Updated: Dec 5, 2019
Last week my son and I visited family in Boise, Idaho. The Gem State, named for its broad variety of mined precious and semi-precious gem stones and famous for its tubers and New Year’s Potato Drop (yes, it’s a thing), Idaho’s capital sits at roughly the same latitude as Cannon Falls. In fact, Austin, MN—a direct 59 miles south from Cannon Falls as the crow flies—you’d hit Boise’s latitude almost exactly.
With autumn colors blaring in our Minnesota’s local wild, I wondered what seasonal sights would be in store for us on the western end of the continent at the same latitude. Come to find out, things looked very similar! Trees were burning orange and red, leaves were dropping, the air held a crisp chill hinting at the oncoming winter’s cold, and the people were bundling in the familiar coats and cold weather accessories we Minnesotans begin to don about this same time. A comparison graph pulled from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows just how much alike the temperature curves of the Twin Cities and Boise are. Latitude has a lot to do with that. In fact, across the globe cities that share similar latitudes also share similar farming and crop practices as well as similar tourism markets because weather patterns are so alike. For instance, Portugal’s coastal capital of Lisbon has been compared to California’s San Diego. (Want to travel somewhere that is akin to Cannon Falls, but warmer? Try New Zealand’s Christchurch in the southern hemisphere. Currently, it’s springtime there and easing into summer.)
Not to say Boise faces the same frigid winters as Cannon Falls by any means. Average low temperatures for Minneapolis-St. Paul drop to just above 15°F, while Boise’s average dead-of-winter lows hover just below freezing, around 30°F. Comparatively, that’s a nice, warm, welcome Minnesota winter day! So what makes Minnesota so much colder than our latitude-sister to the distant west?
While latitude is the primary factor in determining a location’s climate, its obviously not the only one. Other weather influencers include altitude, and wind and water currents. The latter two elements effect a region’s precipitation (drizzle, rain, sleet, snow, hail), which in turn are a result of an area’s humidity, and humidity makes a huge difference in how cold it actually is (thermometer reading) versus how cold it “feels”.
There’s a joke about Las Vegas that goes, “It may be 120 degrees outside, but at least it’s a dry heat.” The “moist heat vs dry heat”—and, alongside that, the “moist cold vs dry cold”—debate is generations long. Scientists have yet to conclude why cold sometimes feels colder and hot, hotter. It’s not as simple as a combination of temperature and humidity, but many other meteorological factors as well as each individual’s own biological characteristics, including mood! This is why you’ll often see news channels trying their darndest, declaring a “Feels Like” temperature that combines the actual thermometer reading with another factor, typically wind chill. That’s how last winter’s -30°F thermometer reading combined with wind to give us a -50°F “feels like” forecast. BRR, indeed!
But if how the air feels is more than just a combination of thermometer reading and wind, “feels like” may be better, but it isn’t the best we can do. That award goes to AccuWeather, Inc., which holds two patents on RealFeel Temperature©, which combines “more than a dozen factors…[to] provide an accurate measure of how the weather really feels.” Conclusion: This weather business is quite complex, and big business!
Whether we can or will really understand weather or not, we know this for certain: Boise is much drier, warmer in the winter, but equally as colorful as Cannon Falls when it comes to autumnal transformations.
For now, I’m happy to report that even though Boise “feels like” Cannon Falls, it most certainly is not the same. After a week of enjoying the beautiful Gem State, I’m more than glad to be back home in our Bread and Butter State, Minnesota.
 Tuthill, Samantha-Rae, “How We Calculate Real Feel Temperatures”, 17June2013. AccuWeather, Inc. URL: www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/realfeel-temperatures/7615006. Accessed: 22Oct2019.