How to Talk About Winter in Minnesota

It’s the one safe topic for holiday get-togethers—here are a few historic highs and lows to drive the conversation

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photo by raisondtre – Fotolia


No matter your family’s politics, religion, or opinions on how to hang the toilet-paper roll, Minnesota winter is always a safe topic for holiday get-togethers. We dug out some historic highs (and lows) of the season to drive the conversation. 

Roll with the punches
When an 1870 winter storm slammed Minnesota and Iowa with more than a foot of snow, an Iowa newspaper writer came up with a novel descriptor: the story called it a “blizzard.” (The term had previously been used in boxing to describe a series of quick punches.)

Out of nowhere
A mid-January day in 1888 started out relatively balmy—children went to school as usual, and workers were reportedly active outside. But a cold wave that swept the state brought sudden blizzard snowfall, and temperatures quickly plunged as low as -37F. The death toll from this freakish storm, at about 200, is considered perhaps the worst for any Minnesota weather event.

Insult to injury 
During the cold-weather months of 1996-97, a string of blizzards started in November, carried through the holidays, and delivered a final insult with a big snowfall beginning April 5 at the same time as western Minnesota was fighting flooding that ended up being among the worst ever in the state (Fargo-Moorhead received a total of 117 inches of seasonal snowfall).

Minnesota Mild 
A year later, the 1997-98 winter was one of the mildest in history. Before that, the record-holder was 1877-78—called the “winter without a winter.” Temperatures hit the 50s in late December, and it was so dry and warm that prairie fires broke out. 

Step into the vortex
The term “polar vortex” was actually first used as far back as 1853 to describe a very big pocket of extremely cold air sitting over the pole to our north. The right high-altitude air pressure conditions can send this air to the south (i.e., over us), which is what happened in early 2014 when Babbitt, MN hit -37F amid nasty prolonged cold across the US (Governor Mark Dayton ordered schools closed on Jan. 6—the first time in 17 years).

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