An Earth rarity: Minnesota's large temp swings

- We as humans define extreme weather as something that is hard to live through.  That would involve someplace that’s uninhabitable in most cases like Antarctica or Mount Everest… someplace we just can’t really go.  But those very few, very select places aside, we may actually live in one of the most extreme habitable places on our globe. 

In terms of weather, Minnesota gets just about everything.  Rain, sleet, snow, tornadoes, high humidity, low humidity, dangerous cold, dangerous heat, etc… In reality, the only “typical” weather phenomena we don’t have to deal are hurricanes, although we do get the remnants of them every so often.  I’d say most of us are used to it by now.  A lot of us may think it’s pretty normal in the grand scheme of things.  Well, I can tell you that it’s not.  In fact, Minnesota may actually have some of the most extreme weather on the planet.  We are one of the few places in the United States, and the world for that matter, that can have temperature swings like we see on a yearly basis.

Take 2016 for example.  The following 2 images are just a snapshot of the weather differences from summer to winter.  The first is a look at the afternoon “feels like” temps from Thursday and the second is the wind chills temps from the morning of January 17th

Where else in the world can it feel like 105°+ in the summer and -30°+ in the winter?  Not many!  Minnesota is home to the most extreme temperature changes in the U.S. (outside Alaska) according to the National Climate Data Center.  The following image shows the average yearly temperature swing by county.

The average yearly temperature swing for the Twin Cities metro counties is around 78.5°.  Considering we just discussed a 136° swing in temperature, that doesn’t sound like much.  But we are now talking about actual air temperature and NOT what it feels like to humans when combining other factors like wind and humidity.  We are also talking about the AVERAGE temperature for the day, and NOT just highs and lows.  For comparison, Chicago has about a 67° swing in temperature, Phoenix is around 65°, Dallas has a 61° swing, New York City and Atlanta are usually in the mid 50s, Seattle is just 42°, but Miami pretty much rounds out the list at only 32°. 

Now, the Twin Cities pretty much tops the list for big cities, but the county with the largest temperature swing in the lower 48 states is actually in Minnesota too.  The honor belongs to Kittson County in the northwest corner at 88.1°! Only 1 county in Alaska beats out Kittson County because of their temperatures dipping some 80 below zero in the winter and 80’s in the summer.

So why does Minnesota have the largest temperature swings?  It all has to do with continentality.  Continentality is a measure of the difference between continental and marine climates characterized by the increased range of temperatures that occurs over land compared with water.  Or simply, the further you are from a large body of water, the wider range of temperatures you can have.  Take Minnesota for example…

We are over 700 miles from the nearest ocean source.  While Lake Superior is large enough to affect the weather in our wonderful state every so often (far more often if you’re really close to it AKA Duluth), it isn’t warm enough or large enough to affect temperatures on a daily basis.  The biggest influence for our weather is actually the Gulf of Mexico about a thousand miles away and the Pacific Ocean more than 1400 miles away.