Snowfall brings moisture, but is it enough for dry soil?

Published 10:13pm Sunday, March 10, 2013

After reading a news release by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, I am less excited about the amount of snow that we have been receiving this winter. Whenever I’d have to shovel snow, I would subconsciously be telling myself that it was really a good thing. We definitely need the moisture so I’d always feel pretty good whenever the snow accumulated enough to need shoveling. Although, I knew that I would be the one doing the shoveling. I have to say that the last time school was let out because of a snow day my nice grandsons stopped by to help me shovel – great kids!

The following is part of the aforementioned DNR news release: “Melting winter snowfall won’t do much to alleviate the extremely dry soil conditions across Minnesota, even if some areas experience spring flooding,” said Greg Spoden, the state climatologist.

“Roughly 70 percent of Minnesota is in extreme drought or severe drought.

“All of the snow that has fallen over the winter by and large remains on top of the landscape, a landscape that is largely frozen,” he said. “Now the dust remains beneath the concrete.”

Despite winter precipitation that’s a little above average for much of the state and well above historic levels for parts of west-central and north-central Minnesota, soil moisture remains near all-time lows in much of the state.

Even flooding at this point won’t alleviate a drought. The National Weather Service, which produces flood outlooks, has called for a high risk of flooding in the southern reaches of the Red River Valley, including the communities of Fargo-Moorhead and Wahpeton-Breckenridge in the late winter and early spring.

As the spring melt comes, the sun’s energy will be used to melt the snow first, rather than thaw out the ground. Water will flow over the land, leaving it drought-stricken once the waters subside. “First the snow has to leave before the soil unfreezes,” Spoden said. “So we can’t face a situation really where the soil will thaw and allow a significant infiltration of that snowpack.”

Abundant spring rain is needed to recharge the soil. The average March through May rainfall in Minnesota ranges from 6 to 8 inches.

“If we get at least that, we’ll be fine for the spring planting season,” Spoden said. “But to replenish those desperately dry subsoils, we’ll have to exceed that 6-to-8 inch amount.”

The latest outlook from the Climate Prediction Center, a branch of the National Weather Service, calls for above average precipitation from March through May for the eastern half of Minnesota and for equal chances of above or below normal precipitation for the western half.

As we venture into the time period that lies between hard ice fishing and open water fishing, I find myself doing the daydreaming thing again. That is when I reflect back to my earlier years growing up or to the days when my boys were small, and I had that little kid feeling that would get me excited about the upcoming season. When we first moved into our present house, the neighbor to the east would head to the Mississippi every March to fish walleye. I can remember thinking that as much as I love fishing, it’s just a bit early to be sitting on the water. Over the years, I have taken a couple of early trips to “The River” but now that I’ve done that, I don’t think I’ll be repeating it anytime soon.

Don’t get me wrong — if you want to catch walleye and can’t wait for the inland lakes opener — the river is a good place to go. If you are fishing on the Mississippi between Minnesota and Wisconsin, the season doesn’t close, so you may take game fish year-round. All limits pertaining to how many fish you can have in possession still apply.

Now that we are into March and can see the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, I am ready for that first cast to open water. That cast may be a few weeks away, but anticipating summer is a great pacifier for the real thing. I have already found myself planning that first trip to the cabin, which has me wondering what I will find once I get there. A friend of mine once said that vacation is half anticipation and half participation; I think that pretty much sums it up.

I am already getting excited about fishing a lake that Brian and I visited for the first time last fall. We didn’t put a boat in, but we visited the access, which is one of our favorite late fall experiences. We drive around checking out lakes that we have not fished before, and every-so-often we will stumble upon a must-try lake. That is just another part of the outdoors experience that we always enjoy.

Until next time get outside and take in a little fishing, skating or just take a winter walk in the good old Minnesota outdoors.

Please remember to keep our troops in your thoughts and prayers because they are the reason we are able to enjoy all the freedoms that we have today.

Dick Herfindahl’s column appears in the Tribune each Sunday.