Record warmth tops Minnesota weather stories of 2023

Warmest Minnesota December on record; 3rd warmest year on record for Twin Cities

10 hottest years globally
The 10 hottest years globally have been the last 10 years.
Climate Central, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

It’s not your imagination — 2023 was one of the warmest years on record in Minnesota.

It was the third warmest year on record in the Twin Cities and the fourth warmest year on record in St. Cloud. Only 2012 and 1931 were warmer in the Twin Cities than 2023.

Each year the Minnesota State Climatology Office ranks the top 5 weather stories of the year. They ask local meteorologists and climate experts for input. As you might imagine, record warmth was the top weather story of 2023 in Minnesota.

Here are the top 5 weather stories of 2023 according to the Minnesota State Climatology Office.

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1) Record December warmth

We basically had two Novembers in Minnesota in 2023. Here’s more on our off-the-charts December warmth from the state climatology office:

A Historically Warm, Wet, and Snowless December in Minnesota

No below-normal temperatures all month in St. Cloud and the Twin Cities

December 2023 went off the charts, literally, showcasing an extraordinary combination of warmth, wetness, and snowlessness that broke or challenged records in all three categories. The magnitude of combined warmth and wetness in particular may make it the most extreme month on record in Minnesota.

In many regards, December was more like November in Minnesota, with bare ground dominating the landscape across the state for much or all of the month, and temperatures remaining mild virtually every day, with a few bouts of very to extremely warm weather.

The month had been running rather warm through the 21st, with roughly normal precipitation, but a rare holiday heat wave arrived with a rare December soaking (producing rain almost exclusively), and propelled the month to the top of both the temperature and precipitation charts.


Strong El Niño conditions in the Pacific Ocean have kept frigid winter air masses locked up in central and northern Canada, 1,000 to 2,000 miles to our north. Most days have been much warmer than average, and passing cold fronts have struggled to bring in anything other than seasonally-normal air.

Snow Cover

The lack of snow cover boosted temperatures further, because bare ground absorbs sunlight and warms the air above it 10-20 times more effectively than fresh snow. Snow cover during winter is a classical climatic "feedback," because snowy ground keeps temperatures lower, making precipitation more likely to fall as snow, which reinforces or deepens the cooling. A lack of snow cover allows temperatures to rise more readily, making rain more likely, diminishing or limiting the snow cover, and enabling further warming.

The final DNR snow depth maps of the month show the toll the warm December has had on the landscape. Only the far northwest corner of the state had a measurable snowpack (of just 1-4 inches), and over 95% of the state was effectively free of snow cover. In parts northern and northeastern Minnesota, this is the only time on record with no snow cover during this week of the year.

Persistent and Sometimes Extremely Warm Conditions

December 2023 was not just warm, it was persistently warm, and it was at times extremely warm. Surges of very warm air around the 7th-8th, the 14th, and in the period around Christmas broke daily records across the state. Some of the low temperatures recorded between the 23rd and the 26th were warmer than average high temperatures in early November.

2) Very wet (and snowy) winter

Our 90.3 inches of snow last winter in the Twin Cities ranked as the third snowiest snow season on record. Duluth logged a whopping 140 inches, good enough for the No. 1 spot.

Here is more from the state climatology office:

A pattern of persistent storminess left the eastern two-thirds of Minnesota with above-normal precipitation for the 2022-23, December through February meteorological winter.

Rochester had its wettest winter on record, St. Cloud and the Twin Cities had their second wettest winter, and Duluth had its third wettest winter on record. For the winter period, these stations were 93 to to 128 percent wetter than normal, and were representative of much of the state. In other words, it was common to have around two times the normal precipitation fall from December 1, 2022 through February 28, 2023.

Much of the state was also quite snowy during these three months. On the low end, Rochester received 8.1 inches (23%) more snowfall than would be normal for meteorological winter. Duluth was snowier than normal by 24.7 inches (49%), the Twin Cities airport was 25.7 inches (81%) above normal, and St. Cloud was 28.1 inches and 104% above normal.

However, it was not just the snow contributing the high precipitation totals. Rain rain fell multiple times during the meteorological winter across most of Minnesota. Duluth and St. Cloud received over an inch, the Twin Cities over two inches, and Rochester over three inches of rain from December through February. Rain accounted for 20 to over 50% of the meteorological winter precipitation totals across not just these stations, but the majority of stations across the state.

3) Smoky skies in May and June

Remember those massive smoke plumes from the Canadian wildfire early last summer? They set a record for the highest air quality index (AQI) in the Twin Cities at 175.

Smoke from wildfires affected Minnesota again in the spring and summer of 2023. On May 18, a Canadian cold front ushered in a mass of thick smoke that caused air to be in the “unhealthy” category. This event was eclipsed by the June 14 event that placed Minnesota in the most unhealthy air quality in the country. The average Air Quality Index (AQI) for June 14 for the Twin Cities was 175, which is the highest daily average measure recorded in the Twin Cities since Air Quality Index records began in 1980.

On June 14, Minnesota had the worst air quality in the country, with the Air Quality Index reaching the “Very Unhealthy” category.

Minnesota has been plagued by smoke from wildfires from Canada in May and June. The latest event had some of the densest smoke move right over the Twin Cities. The Twin Cities International Airport began reporting smoke at Noon on June 14 and reported smoke for 19 hours straight ending at 6am June 15. The sun was reduced to a pale disk in the sky. It even appeared hot pink at 7:30pm June 14 in St. Paul The thickest smoke in the Twin Cities was from 7-9pm on June 14, with visibilities down to one mile and a quarter, giving the evening a gloomy, foggy feel to it. The average Air Quality Index (AQI) for June 14 for the Twin Cities was 175, which is the highest daily average measure recorded in the Twin Cities since Air Quality Index records began in 1980.

4) Flash drought of 2023

For the third straight year, most of Minnesota descended rapidly into drought in the summer of 2023.

Originally posted in June 2023, updated December 27, 2023

A fast-hitting bout of record dryness during May and June 2023 allowed drought conditions to build back into Minnesota for the third straight year. Dry conditions dominated the state through August and into September, before being stalled out by bizarrely wet conditions.

After a snowy winter with extreme wetness from November 2022 through mid-April 2023, the vast majority of Minnesota slid quickly into an extraordinary dry spell. With the exception of a significant heavy rainfall and flooding event in southern Minnesota in mid-May, and a few isolated downpours that affected less than 1% of the state at a time, most locations received less than half of their normal precipitation from the beginning of May through June. July and August were not much better, with a few instances of heavy rain and strong thunderstorms, but mounting deficits across the state.

The period from May 15 through August 31 was among the driest on record at each of Minnesota's five "first-order" climate observing stations, three of which have 130 years of observation or more. This is a remarkable feat, indicating the breadth and the intensity of the dryness. Rochester and the Twin Cities had less than half of their normal precipitation during this time, with St. Cloud and Duluth coming in with only slightly more than 50% of normal precipitation.

The excessive dryness brought another statewide drought to Minnesota, with the worst drought categories showing up in far southern to southeastern Minnesota, and in a small area west of Duluth and Cloquet. Both of these areas reached "D4" or "Exceptional Drought," which is the highest level of drought designated by the US Drought Monitor. Conditions improved some during late September and October, but 2023 closed with drought or abnormally dry conditions covering all but a tiny fraction of Minnesota.

5) Big snow, Jan. 2-5

The New Year greeted Minnesota with a large, messy winter storm, as a concoction of heavy snow, freezing rain, sleet, rain, and thunderstorms pounded parts of the state. The storm produced widespread accumulations of over one foot, with 15.1 inches for a storm total in the Twin Cities, making this the 14th-largest snowstorm on record since 1884.

Snowfall totals
Snowfall totals Jan. 2-5, 2023
Twin Cities National Weather Service office