National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

The Record Cold of February 1899

One of the most significant cold outbreaks to ever affect the United States occurred during the beginning of February 1899. An arctic area of high pressure sank southeast from northwest Canada, moving over the southern Plains by the morning of the 12th (Fig. 1). Low temperatures at or below zero extended from Montana into central Texas, and then northeast through Maine that morning. Temperatures at -20 F or colder gripped most of the Plains and Upper Mississippi River Valley. In fact, it was so cold that ice actually flowed down the Mississippi River and out into the Gulf of Mexico on the 17th.

The coldest period for the Upper Mississippi River Valley was from the 7th through the 12th. During this time, low temperatures averaged around -30 F, while high temperatures were lucky to approach zero. The region averaged 30 to 40 degrees below normal for the 6 day stretch. Many record cold temperatures were set during this period.

Temperatures warmed back to seasonable normals by the 14th, and would continue near or above the normal through the end of the month. Despite this warmup, February 1899 continues to be one of the 5 coldest Februaries on record throughout much of the Upper Mississippi River Valley.



Average High

Average Low


Departure from Normal

Cresco, IA                 





Decorah, IA





Elkader, IA





New Hampton, IA





Caledonia, MN





Grand Meadow, MN





Lake City, MN





St. Charles, MN





La Crosse, WI





Lancaster, WI





Neillsville, WI





Viroqua, WI





Table 1. Temperatures for selected locations for February 7-12, 1899.