See more of the story

Minnesota winters are unpredictable. That's what makes the state either great or a major bummer — depending on whom you ask.

The Land of 10,000 (frozen) Lakes has a reputation for brutal, relentless winter months, which is why when Tia Smythe moved to Minnesota from Chicago 15 years ago, she was expecting worse.

Her curiosity spiked when she was questioned about her decision to move here, especially when a Bostonian friend asked how she "survived."

"You guys seem to get way more snow than we do," Smythe recalled telling her friend. "I don't know why you're so freaked out about Minnesota winters."

Does Minnesota actually have the worst winters? Smythe turned to Curious Minnesota, our community-driven reporting project fueled by questions from readers.

What does "worst" actually mean? For kids excited to hit the sledding hills, "worst" means a balmy 50-degree day with no snowfall. On the other hand, there are many Minnesota adults who long for exactly that.

Minnesota winters, which many experts say encompass late November to late March, are truly unpredictable. In April 2018, the Twin Cities received a record 26 inches of snowfall for the month. That said, Minnesota does not receive the most snowfall on average, even within the continental United States. Blue Canyon, Calif., for example, has received nearly three times the amount of average snowfall as International Falls, Minn.

However, Minnesota is truly cold in comparison with other states. Minnesota had the second-coldest temperatures from December to February from 1971 to 2000, ringing in a 12-degree average. According to meteorologist Paul Douglas, if you look at average winter temps over an entire state, Alaska appears to be the coldest in the country, followed by North Dakota and Minnesota.

Some Minnesotans are working to brand the state's cold as a good thing. Entrepreneur Eric Dayton, who recently debuted an Askov Finlayson parka line, helped create the Great Northern, a festival that features outdoor activities. And his company's "North" hats have become staples for winter lovers. "Unfortunately, I think a lot of people dread the winter and think of it as something to be endured," Dayton said. "We would love to have more people view it as a time to be celebrated."

Dayton said he hopes to transform the way many people think about winter, especially with climate change shortening the winter months. People need to appreciate the cold season, Dayton argues, because "we could very well lose it."

So determining whether Minnesota is the "worst" winter state requires perspective. For someone like Douglas, the question itself is surprising.

"In nearly 40 years of tracking Minnesota weather, this is the first time this question has been posed to me," he said.

No matter the answer, the state will always be known for its winters. Some even say it has a reputation to uphold.

Michelle Griffith ( is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.