HydroClim Minnesota for Early February 2013

A monthly electronic newsletter summarizing Minnesota's climate conditions and the resulting impact on water resources. Distributed on the first Thursday of each month.

State Climatology Office - DNR Division of Ecological and Water Resources, St. Paul
distributed: February 7, 2013

What happened in January 2013:

  • January precipitation totals were above historical averages across north central and northeast Minnesota. Monthly precipitation totals were below average in southwest and south central counties. Elsewhere, January precipitation was near the long-term average.
  • One of the more significant weather events of the month was a winter storm that dropped heavy snow from west central Minnesota into north central Minnesota on January 28 and 29. Snowfall totals from six to twelve inches fell on communities such as Breckenridge, Detroit Lakes, Bemidji, Little Fork, and International Falls. In some locales, daily snowfall records were set.
  • January average monthly temperatures in Minnesota were slightly about normal. Spells of above-normal temperatures during the month were offset by arctic outbreaks. Extremes for the month ranged from a low of -42 degrees at Embarrass (St. Louis County) on the 24th, to a high of 49 degrees on the 10th at Thorhult (Beltrami County). A number of high temperature records were set in northern Minnesota on the 10th as temperatures rose into the mid-40s. In classic Minnesota fashion, many of these same locations reported minimum temperatures below minus 30 degrees just 10 days later.

Where we stand now:

  • The U. S. Drought Monitor, released on February 7, places portions of northwestern, west central, central, southwestern, and south central Minnesota in the Extreme Drought category. Most of the rest of Minnesota is deemed to be in Severe Drought. In total, 84% of Minnesota's landscape is in Extreme Drought or Severe Drought. The drought situation in northwest Minnesota is the result of an historically dry autumn in 2011, a snow-sparse 2011-2012 winter, and a dry 2012 growing season. The moisture deficits elsewhere in Minnesota developed rapidly due to very hot and very dry conditions that began in late-June and continued through the autumn. For large portions of Minnesota, August 2012-through-January 2013 precipitation totals ranked below the 5th percentile historically. In southwest and south central Minnesota, June 2012-January 2013 precipitation totals were more than 10 inches below the historical average. The U. S. Drought Monitor index is a blend of science and subjectivity where drought categories (Moderate, Severe, etc) are based on several indicators.
  • Snow depths vary widely across Minnesota. Many locations in west central Minnesota, north central Minnesota, and in the Lake Superior highlands report more than 12 inches of snow cover. Whereas, the landscape in far southwest and south central Minnesota is nearly snow-free. For most of the rest of Minnesota, snow depths range from four to eight inches. The present snow depth, when compared with other years on this date, is below the historical median in all areas except for a stripe of heavier snow cover that extends northwestward from near Breckenridge to near International Falls.
  • The amount of water content in the snow pack also varies widely across Minnesota. For most of the northern two-thirds of the state, the snow water content is estimated to be two to four inches. In the southern one-third of Minnesota, the snow water equivalence is estimated to be between zero and two inches.
  • The U.S. Geological Survey and Minnesota DNR report that stream discharge values are low at Minnesota reporting locations where winter monitoring is possible. Most stream flow values rank below the 25th percentile when compared with historical data for this time of year.
  • Water levels on most Minnesota lakes are low due to the dry summer and autumn. Lake Superior's water level is approximately one foot lower than its historical average for this time of year.
  • In their final report of the season (October 31), the Minnesota Agricultural Statistics Service reported that topsoil moisture was 27% Very Short, 42% Short, 29% Adequate, and 2% Surplus across Minnesota. Subsoil moisture is said to be 88% Very Short or Short. Soil moisture measurements made during November at University of Minnesota Research and Outreach Centers indicated extraordinarily dry conditions in the soil profile. Soil moisture content in the top five feet of soil at these locations is near all-time lows. Ample early-spring rains are critically needed to replenish soil moisture reserves before the commencement of the 2013 growing season.
  • Soil frost depth under sod ranges from 18 to 36 inches across Minnesota. Frost typically reaches maximum depth in late February or early March.
  • Minnesota lakes and rivers are ice covered. Lake and river ice is never completely safe. Caution is always advised when venturing onto the ice.

Future prospects:

  • The February precipitation outlook leans towards above-normal conditions across Minnesota. February is Minnesota's driest month on average with precipitation normals ranging from near one-half inch in northwestern Minnesota to just over one inch in far eastern sections of the state. The median snow depth at the end of February ranges from under five inches in southwest Minnesota to over 18 inches on the ground in northeastern Minnesota (greater than 30 inches in the Lake Superior highlands).
  • The February temperature outlook calls for equal chances of below-normal, near-normal, or above-normal conditions for the state. Normal February high temperatures range from the low-teens in the north to near 20 in the south early in the month, climbing to the mid-20s to low 30s by month's end. Normal February low temperatures range from near minus 10 degrees in the far north to the single digits above zero in southern Minnesota early in the month; ascending to the low single digits in the north, mid-teens in the south by the end of February.
  • The 90-day precipitation outlook for February through April projects above-normal conditions statewide. The February through April temperature projection tilts towards below-normal conditions in far northwest Minnesota, with equal chances of below-normal, near-normal, or above-normal conditions for the rest of the state.
  • The National Weather Service produces long-range probabilistic river stage and discharge outlooks for the Red River, Minnesota River, and Mississippi River basins. These products address both high flow and low flow probabilities.

From the author:

  • The drought situation will remain unchanged until spring because the deeply frozen soil assures that very little winter precipitation will make it into the ground. As of late autumn, the soil moisture content in the plant rooting zone was near all-time low levels at many locations. Without abundant spring rains, a number of critical drought issues involving agriculture, forestry, horticulture, tourism, and public water supply will begin to emerge.


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