For those of us who think about, study, discuss, photograph, worship, and otherwise adore the weather, Saint Paul is a miniature atmospheric playground. Below is just a short list of some of my favorite places in Saint Paul to see, feel, and hear some of our weather.
Rapid temperature changes: Stroll down Kellogg Boulevard between Jackson and Broadway one to two hours before sunset or after sunrise. Experience the joyous micrometeorological condition known as thermal stratification, and feel the temperatures swing fifteen degrees Fahrenheit over that half-mile distance. You can have the same effect by walking or biking the Swede Hollow portion of the Bruce Vento Trail.
Clouds: Visit the high points of Cherokee Park or Indian Mounds Park (be respectful of the mounds!), or the south side of Lake Phalen. Just find a nice patch of grass, and on your back you go! Of course, if you have access to a high floor of a high-rise, take a peek out the windows from time to time.
Storm clouds, part I (when the storm is coming): On the observation platform adjoining the Smith Avenue Bridge (the High Bridge) on Cherokee Avenue, the power of the storm and the vulnerability of the city beneath are juxtaposed perfectly. Looking toward downtown from nearly any portion of Mounds Boulevard, or toward Minneapolis from Mississippi River Boulevard, also will do. But be careful—lightning kills!
Storm clouds, part II (when the storm is moving away): Try Linwood Park for storms to the south, or Arlington at Wheelock Parkway for storms to the east. Either one looks great with those magnificent purplish-blue clouds, and the sage-green undersides of the oak leaves contrast nicely with the stormy sky.
Thunderstorms: You are always safest being indoors during a thunderstorm, but if you are outside, the lower, the better; Crosby Farm Park is about as low as Saint Paul gets, and is a magical place to watch storms. The vegetation softens the thunder, the trees dampen the wind, and few things are more hypnotic than giant raindrops bouncing off the lily pads on marshy Crosby Lake.
Downpours: Ramsey Avenue hill and the Robert Street service roads on the West Side feature dramatic descents. When it rains furiously, every slope, no matter how shallow, becomes a temporary tributary, but these outlandishly steep hills become raging cascades. Alternatively, watch the engineered segments of Battle Creek swell and rush as stormwater runs off the surrounding mini-canyon.
Rainbows: For rainbows, the sun must be behind you, about fifteen to thirty degrees above the horizon, with the rain in front of you. Thus, we see most of our rainbows to the east, in the evening. From West Seventh near Irvine Park, rainbows can straddle the High Bridge and/or have at least one foot planted in the river.
Snow, part I (snowfall): To really see the snow falling, you need contrast, and during the day, the dark bricks and short visual range of Lowertown can make snowfall seem even heavier than it is. At night, the intersection of Grand and Snelling illuminates in multiple directions, giving all snowflakes passing through ample opportunity to be seen and loved.
Snow, part II (snowcover): The trees in St. Anthony Park seem to hold on to the snow for a good long time, and the slopes can make it quite picturesque. Visit a day or two after a snowfall and walk along Commonwealth Avenue south of Como. Not to be outdone, the treacherous hill on Highwood Avenue off Point Douglas Road (on the far east side of town) offers excellent winter scenery as well.
Of course, the best advice may be to explore the city throughout the year, paying attention to the sky whenever possible. Soon, your own list of favorite places to see the weather will emerge.
Sky photos courtesy of Bryan Kennedy, nigelparry.com and manyhighways.com.