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Tom West: Weather Almanac gives facts to back up your complaints

Nobody's around who remembers when the temperature in the Duluth Harbor dropped to 59 below zero on Jan. 30, 1899. A few Duluthians may recall when the temperature dropped to 16 above on May 18, 1924, and 27 above on Aug. 10, 1923. Many will reca...

Nobody's around who remembers when the temperature in the Duluth Harbor dropped to 59 below zero on Jan. 30, 1899. A few Duluthians may recall when the temperature dropped to 16 above on May 18, 1924, and 27 above on Aug. 10, 1923. Many will recall when 24.1 inches of snow fell here on Nov. 1, 1991, in the so-called Halloween blizzard.

Those are all state records for those dates, and I discovered them in the "Minnesota Weather Almanac," a new book by Mark W. Seeley and published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press. Minnesotans love to talk about the weather, and the Almanac can help them back up their grousing with almost 300 pages of facts.

For example, did you know that only five other Minnesota counties: Freeborn, Kandiyohi, Ottertail, Polk and Stearns have had more tornadoes since 1950 than St. Louis County had? Our county has experienced 31 over the past 55 years.

And when folks complain about the rain, it should be noted that few people will remember the all-time record for Duluth: 5.2 inches fell on July 21, 1909. However, some readers should be able to recall 1998, when Duluth set two monthly records for most precipitation in one day: 1.16 inches on Feb. 27 and 2.33 inches on Nov. 10.

The hottest temperature ever recorded in Duluth was 106 on July 13, 1936. It has been so warm lately, it may seem like we are headed for another April record, but perhaps some of you will recall that the record high for April was 88 on April 27, 1952.

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If you wonder why tourists flock to the North Shore all summer, you need look no further than the book's table that reveals the number of cooling degree days at various reporting stations around the state. In order, the places least in need of air conditioning are: Grand Marais, Tower, Cotton, Two Harbors and Duluth.

It does not follow, however, that the North Shore is tops in heating degree days. In fact, compared to Duluth, heating bills are likely to be higher on average in Argyle, Baudette, Cotton, Ely, Hallock, Hibbing, International Falls, Itasca, Roseau, Tower, Virginia, Warroad and Waskish. Thank goodness for the moderating effects of Lake Superior.

The Almanac also asks trivia questions. Here's one that you can try out on your neighbors: On March 6, 2003, what were the weather conditions on Lake Superior? You'll be surprised considering how warm it was this winter.

The answer? Lake Superior was almost completely covered by ice. That phenomenon has occurred in only five other years of recorded history.

My favorite parts of the Almanac are the ones that describe the big storms that have hit the state like the Armistice Day blizzard of 1940. The aforementioned Halloween blizzard actually dropped 36.9 inches of snow on Duluth over four days in 1991. However, Duluth has had five other storms since 1969 that dropped over two feet of snow here.

If that seems like a trend, it is. The Almanac reports that during the past three decades, winters have been warmer, minimum temperatures have been higher, summer dew points have been higher, and there has been greater annual precipitation. (In Two Harbors, the mean seasonal snowfall has increased by more than 15 inches since 1921.) However, the trends are not as substantial as one might expect with all the talk about global warming, and, in fact, are not detectable at some of the state's reporting stations.

The book offers much, much more. If you want the straight scoop on Groundhog Day, or how often it snows during the week of the state basketball tournament, or even how often precipitation falls on major holidays, the Almanac has the information. Any Minnesotan who has ever complained about the weather (and you know who you are) will find the Minnesota Weather Almanac of interest.

Tom West is the editor and publisher of the Budgeteer News. He may be reached by telephone at 723-1207 or by e-mail at twest@duluthbudgeteer.com

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