Wet conditions return (2022)

precipitation graph
Graph showing year-to-date precipitation at International Falls, 1940-2022.
Courtesy: Minnesota State Climatology Office, using data from NOAA, retrieved via Applied Climate Information System

Parts of Minnesota hardest-hit by the major drought of 2021 became extremely wet during the 2022 spring, leading to high stream and lake levels in northern parts of the state, where some areas experienced historic flooding during the late spring and early summer. The wet spring conditions propelled International Falls to its wettest year on record.  

Frequent late-winter snowstorms gave way to frequent rains, and then to bouts of heavy thunderstorms during May. Through June 19, year-to-date precipitation at International Falls was 18.53 inches, which is almost two times times greater than the 1991-2020 normal year-to-date precipitation of 9.47 inches, and 11% wetter than the next-wettest year on record (2014, which had 16.69 inches through June 19). Of Minnesota's other primary "first-order" stations, all but the Twin Cities had above-normal precipitation through that part of the year.

Across Minnesota, only small pockets of southern, western, and central Minnesota had below-normal precipitation for first five months of 2022, with near-normal precipitation accounting for a slightly larger area around it. The other approximately 75% of the state had been wet to extremely wet, with the wettest conditions beginning in middle-late March and continuing into May, and concentrated along Minnesota's northwestern, northern, and northeastern edges. The Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center, high in the hills above Lake Superior, had the most precipitation in the state through June 19, with 21.64 inches, followed by Goodridge, with 20.01 inches, and Grand Portage, with 19.94 inches. In northwestern and northern Minnesota, precipitation to date has been two to as much as five times greater than through this time in 2021.  

These wet conditions led to high water and flooding  throughout central and northern Minnesota, with major and historic flood conditions in far northern Minnesota, along and near the Rainy River. Additional high flows occurred on the east side of the Laurentian Divide, with streams like the Pigeon River, which flow into Lake Superior, breaking longstanding records. With over 100 years of data, the Pigeon River set its all-time flow record. Major flooding has also affected the Red River on the Minnesota/North Dakota border, though this flooding was not as historically significant as the floods in far northern and northeastern Minnesota.

stream flow graph
Graph showing ranges of flow ("discharge") at the Pigeon River at Midddle Falls near Grand Portage for 1922-2022, with the record flow observed during May 2022. Units are cubic-feet of water per second (CFS).
Source: Data from United States Geological Survey, via Minnesota Cooperative Stream Gaging Network.

The geographic pattern of absolute and relative wetness represented a near "flip" from the worst of the 2021 drought, when the rare "Exceptional Drought" conditions extended in a southwest-to-northeast band from the Red River north of Moorhead, through the Red Lake Nation, and up to the Rainy River, just west of International Falls.

During the dry years of 2020 and 2021, flooding in Minnesota had been isolated, rather limited in breadth and severity, and related mostly to runoff from heavy rainfall events. The flooding in 2022 was been caused by a trifecta of deep snow , persistent or recurrent precipitation, and scattered intense rainfall events, resembling conditions that were more common in Minnesota mid and late-2010s.

Precipitation records

Even though drier conditions set in during the September and October, International Falls falls had above-normal precipitation every month, January through August, tallying a surplus of 11.52 inches, which is 65% above normal. After a roughly normal November, wet conditions resumed in December, when precipitation was again well above normal. On December 14th, International Falls set a new record for annual precipitation, beating the old record of 34.35 inches, set in 1941. Through December 28th, total precipitation for the year was more than an inch above the old record, at 35.47 inches.

Heavy precipitation in northern Minnesota was not limited to International Falls. The wettest station anywhere in Minnesota was the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center, between Illgen City and Finland, where 43.29 inches of precipitation fell (through December 28). The National Weather Service cooperative observer 7 miles northwest of Two Harbors, was a close second, with 42.47 inches. Grand Portage had 39.08 inches, Tower had 38.23 inches, and Thorhult, to the northwest of Red Lake, had 37.21 inches. These amounts were generally 35-50% above normal.

Additional resources

Updated December 29, 2022

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