in All History, Precipitation Extremes.

    The cold was widespread, and noted 1,300 miles west of Minneapolis.

    I live in the Kittitas Valley near an historic town named Thorpe. Nearby are Thorp Mountain and Thorp Lake. (find these using Google Earth) These are mentioned in the full segment below:
    The first permanent non-Native settler in the Yakima Valley was Fielding Mortimer Thorp (1822-1894), who in October 1860 came to the Moxee Valley a few miles east of what would become Union Gap. Thorp was primarily a cattleman, and he brought with him a substantial herd that he had raised at his previous homestead in the Kittitas Valley. A severe winter in 1861-1862 nearly destroyed his cattle, …Union Gap — Thumbnail History

  2. Broadlands permalink
    June 25, 2016 4:20 pm

    According to NOAA, the driest summer in Minneapolis was in 1910. The highest mean maximum was in 1988 and the maximum dropped 11.7°F four years later in 1992. All “cherry-picked” of course.

  3. June 26, 2016 1:18 pm

    Before the Army Corps of Engineers stole our farm in Crawford Co., PA to create a little puddle of a “lake” with a leaking earthen dam, there was a white pine in the yard of the house. It had a fork caused when the terminal leader was killed by frost on June 4, 1859. Known as “the great frost of 1859″, fruit buds and grain crops were killed. Ice, as much as 1/2″ thick, formed and 2-3” of snow fell. A second, less severe frost occurred a week later. Supplies of flour, etc. were brought in by canal boat. Crawford County, PA is just south of Erie County and Lake Erie and the State of Ohio is on the west side of the county.

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