Recently, I’ve been taking you on a tour of minor leagues that play in the northern parts of the Nation, with an eye on the types of weather seen in April and May.  I have demonstrated that AAA teams in the Northeast may well benefit from a delayed start to the baseball season  while Pacific Northwest weather patterns tend to be more favorable for six teams preparing for a longer season. These minor league teams are organized based on the MLB team that holds the rights to their professional players.  Other independent amateur leagues attract college players who desire further playing time at the completion of their spring seasons.  The collegiate summer league having the footprint that is farthest north, the 22-team Northwoods League, plays in towns across the Upper Midwest starting at the end of May.  The league is Wisconsin-focused with 10 teams based there and five teams playing in Minnesota. 

The Northwoods League was one of the earliest to release their 2021 schedule.  Because most of its teams were able to play a shortened schedule in 2020, operations have been less disrupted by the pandemic than affiliated ball.  All teams on the 2020 roster are back for this season and a new team for 2021, the St. Croix River Hounds, takes the field just across the Wisconsin border from Twin Cities Metro area.

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Longest Days Found Farther North

One unique aspect of Northwoods League play arises from the fact that summer days are LONGER the farther north one goes, and that difference is most dramatic during the weeks surrounding the summer solstice each June 21st.  By the third week of the regular season, the sunset time in some Northwoods League cities is after 9PM, meaning that many evening games will end before it’s fully dark outside.  At Bismarck, ND, home of the Larks, the latest June sunset time is 9:42PM!  While not great for postgame fireworks shows, the long days are friendly for those who have a bit of a drive home after the game.

Lake Breezes and Passing Storms

What weather conditions are we signing up for as fans of the Northwoods League in 2021?  The season overlays the warmest days of the summer, as it coincides with summer break for the college players who fill its rosters.  

One unique geographical feature is the nearness to the Great Lakes of nearly one-third of the teams.  This provides significant exposure to the potential for cooling onshore breezes during the late afternoons and evenings.  The lake breeze effect tends to be most substantial during the early part of summer when the cool lake temperatures still have the greatest contrast with the air temperature over the adjoining land.

Otherwise, the comfort level outdoors will vary based on cloud cover and humidity. There is the threat of thunderstorms throughout the season, though the most volatile weather is usually confined to the first half of the season.  Any storms tend to be more scattered and more slow-moving during late July and early August, and instances of severe weather become less numerous in most years after July 4th.  The tradeoff is that mid to late summer humidity tends to be much higher during July and early August – especially for the league’s southern outposts like Waterloo and Kokomo as maturing seasonal croplands maximize their water usage. 

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