2020 will stick in people’s memories for a number of reasons, but it likely won’t be for its summer heat as this year swiftly wiped it from the record books.

The National Weather Service in Duluth reported the meteorological summer of 2021 — June 1 through Aug. 31 — is the hottest on record for both Brainerd and Duluth. The record is determined by the mean average temperature, taking into account the highs and lows for each day and averaging that across the three-month stretch. For Brainerd, summer 2021’s mean average was 71.3 degrees, just slightly higher than the 71.1 degrees recorded in 2020.

The number of 80-plus-degree days in Brainerd this summer was almost identical to those reported in summer 2020, but 2020 still held the edge with 69 days to 68 days in 2021. The number of 90-plus-degree days, however, is where 2021 had the advantage. While still falling short of the historically hot years of 1988 (30 days) and 1936 (24 days), 2021 now rounds out the top three with 23 days of a high temperature exceeding 90 degrees.

The warmer than normal temperatures in Minnesota in August saw most climate stations reporting a mean monthly temperature ranging from 1.5 degrees to 4.5 degrees above normal, according to Mark Seeley, retired University of Minnesota Extension climatologist and meteorologist. It meant the hottest summer since 1988 and one of the top three hottest summers on record for the state as a whole.

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What was unusual about the month, however, was the concentration of heat in the northern reaches of the state. The heat disparities appear to coincide with the more dire drought conditions in northern Minnesota.

“The largest temperature departures were in the northern portions of the state, where many new daily maximum temperature records were set during the month,” Seeley wrote on his blog Minnesota Weather Talk. “The climate station at Cotton (St Louis County) reported 8 new daily maximum temperature records during August, including a new record high of 96°F on the 20th. Another northern Minnesota climate station, Thorhult (Beltrami County) reported setting 4 new daily maximum temperature records, including 96°F on the 18th. International Falls known as the nation’s icebox reported three new daily maximum temperatures during August including 92°F on the 17th. There were a number of days when the high temperature in the state was reported somewhere in northern Minnesota, a very unusual circumstance for August.”

Despite toppling the Brainerd record, the heat of 2021 still might have been more tolerable than a typical Minnesota summer due to low humidity throughout the season.

Linda Engebretson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Duluth, said the low humidity generally led to more pleasant weather, but it also was a consequence of severe drought conditions plaguing the state. Less moisture in the soil and less humidity in the air due to the dearth of rain went on to perpetuate drought conditions further, she noted. The dry summer also presented fewer opportunities for the temperature to be moderated by rainy weather.

“It’s kind of a nasty feedback cycle going on there,” Engebretson said. “But that’s also what’s going to keep you from feeling overly uncomfortable when it’s hot. So maybe instead of living in the Corn Belt, you would be living in western Colorado, where it’s hot and dry.”

The deficit of rainfall was diminished somewhat with some rainy days in late August, but not enough to alleviate low water levels in streams, rivers and lakes nor lift the drought conditions in much of the state.

Engebretson said it’s a toss-up headed into the fall as to whether the area will see above or below average temperatures. Long-term forecast models were mixed, but the three-month outlook showed overall a likelihood of warmer than average weather.

“Headed into the fall we’ll probably start seeing a bit more variability, which is normal for Minnesota. But the trend might be for generally warmer weather,” Engebretson said.


  • Thursday: A 30% chance of showers, mainly after 5 p.m. Cloudy, with a high near 70. Southeast wind 5 to 10 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph.

  • Thursday night: Showers, mainly after 7 p.m. Low around 57. Southeast wind around 10 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New precipitation amounts between a quarter and half of an inch possible.

  • Friday: A 40% chance of showers before 1 p.m. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 67. Southeast wind around 5 mph, with gusts as high as 15 mph.

  • Friday night: A 20% chance of showers after 1 a.m. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 55. East wind around 5 mph becoming calm.

  • Saturday: A 20% chance of showers before 1 p.m. Mostly sunny, with a high near 72. Breezy, with a west wind 5 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 25 mph.

  • Saturday night: Mostly clear, with a low around 52. West wind 5 to 10 mph, with gusts as high as 15 mph.

  • Sunday: Sunny, with a high near 70. Northwest wind 5 to 10 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph.

  • Sunday night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 49. Northwest wind 5 to 10 mph becoming light in the evening.

  • Labor Day: A slight chance of showers after 1 p.m. Mostly sunny, with a high near 70. Light northwest wind increasing to 5 to 10 mph in the morning. Winds could gust as high as 15 mph.

  • Monday night: A slight chance of showers. Partly cloudy, with a low around 50. Northwest wind around 5 mph becoming calm.