Spooky Minnesota Weather

Asperitaus Clouds
More Bark than Bite: Asperitas Clouds at Willow River: July 19, 2019
Courtesy: Jim Zandlo

Minnesota has had its fair share of spooky and unusual weather. Here are a few of the oddities from the archives of the Minnesota State Climatology Office.

Ball Lightning

Ball lightning is a mysterious, luminous and typically spherical phenomena that is typically associated with a thunderstorm and can be indoors or outside. People who have witnessed an event don’t forget the experience. Tales in Minnesota go as far back as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s days near Walnut Grove in the early 1870s. During a thunderstorm she described a ball of lighting the size of "ma's ball of yarn" moving down the stovepipe and rolling across the floor, with it disappearing as her mother chased it with a willow-branch broom.

A more contemporary account of a ball lightning episode that occurred at a home in North Minneapolis on September 1, 1971. Lighting hit a tree and burned a path 30 feet to the home and had a red glow that persisted for two or three seconds after the flash. The lightning entered the home through the yard light. The ball was estimated to have a diameter of 4 inches. A report of Ball Lighting: Anderson and Freier Journal of Geophysical Research Vol 77 No. 21, July 20, 1972

Light Pillars: December 3, 2005 (and other dates)

Most common in Arctic locations (and also during extremely cold weather farther south in Minnesota), spectacular light pillars have been observed at times in Minnesota and were seen after dark in the Twin Cities, St. Cloud and the surrounding region in early December of 2005. Light pillars are also called "false aurora" and look somewhat similar to Northern Lights. The light pillars of December 3, 2005 were caused by ice crystals falling with their flat sides horizontally in the clear night sky hours after a light snow had ended. The snow crystals acted like mirrors to reflect the light above street lights and other light sources.

Green Skies and Ominous Clouds before a Thunderstorm

Clouds associated with thunderstorms rank high on the “spooky” factor. Green skies with a thunderstorm may indicate hail is in the clouds and the shelf and roll clouds that are associated with the advancing edge of a thunderstorm can turn a sunny day into a murky one real quick. Even creepier are Asperitas Clouds. The mammatus clouds when the sun angle is low, can be striking.

Heat Burst: July 17, 2006

An interesting weather phenomena called a "Heat Burst" happened over west central and central Minnesota during the overnight hours of Sunday July 16th to Monday July 17th, 2006. A heat burst is caused by sinking air from a dying thunderstorm in the presence of very warm air aloft. The already warm air sinks, dries out, and then is further heated by compression. This event occurred well after dark, with the temperature at Canby jumping from 91 degrees to 100 degrees in just 40 minutes, from 10:35 pm to 11:15 pm. During the same time, the dew point dropped from 63 to 32 degrees, leaving the relative humidity bone-dry, at just 9%. The downward rush of warming air led to the Canby airport reporting a wind gust of 63mph.

Orange Sky of October 22, 2020

October 2020 was spooky on many levels with an early-season record setting snow on October 20. Two mornings later, ahead of the next snowstorm on October 22, Minnesotans were  greeted by an eerie, orange sky tinted by ice crystals and smoke aloft from Colorado forest fires.

There are undoubtedly many more strange and spooky weather events in Minnesota’s history. Dense fog can be particularly foreboding. Stay tuned for more updates.

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