2011 began with a blizzard over western Minnesota and marked the continuation of the snowy and cool winter of 2010-11. The coldest temperatures of the season, and of 2011, were on January 21 when both International Falls and Babbitt bottomed out at -46. This was the coldest air to move over Minnesota since January 14, 2009 when Babbitt saw -48.
The deepest snow cover of the season was in mid-February where parts of southwest Minnesota and along the north shore were seeing depths up to three feet. River levels reached major flood stage in the spring along the Mississippi, Minnesota St. Croix and the Red River. The spring weather cooperated and kept peak crests from being worse.
The number of tornadoes was down quite a bit from last year. In 2010 there were 113 tornadoes reported in Minnesota, the highest number for a state in the US. In 2011 there were 31 tornadoes, closer to the long term average of 27. One person died in 2011 due to a tornado in Minnesota and that was the one that hit Minneapolis on May 22. This tornado hit Minneapolis the same day a much stronger tornado hit Joplin, Missouri were an estimated 157 people died.
2011 had its share of summer heat. Many areas in central and southern Minnesota hit 100 degrees this past summer. The warmest place in the state for 2011 was at the Twin Cities International Airport with 103 degrees on June 7. Collegeville in Stearns County was a close runner up with 102 degrees. However, the biggest heat related news story of the summer was the oppressive dew point temperatures in mid July. On July 19th the Twin Cities saw a record high dew point temperature of 82 degrees, breaking the old record of 81 that was set on July 30, 1999. Even muggier than that was the state record 88 degree dew point temperature that was reported on July 19 at Moorhead. This broke the old record of 86 degrees that was set on July 23, 2005.
July was also quite stormy, with one of the most widespread severe events occurring on July 1. A large cluster of thunderstorms produced wind damage from South Dakota across Minnesota and into northwest Wisconsin. Six tornadoes touched down with this event.
Another extreme weather event of note for the year was severe storms in northwest Minnesota. Winds were clocked at 121 miles an hour just west of Donaldson in Kittson County in Northwest Minnesota and this is the strongest wind speed on record measured in Minnesota.
Many persons in Minnesota awoke to frosty lawns on the morning of September 15 as the first frost arrived a week or two earlier than the median dates over much of central and southern Minnesota. Fairmont had a minimum temperature of 37 degrees on September 15 with the first temperature of 32 degrees or colder holding off until October 19th when the mercury dipped to the freezing point.
The largest forest fire in Minnesota in 93 years flared up on September 12, aided by the dry conditions. The huge fire wound up burning 92,682 acres, and spawned its own severe thunderstorms downwind of the fire.
The developing drought took center stage during the fall. The drought began in late July and intensified during September and October. From September 1 to November 30, many places in southern Minnesota were from five to six inches short of normal. Some places in central and southern Minnesota saw their driest autumn in history since modern weather record keeping began in the 19th century. The dryness, along with above normal temperatures really parched the landscape. On September 29th numerous field fires fanned by strong winds were reported in southern Minnesota. Available soil moisture in November at Waseca was at the lowest in over a decade compared to the same dates in previous years. A severe drought continues in south west and south central Minnesota, along with a chunk of the Arrowhead.
Meteorological autumn from September 1 to November 30 wound up being from two to five degrees above normal in the state. The warmest part of the fall was the first week of October with many places in Minnesota seeing high temperatures in the 80’s. Minneota in Lyon County one of the warmest spots with 92 degrees reported on October 5. There was a cool snap during the first week of December with many places in Minnesota seeing their first below zero temperatures, including -15 below at International Falls on December 6. However some places in southeastern Minnesota, including the Twin Cities have not seen the mercury dip below zero yet.
Snowstorms were few and far between in the state, with northeastern Minnesota being clipped with some small snow events from time to time. The one significant snowfall over central and southern Minnesota happened on December 3-4 which dropped a swath of 2-5 inches over south central, south east and east central Minnesota. Fairmont saw 5 inches. A smaller event dropped 1-2 inches on December 16 over southeastern Minnesota. New Year’s Eve saw a rain and snow event over southern and central Minnesota that brought back a taste of winter.
As 2011 drew to a close, concerns grew about the availability of soil moisture in the spring. It has been some time that central and southern Minnesota has been in a dry moisture situation over the winter months. Time will tell if the spring rains will come.