Drought, haze, tornadoes: Take a deeper look at Minnesota's bewildering 2021 weather
Smoky air from wildfires, a severe June heat wave and unusual snowmelt made for some strange weather extremes in 2021.
In February 2021, the Twin Cities was at or below zero for 116 hours, the longest such period since 1994. That was just the beginning of a year of strange weather in Minnesota.
A severe early June heat wave set the stage for a summer of intense drought for large swaths of the state. Wildfires in Canada – and, later, in the state's Arrowhead region – in July and August spread a dangerously smoky haze as far south as the metro area. The drought eased in some areas in late August, but has continued in the northern part of the state into 2022.
In mid-December, a powerful cyclone pushed a wave of warm air north, resulting in a springlike 58-degree day, strong thunderstorms and a series of never-before-seen late-season tornadoes across southeastern Minnesota. The unusual warmth melted several inches of snow that had fallen only the week before – the fastest snowmelt in Twin Cities history. The year ended with plummeting temperatures. Strange indeed.
Precipitation and snowfall
With only a few exceptions, monthly precipitation and snowfall was consistently below average – sometimes significantly.
High, low and in between
Nearly every month in 2021 was warmer than the 30-year average. While April and May were the closest to normal, June and October were both 7 degrees over average.
Unusually warm: It was one of the warmest Januaries in state history, especially Up North. Apart from a slushy mid-month snowfall, it was drier, too – a theme for 2021.
The chill returns: Temps fell well below average. Ely set a statewide record low of -50°F on the 13th, and Valentine's Day was the coldest day of the year at MSP – for the second year in a row.
Unpredictable: This month has a reputation for weirdness, and we got it about halfway through. Around the state, hail, rain, snow and a tornado watch made our heads spin.
About as expected: Average as heck, with the wind and clouds. Several counties in northern and western Minnesota were already drought-stricken, despite some rain.
Split-rain state: Paltry rainfall in northwestern and north-central Minnesota pushed 18 counties into moderate drought. Meanwhile, above-average rain fell in the southeast.
Drought worsens: The second-warmest June in state history (Duluth's warmest ever), behind Dust Bowl-era 1933. With little rain, 82% of the state was in moderate drought.
It is the heat: Heat advisories, meager rain and frequently poor air quality from Canadian wildfire smoke made for an uncomfortable month.
Trouble Up North: This month wrapped the hottest summer since 1988, especially Up North, where wildfires in the Arrowhead and Ontario didn't help. Rainfall was mixed.
Rain reprieve: More precipitation meant the drought retreated slightly, but about half the state remained in extreme or severe drought. Four EF-0 tornadoes were reported mid-month.
Drought recovery: Despite warmer-than-usual temps (again), increased rainfall pulled many areas out of drought, leaving the smallest amount affected in months.
End of fall: Although temperatures were a little above normal statewide, the north and western areas of Minnesota continued to get extra, much-needed rainfall.
Going out with a twist: Minnesota's first-ever recorded December tornadoes sure were surprising, but several cities also reported their snowiest December ever.
Download previous years' weather poster