A Historic Look at Duluth Winter Weather

We love Duluth History and we love Duluth winters. It seems like you never really know what winter will bring these days. In the past couple of years we’ve seen some really variable winter weather and this season it’s been quite mild. Lots of people have been asking about our Apostle Islands Sea Cave Adventure but, unfortunately, it hasn’t been cold enough to freeze Lake Superior and provide safe passage to the ice caves. There’s no question that winter weather impacts all of our lives here in the Northland and after a recent winter weather discussion our History Tour Program Coordinator, Kyle, decided to look back 100 years to see what Duluth winter was like in 1916.

A Look at Duluth Winter 100 Years Ago

By Kyle Chisholm

Duluth winters could be described as “extreme” by non-Duluthians but for the locals it’s just part of living in Duluth. Recently, however, winter weather in the Northland has been rather mild. Of course, we’re currently experiencing an El Niño year – which has resulted in a warmer than normal winter temperatures. But overall… doesn’t it seem like winters are getting easier?

This question got me thinking about what a Duluth winter would have been like 100 years ago. In order to find out, I took a trip to the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Kathryn A. Martin Library and dove into some old Duluth News Tribune (DNT) articles looking for weather reports from March 1916.

As I sifted through the first week’s worth of DNT papers, I quickly noticed that there was a lot going on in early 1916. In fact the front page was dominated by international news including World War I’s Battle of Verdun (which had recently broken out in France) and President Wilson’s attempts to seize Poncho Villa in Mexico. When I finally turned to local news there were sections dedicated to specific Duluth neighborhoods and surrounding towns. Eventually, I found what I was looking for.

Take home message? The winter of 1915-1916 was a rough one for Duluth.

Irate Duluthian Shovel Snow or Go to PrisonOne article described a West Duluth citizen, known only as “a tax payer”, who was irate with a prominent neighbor who hadn’t shoveled the sidewalk in front of his home for years. So irate was this tax-paying Duluthian that he felt his lazy neighbor should be sent to prison. To quote this frustrated fellow: “To the pen with him. Cleaning his walks and taxing the cost against the property, is too easy for him.” Another short article, described a man who had fallen on a icy sidewalk and sustained a severe face injury. An injury that prompted the man to stay house ridden for a chunk of the winter. Who knows, maybe the injured man was also the irate taxpayer.

Duluthians shoveling.

Hanging out in the snowbank. Photo Credit: http://mnweather.tripod.com/

While Duluth’s snowfall has been rather light this year, it appears that the winter or 2015-2016 was a doozy. On March 5, 1916 the DNT reported that the city had spent $10,000 on snow removal during the months of January and February. Using an online conversion calculator, I estimated that this would represent $229,635.92 today. That seems like a lot! And the snow, it appears, would continue to pile up. On the evening of March 6, Duluth was hit with an unexpected and furious snow storm. Although the previous day’s forecast called for mild weather and possible snow flurries, Duluthians were caught off guard when a heavy gale blew in from Lake Superior and dumped nearly a half of foot of snow.

There seems to be a positive side to the heavy snow fall that winter though. An article from the March 3rd (which quoted the opinion of a laker captain – Captain Massey) reported that the thick snow covering Lake Superior, would help to quickly melt the lake ice once spring weather arrived. Ships would be able to smash through the melting ice much earlier and it would be, said the Captain, a great year for shipping on the Great Lakes.

Despite Captain Massey’s optimistic forecast, the lake ice must have been quite thick. Just like Duluthians today who don’t shy away from winter recreation (e.g., skiing, snowshoeing, fat tire biking, etc.), hearty Duluthians held a 20-mile automobile race on Lake Superior in 1916.

Duluth automobile ice race 1916According to reports, citizens lined up along the shoreline to watch the race despite the wind picking up throughout the day. And the rough winter weather didn’t stop planning sessions for the proposed 8th/9th street bridge over Chester Creek. Yep… that’s the bridge we all use today.

Duluthians of 100 years ago, you rock!

Plans for the Chester Creek Bridge in 1916
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If you’re interested in learning more about Duluth’s rich history, please check out our Duluth History Bus Tours or click on the calendar below to book your Experience.

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