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Dec. 30, 1889: Goodbye, cruel winters

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History Updated: December 28, 2009 - 6:36 PM
One hundred and twenty years ago this week, the Tribune dipped its toes into the climate debate of that era: Are severe winters a thing of the past?

THE OLD-FASHIONED WINTER.

The remarkable mildness of the winter up to date has set the weather prophets to speculating about the causes, for this so far is only a repetition of the winter of 1888-89.
 
 
  Two kids enjoyed a toboggan run inside the climate-controlled comfort of a photographer's studio in about 1890. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)
One writer in the Boston Journal has come to the conclusion that the old-fashioned New England winter has been lost to the century; that physical changes have been occurring that will forever prohibit a recurrence of the severe winters of the last few years.
 
Another theory is advanced to the effect that the gulf stream is changing its current and is running many miles nearer the New England coast than ever before. These predictions and theories may be pleasant pastimes, but they won’t “wash,” to use a slang phrase. We have only to take the winters from 1883 to 1888, inclusive, to find a colder record on an average than for many years before.
 
The truth is that winters are like other seasons – they do not run evenly, only in periods. It has been the observation of many that a very cold winter is never preceded and followed by a mild winter. But several cold winters are much more apt to follow each other in succession. This is also true of mild winters. One is generally followed by anoter. In other words, these cold or mild season go in groups rather than in singles. We have no doubt that the balance of the winter of ’89-90 will be everything that one could desire in mildness, -- a winter that will make the hearts of all God’s poor rejoice.
 
But don’t let any one fool himself about the gulf stream, or the great natural changes that are going on whereby it is proposed to prohibit old-fashioned cold winters. If this be done the suffering that will follow such foll in the winter of 1890-91 will be tenfold more than if we stick to the theory that the seasons are just about the same, on an average, each four or five years together. Man may, by his genius, overcome, utilize and make the natural resources of nature his servant, and revolutionize the habits, life and material comforts of the human race, but no man and no theory will ever revolutionize or materially change the laws of nature and their relation to each other.
 
The unusually cold winter of 1887-88 provided the perfect setting for the St. Paul Winter Carnival's magnificent ice palace. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)

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