March 22, 2023
April is the core spring month, when familiar scents from blooming lilac, elderberry and apple trees begin to emerge. Showers and thunderstorms are more frequent and winds more intense. In fact, average wind speeds show April to be the windiest month over most of the state.
The polar jet stream begins to migrate to higher, Canadian latitudes, and it frequently steers weather fronts across Minnesota — bringing mostly rain, but sometimes snow. Several southern Minnesota communities like Albert Lea and Worthington see measurable snowfall about one of every two Aprils. While the month’s precipitation usually falls as rain, sometimes it comes from intense thunderstorms, as at Morris, Minn., and Milaca, Minn., on April 26, 1954, when it rained 6.90 inches and 5.05 inches, respectively.
Minnesota’s driest Aprils occurred in 1926, 1980 and 1987, when the average monthly precipitation was just 0.51 inch or less statewide. Both 1980 and 1987 brought very dry Aprils to the north, this time coupled with very warm temperatures. In April 1980, two communities reported no measurable precipitation; more than 100 set records with temperatures in the 90s; and six reported daytime highs of 100 degrees F or greater, the only time such warmth has been observed during this month.
In April 1987, eight Minnesota communities reported no measurable precipitation, and 16 saw daytime highs in the 90s. Prior to 20th century agricultural practices, such dry, warm Aprils often led to widespread prairie fires, like those observed by the Fort Snelling, Minn., soldiers in 1853 and 1856.
April key for agriculture
More dispiriting than extreme hot or cold Aprils are the extraordinary temperature swings that can result from the presence or absence of snow cover combined with increasing day length and alternating passages of warm and cold fronts. For example, on April 2, 1982, strong southerly winds brought convective thunderstorms and even a tornado watch to southwestern Minnesota. Lamberton in Redwood County, Minn., recorded an afternoon high of 78 degrees just before a thunderstorm poured 0.9 inch of rain on the town. That night a cold front passed through, bringing strong northwesterly winds and dropping the temperature a remarkable 71 degrees to a low of just 7 degrees, — enough cold to refreeze soils.
April is also a key month for agriculture, with producers typically out in force for secondary tilling, fertilizing and sowing. Most of the state’s small grain crop is planted during this month; and in very warm springs, the corn crop may be planted as well.
In fact, the University of Minnesota Extension Service recommends planting corn any time after mid-April. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration outlook models are favoring a warmer-than-normal April for Minnesota, with equal chances for above- or below-normal precipitation.
More on Minnesota’s weather history is available in my new book, the Minnesota Weather Almanac, second edition, available at bookstores or through the Minnesota Historical Society Press
Seeley is an Extension professor emeritus of meteorology and climatology at the University of Minnesota.
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