Split Rock Lighthouse State Park in Winter

Why Does Minnesota Get Colder than the North Pole?

Minnesotans pride themselves on surviving brutal winters, but few realize that parts of the state sometimes dip below temperatures at the icy North Pole. How does the legendary frozen tundra get outpaced by the Land of 10,000 Lakes?

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What North Pole Are We Talking About?

First, we have to clarify which North Pole we mean. The true North Pole is the northernmost part of Earth and does not have permanent residents or weather stations. Temperatures there can only be estimated from the nearest station in Cape Morris Jesup, 440 miles away along Greenland’s coast.

When people say “North Pole,” they often really mean North Pole, Alaska. This small town lies 15 miles south of Fairbanks and embraces a Santa Claus theme.

Comparing temperatures in Minnesota and North Pole, Alaska shows that Alaska still reigns supreme in cold.

What Was Minnesota’s Coldest Temperature on Record?

Minnesota’s all-time record low came on February 2, 1996 in Tower, MN. The mercury plunged to a bone-chilling -60°F (-51°C). On the same day, the weather station in Greenland reported “only” -38°F (-39°C).

While Minnesota’s cold snaps are intense, they tend to be short-lived. For example, Tower warmed up over 100°F in less than a week.

Why Does Minnesota Get So Cold With No Ocean Nearby?

Most of Minnesota lies over 1,000 miles from the nearest ocean. Without oceans nearby, frigid air can accumulate over the state instead of getting pushed away by ocean winds.

For example, when an Arctic cold front slides down from Canada, no ocean winds block it from sitting over Minnesota for days or weeks. This allows dangerously low temperatures to set in.

What Was Minnesota’s Coldest Month on Record?

January 1912 still stands as Minnesota’s coldest month ever documented. That month, the average temperature statewide sank to nearly -10°F (-23°C). Even southern Minnesota, which is typically warmer, spent 186 consecutive hours below 0°F (-18°C).

Across the board, January 1912 had below-zero lows every single night in some northern counties bordering Canada. Brrr!

The Takeaway: Minnesota Gets Cold, But Never for Too Long

While Alaska takes the prize for year-round cold, Minnesota can spike lower during short-lived extremes. Thankfully, these Arctic blasts eventually yield to warmer air and sunshine. That variety makes Minnesota weather always interesting, even if the winter makes us daydream about ocean breezes.

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