Mankato map, 1895

Q: Along Highway 169 from the Veterans Bridge to the intersection of Highway 14 is a borderline between Mankato and North Mankato. Property east of 169, and also Hiniker Pond, is the city of Mankato. Property west of 169 is North Mankato. I thought that the Minnesota River would be the line between the two cities. How did it happen that Highway 169 is the borderline and not the river?

A: The answer, according to Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges, it goes back to an epic winter in the late 1800s when the snows came early, they came heavy, and they kept coming month after month after month.

Hentges is best known in these parts for being the head honcho in City Hall, but he’s been around for so many decades that he remembers things that happened way back yonder. Raised in western Brown County, Hentges said that winter back in the tail end of the 19th century — he reckons it was around 1889 — was one for the ages.

“There was a large amount of snowpack out on the prairie, people in sod huts were buried and such,” he told Ask Us Guy, pausing as he possibly tossed another piece of hickory in the wood-burning stove and tamped down some tobacco in his corncob pipe.

“Were you just a boy back then?” Ask Us Guy wondered.

“Oh yeah, I was out there in Sleepy Eye in a sod hut, hoping for spring to come,” Hentges said.

Now, that part might not be entirely true, but spring did arrive and with a vengeance when that massive amount of snow melted and came pouring down the Minnesota River valley.

“That was the highest the river ever reached,” Hentges said.

The torrents of water were so intense they changed the course of the river, cutting a direct path through a U-shaped bend in the river that previously jutted westward on Mankato’s north side. The new path of the river left behind an oxbow that can still be seen — a swampy area south and west of Hiniker Pond. That’s where the river previously flowed.

Temporary levies and, later, the permanent flood-control project kept the river from ever returning to its original course and left that portion of Mankato forever separated from the rest of the city by the new route of the Minnesota River. When the modern Highway 169 was built, the four-lane was laid out on the west bank of the new river route.

Q: I ask: Would you like to access our local temperature (and air pollution) data anytime? It might save you a trip to The Free Press roof! In partnership with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, we recently added a monitoring station on the roof at Mankato West High School! By visiting www.purpleair.com, you can see a variety of real-time data including temperature, humidity and air quality data!

A colleague also has a full weather station on our roof at West. You can find it at https://www.wunderground.com/dashboard/pws/KMNMANKA23.

Stay tuned, we’re exploring solar energy next! With all that roof space full of free radiant energy, it might be time to work on capturing some of it!

Thanks...yours in SCIENCE!

Eric Koser,

Mankato West Physics Guy

A: This note from Physics Guy followed a couple of previous Ask Us columns related to a reader wondering why local media rely on the Mankato Regional Airport for weather data rather than reporting stats from a more central location close to where most Mankatoans live.

The answer was that the airport has official weather-tracking gear, co-sponsored by federal aviation and meteorological agencies. Ask Us Guy noted he was pushing his boss to finance a weather center on The Free Press roof. But even while waiting for that to happen, Physics Guy is offering at least some weather data from nearer to the city center.

Ask Us Guy checked out the websites Friday afternoon and found that Mankato’s air quality was exceptional, rated a 9 on a scale that runs from 0 to 500, whereas some places in California had numbers in the 300s and even 446 in Forks of Salmon, California, near where forest fires were raging.

Looking at the second website, the West High weather station seemed to be mostly offline, reporting only barometric pressure. However, there was a map on the website showing several other weather stations around Mankato and North Mankato. Clicking on one near Minnesota State University, there was a trove of weather data, current and historic. For instance, Ask Us Guy looked back at last weekend’s thunderstorm and found that 1.43 inches of rain fell Saturday and another .66 inches early Sunday near campus.

Another weather station at a home north of Highway 14 in North Mankato indicated a bit less rain Sunday — .61 inches — and a lot more Saturday — 83,886 inches.

Ask Us Guy is skeptical about the Saturday number, partly because somebody probably would have called The Free Press if more than 80,000 inches of rain had fallen on North Mankato in one day. He also noted the same weather station reported 83,886 inches had fallen on Monday and again on Thursday, which seems like too much of a coincidence to be entirely accurate.

In any case, Ask Us Guy is now concerned that his boss is going to be less likely to invest in a Free Press rooftop automated weather station, having nightmares about a future headline like: “Downtown Mankato survives mountain of rain: Newspaper weather center records 7,000 feet of precipitation Saturday.”

Contact Ask Us at The Free Press, P.O Box 3287, Mankato, MN 56002. Call Mark Fischenich at 344-6321 or email your question to mfischenich@mankatofreepress.com; put Ask Us in the subject line.