The Mysterious July 4th Snows of Minnesota
Of all the questions that the State Climatology office receives, this is one of the
strangest. Every six months or so a phone call, an e-mail or letter asks about whether or not it
has snowed in Northern Minnesota during the month of July. Most of the time the caller/writer is
referencing an event they either witnessed or heard about. The cities vary, sometimes as far south
as Brainerd but Ely seems to be a perennial favorite.
The strangest part is the date. It is always snowing on the 4th of July in the town they mention.
Oddly few can remember what year it was except to usually narrow it down within a decade or so.
Also, much like Sasquatch and the Loch Ness Monster, there aren't any cameras handy to record
such a rarity. Requests of a scrap of newspaper that recorded the momentous event have gone
unfulfilled. So many unconfirmed reports of July 4th snows have arrived at the office over the
years one would think it is a winter wonderland during the "rockets red glare" north of I-94.
We often wonder if the people are mistaking Memorial Weekend for the 4th of July.
Upon receiving a new report of July snow, we investigate each one to see if it is plausible. The
year is approximated and a search through the paper copies of the nearest National Weather Service
Cooperative Station is performed. The temperatures found are almost universally too mild to
support snow. The few cases where snowflakes could be plausible, the conditions associated with the date were
under a large dome of high pressure with clear skies.
We're sure these people saw snowflakes according to the vivid descriptions, usually
while sitting watching a parade in a place like Ely. Others also have commented on a July 4th
snowfall in the Ely area. Few have been able to pinpoint a year. We've sifted through years of
data gathered by National Weather Service observers in the area and have never been a
recorded observation of snowfall. While it is possible that it has snowed somewhere in northeast
Minnesota sometime in July we have not as of yet found an official record of it. Bruce Watson,
a now-deceased consulting meteorologist whose knowledge of Minnesota's climate was unsurpassed,
took a tougher stance on the subject. In 1997, he wrote: "June has brought measurable snow in
the Arrowhead more than once. Snow probably has occurred there in very late August, although we
have never found an official record of such. July snow would be an extremely rare event,
and has not likely occurred in the last 300 years. Snow probably has never occurred between
June 20 and August 20 since the USA took over the region in 1815."
Yet the stories prevail from some credible sources. An editor from the National Geographic
magazine called and inquired about Jim Brandenburg's story that it had snowed in every month in
northern Minnesota. Our response still had to be a shaky "maybe." Weather stations are few
and far between in northeast Minnesota, so it is certainly possible that flurries have fallen
between the cracks.
As it stands right now the latest recorded measurable snow in Minnesota remains at 1.5
inches at Mizpah in Koochiching County on June 4, 1935 and the earliest documented snow in Minnesota is a trace
that fell at the Duluth Airport on August 31, 1949.
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Last modified: September 15, 2005