Minnesota Profile: Minnesota Cold - Minnesota Conservation Volunteer
Big Chill Minnesota's reputation for bone-chilling weather began when soldiers at Fort Snelling started measuring and recording temperatures in 1819. In letters home they no doubt spoke of bitterly cold weather. In modern times, media often cite Embarrass or Tower as the coldest places in the lower 48 on a particular day.
Cold Reality International Falls is the coldest major National Weather Service station outside Alaska. The city has an average annual temperature of only 37.5 F. On average the thermometer there dips to zero or below 64 days each winter. In Roseau, also near the Canadian border, the average January temperature is almost a degree below zero (minus 0.7 F). The Twin Cities is the coldest major population center in the United States (45.4 F average annual), and one of the coldest in the world.
Why So Cold? Minnesota's relatively high latitude leads to long winter nights and only a glancing blow of sunlight during winter days. In the center of the continent, the state is far from the temperature-moderating influence of oceans, and has no natural barriers to deflect invasions of arctic air from the north or northwest.
How Cold Can It Get? Feb. 2, 1996, just south of Tower in St. Louis County, a volunteer observer for the National Weather Service recorded an air temperature of minus 60 F-the coldest official measurement ever made in Minnesota. Feb. 8, 1899, Roseau had an afternoon high of minus 39 F. This record-low daily high temperature occurred amid one of the longest, coldest spells in Minnesota's climate history. From Jan. 26 through Feb. 12, 1899, the temperature in Roseau never reached zero.
Communities such as Roseau and International Falls claim cold-weather bragging rights because of their northern latitudes. Rival cold spots in Embarrass and Tower have monitoring stations in low-lying basins, which collect cold, dense air.
Wind Factor The rate of heat loss from exposed skin depends on the combined impact of air temperature and wind. A "feels like" temperature calculation, called wind chill, indicates the atmosphere's cooling power. On Jan. 9 and 10, 1982, some northern Minnesota communities reported air temperatures near minus 30 F and wind speeds approaching 40 miles per hour. This bitter combination produced wind chills near minus 70 F. The formula in use at that time (it was changed in 2001) computed the wind chill to be an astounding minus 100 F.
Greg Spoden, DNR Waters climatologist