Read CHAPTER VI - CLIMATE-CONTINUED of Minnesota Its Character and Climate, free online book, by Ledyard Bill, on ReadCentral.com.

The atmosphere in Minnesota in the winter is like a wine, so exhilarating is its effects on the system; while its extreme dryness and elasticity prevents any discomfort from the cold which is such a bugbear to many. The extreme cold does not last but for a few days, and should the invalid choose to be domiciled during this brief interval, no great harm would come; but we apprehend that, once there, they could not be kept in-doors in consequence of it. Why, laboring men in the lumber districts to the north of St. Paul perform their work without overcoats, and frequently, and indeed commonly, without a coat of any kind, simply in their shirt-sleeves; nor need this seem incredible, as in a dry, cold climate the body maintains a much greater amount of animal heat, and if exercise is had, a profuse perspiration may be easily induced, and a fine glow of health inspired; with the extremities warm, sensitive, and throbbing with life.

We once spent the winter on the island of Prince Edward, lying in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This island is quite narrow, and between one and two hundred miles in length; all the northerly winds having a tremendous sweep over it, and the mercury in winter creeps down for a few days to a point where it is frozen stiff. On such occasions we found it far less inconvenient to go out, indeed, it was not an inconvenience at all, but rather a positive pleasure; daily walks and fishing through the ice gave constant amusement. But when the mercury was above zero, with the wind from any quarter, coming damp and chilling, a feeling of discomfort would drive you to shelter. The raw, damp wind off of the surrounding seas being a natural conductor of both animal and electrical heat rapidly carries of the vital warmth of the body to the destruction of life. In illustration of this, and as giving greater force to the practical experience of men everywhere, we are induced to quote the statement made by Dr. Kane, that often when the mercury was congealed, both he and his men found it not at all unpleasant, and by moderate walking were able to keep entirely comfortable; while, at and above zero, with a brisk wind blowing they suffered greatly.

Let us look fairly in the face this winter temperature in Minnesota, and see how it compares with that of Central New York. The tabular statement below is from official records.

The Mean Winter Temperature at St. Paul and Utica.

PLACES.       WINTER.       SPRING.        SUMMER.        AUTUMN.        YEAR.

St. Paul    16 deg. 1’     45 deg. 6’     70 deg. 6’     45 deg. 9’     44 deg. 6’
Utica       24 deg. 5’     44 deg. 5’     66 deg. 5’     47 deg. 3’     45 deg. 7’

The difference in range for the winter between the two points, is a fraction over eight degrees in favor of Utica, while the mean annual range is but one degree and a fraction higher than the yearly average at St. Paul. There can be no doubt in our minds, that the cold of winter is more trying to all classes at Utica than it is at St. Paul; and, that a greater amount of warm clothing is necessary to maintain an equal feeling of comfort, at the former, than is required at the latter place, notwithstanding the mercury ranges through the three months of winter at an average of eight degrees less at St. Paul. The reason is found in the fact of a more humid atmosphere existing at Utica, and, indeed, at all points in the variable-climatic district, whether north or south of either the thermal lines or latitudes in which Minnesota rests.

“There is no rain falling during the winter months in the State as a rule, the temperature being too cold, while the snow accumulates gradually, falling in the finest of flakes, and light as down itself. The average monthly snow-fall of the three winter months reduced to water, is but a little over half an inch, or about six inches of snow per month. A uniform line of low temperature averaging near sixteen degrees, unbroken by thaws except under the occasional warm glare of a noonday sun usually keeps this thin covering on the ground all winter so dry, that the deerskin moccasins, which many persons habitually wear, are scarcely moistened the season through. There are occasional upward oscillations of temperature; and, once in a series of years, a thaw in January or February; but these are rare occurrences. Rain has not fallen in winter but once in many years. The whole winter is a radiant and joyous band of sunny days and starlight nights. This inaugurates the carnival season when sleighing and merrymaking parties in both town and country form one unbroken round of pleasure.”

The advantages of this winter season is that, while a cold climate, it still admits of the invalid taking constant daily exercise with an entire freedom from liability to “catch cold,” the system freed from sudden shocks incident to the coquetting climate of the East; the lungs and whole body strengthened and braced by the tonic effect of this continental climate.

“It is the most normal climate on the continent. No other is so exquisitely symmetrical in its entire annual development. In no other are the transitions of temperature and moisture so completely in harmony with nature, so accommodated to the laws of organic life and growth. Thus the entire physical organism of Minnesota is, so to speak, emblematical of the relations which attach to its geographical position.”

The advance of spring does not, here, bring those unending floods and winds which drown men out and blow the universe to tatters, as is the case in New England and other areas lying eastward.

The months of March and April rack very low in their rain-fall in comparison with any point situated along the same thermal lines; while May is scarce up to the average, but yet sufficient to supply the seeds and grasses with all the moisture required.

For the purpose of exactness the following table is annexed, giving a view of the question and illustrating it far better than any discussion can hope to do.

Mean Water Precipitation For Spring (in inches)

PLACES.                    MARCH.     APRIL.    MAY.      TOTAL

St. Paul                   1.30       2.14      3.17       6.61
Utica                      2.75       3.17      3.34       9.26
Providence                 3.26       3.66      3.53      10.45

This furnishes a most striking commentary on this particular season for the localities named, and warrants the statement that the first two-thirds of it can be considered a continuation of the dry climate which we have now traced from about the middle of September to the first of May, a period of seven and one-half months, in which the rain-fall is but a third of the entire quantity precipitated throughout the whole year; while that of the entire year, even, is seen to be but a trifle over the half of that falling over any portion of the variable district, occupying so large a portion of the whole United States.

It is an astonishing development, and would be scarcely credible, but for the array of actual facts and figures, through a long series of years, by persons entirely unbiased, and who in the employment of the general government had no other ends to serve but that of accuracy. Previous favorable reports had gained much reputation for the State, but it seemed to lack official backing, until the searching in the published files of the War Department set the topic at rest, and proved the climate of this State out of that division to which the great valley of the Mississippi had been assigned, and to which the State of Minnesota had been thought, heretofore, to belong.

The great isothermal lines, beginning along the Atlantic coast at the fortieth, forty-first, and forty-second latitudes with their initial points between Long Island and the northern boundary line of Massachusetts sweep westward with an upward tendency, striking Minnesota at the forty-fifth parallel (St. Paul), when a sharp curve to the north distinguishes their course, thence bearing away gradually westward along the valleys of the Red and Saskatchawan Rivers to the Pacific Ocean.

If there are any doubts by our readers as to the continental character of the climate of Minnesota, let them answer how it is that this sharp curve of the thermal line happens in its westward course just on the frontier of that State. And likewise the reason of the arid climate prevailing for nearly three-fourths of the year, so unlike that for a thousand miles eastward or southward of it.

Two-thirds of the entire fall of water for the year (whether snow or rain) descends during the summer, with the addition of a part of May and September. The quantity is a trifle over that in parts of Michigan, while much less than the average of all points east or south. With regard to that of Central New York at Utica, a type of the eastern area, and previously referred to it is two inches less. Thus the summer, while not a dry one, fortunately, is below the mean of the variable district.

It would be a wrong conclusion should any one decide that the summer was lacking in those qualities of atmosphere which so happily characterizes other portions of the year. True, there is a diminution of aridity, but no disappearance, and the effect on the invalid is beneficial and decided.

The humidity of the atmosphere is not always determined by the rain-fall. There may be considerable water precipitated during a single season, and the air of the locality be, before and after the rains, dry and elastic, as the case at Santa Fe, in New Mexico, and at other points which might be mentioned. Among these is that of Minnesota. Its geographical position and physical structure is such as to insure these elements in large measure, even for the climate of her summers.

If the quantity of rain and snow falling at all seasons in a given district depended on itself for the supply, then the amount of water precipitated would, were the winds out of consideration, be determined by the amount of lake, river, and ocean surface within its own boundaries. In this event Minnesota would among the States occupy the very highest place on the scale, with, perhaps, a single exception, since the whole face of the commonwealth is dotted all over with lakes, sliced with rivers, and skirted in addition by a great inland sea.

To many who travel over the State it seems a marvel that the atmosphere should have any elasticity or any tonic properties.

It is, however, known that countries are usually dependent, for the beneficent rains falling over them, on oceans quite remote, where the sun, in its tropical splendor and power, lifts high in air immense volumes of water in a state of evaporation, which, borne on the “wings of the wind,” speeds rapidly away to supply the drying rivers and fountains of the globe. This aerial pathway supplies the link in the great circuit by which all the waters of all the oceans pass over our heads, returning again under our feet to their natural home.

Of course the water area of all sections of the temperate latitudes contribute something to the precipitation; yet it is but a fractional part of the whole, and quite inconsiderable. Still its influence is sufficient to make it observable near large seas like our own inland system, where the quantity falling is, in the cooler portions of the year, increased in consequence of the then higher temperature of the water of the lakes over that of the adjacent land districts. In summer, the only effect is to increase the humidity of the atmosphere and frequency of rains, without adding to the quantity. This phenomenon is seen on the shores of all the lakes, and especially in the Lake Superior region. But this influence does not extend westward to exceed the distance of, we should say, fifty miles, and does not consequently effect to any important degree the climate of Minnesota, except the outlying rim described. The small lakes and rivers do not contribute much to the precipitation of rain within the State boundaries. They may add slightly to that of the lake district to the eastward, whither their moisture is borne by the southwesterly and westerly currents. They do undoubtedly have an influence on the temperature, modifying that of the winter very much, and in this respect are valuable as well as beautiful.

The southerly winds, and those having a slight westerly tendency, prevailing a portion of the summer, do not bring hither much of moisture, though at their outset they are heavily ladened with it, as it is borne across the Gulf, in a southwesterly direction, to the open valley of the Mississippi, where, coming in contact with the edge of the great westerly winds, and broken probably somewhat by the elevated district of Mexico and by the foot-hills of the Rocky Mountains, which extend to the northern boundaries of Texas, this humid wind drives, unresisted by any vertical obstruction, up the valley of the “Great River,” shedding on either hand its waters profusely; but their force and character, in this long march, become spent, and they add only their proportionate amount of rain to the Minnesota annual fall, while the intermediate districts are chiefly dependent on them.

The northeast winds of spring and autumn, which sweep at times half across the continent, usually begin at a low point along the Atlantic coast driving sometimes furiously, and always persistently, its hurried, chilling current inland, is baffled by this southwesterly current of the Gulf, and always, sooner or later, turned, as it moves up the coast and interior by the overpowering and underlying continental winds which drive it back, bringing these northeasterly storms to us, nearly always from a southwest quarter. We enlarge upon this class of rain-storms for the purpose of showing, though imperfectly, their non-prevalence over the State of Minnesota. This is important if it can be, even but partially, established; since it is this particular class of storms and winds, last referred to, that are to be so much avoided and to which can be traced the initial point of most pulmonic troubles.

These storms from the northeast may begin in Texas, their course being north and eastward; as that by the time they reach so northerly a point as New York, their westward limit may not exceed St. Louis; and, in further illustration, when Quebec feels the force of the storm, Chicago is at its extreme western limit. This supposed course will convey the general idea of the track of a northeaster when it envelops the whole variable-climatic district of the Union. There is a singular eddy known to all climatologists to exist in Iowa, where the annual precipitation of water is great, exceeding that of all the surrounding States. There has been no positive theory advanced, to our knowledge, explaining this circumstance, but the mystery is solved, to our minds, quite clearly. This eddy makes the key-point of contact of the humid Gulf winds with the cool winds of the westerly current, and likewise being the northwestern terminal point of the course of the great northeasters, the contact being the cause of the excess in precipitation. We were fortunate, while visiting last autumn this special wet district of Iowa, to experience one of these triangular storms. We were at Dubuque while the wind was blowing gently from the south-southwest, with low scattering clouds, and before night it began to thicken and rain, while, in the night, the wind shifted to the east, blowing the rain briskly before it. This continued a part of the following forenoon, when, taking the train west to Rockford, northwest of Dubuque, we reached nearly the edge of the easterly storm, which had been here simply a drizzling rain. The next day the rain had ceased, the wind had shifted to the northwest, rapidly drying the earth, and the clouds, both of the upper and lower strata, were all driving hurriedly east-southeast. We left the following day for Fort Dodge and Sioux City. At the former place they had had a slight shower only, with shifting winds; while at Sioux City not a particle of rain had fallen, the roads being not only dry but quite dusty. This was not a merely local storm, but was the only great easterly one covering any extent of territory and time, answering to the equinoctial, which visited the United States during last autumn.

This special limit of storms, this eddy of the winds in Iowa, deviates more or less in the district assigned to it, and, at times, some of these northeasters undoubtedly blow over Minnesota, but they are few, and much modified in kind and character. The elevation of the State over other portions of the great valley south of it adds something probably in determining the outline of the Iowa basin of precipitation.

The range of the thermometer in the hot season is, in Minnesota, above that of places occupying the same lines of latitude; this is caused, in part, by the arid continental winds and by a less cloud-obstructed sunshine, but the heat is not correspondingly oppressive with that of other localities, since the atmosphere is not as humid. The evaporation under this heat of summer rises out of the immediate region of the surface, and is borne away on the prevailing winds to the lake district and eastward. It is unfortunate that there have been no tests of a hygrometic character maintained through any great period, whereby reliable data could be adduced, since it would have seemed as easy for the government to have undertaken that branch of meteorology as any other, it only requiring a more careful and accurate hand than do the other observations. The delicacy of these experiments have proved too wearisome for private parties, and there is over the whole country a lack of this scientific evidence. The last report of one of the cabinet ministers at Washington calls attention to the need, and benefit arising from reliable testimony, under this head, and asks an appropriation, which it is hoped may be granted, in the interests of both health, agriculture, and science generally.

The question of climatic treatment and cure for certain ills is receiving yearly increased attention, and this will continue until a specific climate is found for many of the most destructive diseases afflicting the race.