John Wheeler: The winter of 1886-87 was one of the most severe in our region
Temperatures at weather stations all across the Dakotas and Minnesota, even as far south as Rochester, recorded temperatures well into the -40s.
FARGO — Many of the coldest temperatures on record across Northern Plains history occurred during the winter of 1886-87. As is the case in almost every severe cold snap, there was heavy snow cover that winter, which allowed for extremely cold temperatures by reflecting sunlight and insulating the air from heat from the ground. Severe blizzards struck the region in mid-November and again in late November.
The first cold snap came in early December, with many long-standing weather stations across the Dakotas and Minnesota recording lows in the -30s. Temperatures plunged into the -30s again around Christmas, but the coldest weather came in January. Temperatures at weather stations all across the Dakotas and Minnesota, even as far south as Rochester, recorded temperatures well into the -40s during January of 1887. Most large-scale free-range cattle operations, which had become popular investments, failed, as hundreds of thousands of cattle died.