Archived Story

Despite snow, drought grips Minn.

Published 11:09am Friday, February 8, 2013

98 percent of the state remains in moderate or extreme dry conditions

MINNEAPOLIS — Don’t be fooled by the pretty snow that’s fallen in recent days and in the forecast for this weekend: Minnesota remains in a deep drought, with no end in sight.

The drought has not improved one bit in Minnesota, State Climatologist Greg Spoden said Thursday.

The red areas are extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The brown areas are severe drought. The tan areas are moderate drought. The yellow areas are considered abnormally dry. -- U.S. Drought Monitor/ University of Nebraska

“We’re in a winter slumber,” Spoden said. “Although the snow makes a visual impression, it does very little to change the drought situation.”

Much of the state has picked up a few inches of snow over the past couple weeks, including a series of clippers that dumped an inch or two for several days in a row starting late last week.

But updated data released by the U.S. Drought Monitor on Thursday shows 98 percent of Minnesota is still in a moderate to extreme drought. More than 80 percent of the state falls into the severe or extreme categories. And the map showing the drought’s grip on Minnesota hasn’t changed significantly since late November, though the eastern Corn Belt states have seen improvements.

The “white veneer” of snow now on the ground will help recharge Minnesota’s wetlands, lakes and streams when it melts, Spoden said, but only a little. In the Twin Cities metro area, the water in the snowpack amounts to less than an inch worth of rain — about a week’s worth of rainfall during an average June — he said, and not much of it will soak into the deeply frozen soil.

“Without abundant winter spring rains, a number of critical drought issues involving agriculture, forestry, horticulture, tourism and public water supplies will begin to emerge,” he said.

That’s because soil moisture levels in many parts of Minnesota are near all-time lows, he said. Most farmers had a decent 2012 growing season only because May was one of the wettest ever in much of the state, and that got farmers through the extraordinarily dry months that followed. Comparing soil moisture to a bank account, he said it’s all been spent.

And it’s difficult to predict when the drought will end, Spoden said, quoting New York Yankees great Yogi Berra: “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”