HydroClim Minnesota for Early March 2014

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

State Climatology Office - DNR Division of Ecological and Water Resources, St. Paul
distributed: March 6, 2014

What happened in February 2014:

  • February precipitation totals were well above historical averages in eastern Minnesota counties, near to below-average in western Minnesota locales. Record February monthly snowfall totals of 24 to 36 inches were reported in many northeast Minnesota communities. 
  • The most significant precipitation event of February was a potent winter storm that dropped heavy snow across much of the eastern one-half of Minnesota on February 20 and 21. Snowfall totals ranged from six to 17 inches. In southeast Minnesota, the event began with drizzle, rain, and sleet. Strong winds following the storm created blizzard conditions in many areas. The event led to numerous school closures and created significant travel hazards.
  • Average monthly temperatures for February in Minnesota were well below historical averages, finishing 10 to 12 degrees below normal. It was Minnesota's seventh coldest February on record and the coldest February since 1979.  The statewide average temperature for the meteorological winter (December through February) ranked fourth coldest of the 119-year modern climate record. Extremes for February ranged from a high of 49 degrees at Forest Lake (Washington County) on the 18th, to a low of -39 degrees at Washkish (Beltrami County) on the 27th. As was the case in January, cold temperatures and brisk winds caused wind chill temperatures to drop to dangerous levels during the month, leading to school closures. Cases of frostbite and death due to exposure have been reported throughout the winter.

Where we stand now:

  • Snow depths across the eastern two-thirds of Minnesota are in excess of 18 inches. For much of northeast Minnesota, snow depths range from 30 to 40 inches. Except for a few west central Minnesota counties, current snow depths are well above the historical median for the date at all locations. For some southeast, east central, and northeast locales, the snow cover is near all-time record depths for early March.
  • The amount of water content in the snow pack varies widely across Minnesota. In most of the Red River basin and the upper Minnesota River basin, snow water equivalence values range from one to three inches. In the Upper Mississippi River basin, snow water equivalence is three to five inches. In Minnesota's portion of the Lake Superior basin, and the upper St. Croix River basin, snow water values range from five to six inches.
  • The U. S. Drought Monitor, released on March 6, places sections of the southern one-half of Minnesota in the Moderate Drought category. Roughly 20 percent of the state is designated as undergoing Moderate Drought. The drought areas are the lingering result of late-summer and early-autumn rainfall shortfalls in 2013. The U. S. Drought Monitor index is a blend of science and subjectivity where drought categories (Moderate, Severe, etc.) are based on several indicators.
  • In their final summary last season (November 25), the Minnesota Agricultural Statistics Service reported that topsoil moisture was Adequate across 86% of the state. Subsoil moisture was said to be 23% Very Short or Short. Soil moisture measurements made at two University of Minnesota Research and Outreach Centers in early-November indicated near-average conditions at these southern Minnesota locations. History has shown that soil moisture conditions observed in the late autumn are indicative of conditions to be expected when the soil thaws.
  • Soil frost depths under sod range from 12 to 48 inches at Minnesota observing locations. The depth of frost is highly related to the amount of snow cover overlying the soil profile being monitored. Soil frost depths under surfaces kept free of snow, such as streets and roads, have plunged to six to eight feet at some locations. There have been many reports of frozen water mains throughout Minnesota.
  • Minnesota lakes and rivers are ice covered. There are reports of slush on northeast Minnesota lakes. This is due to downward pressure exerted on the ice sheet by the heavy snow pack, causing water to be forced upward through cracks and holes. Lake ice out dates will be later than average if substantial snow cover is retained into the early spring. Lake Superior is nearly completely frozen over. The lake reached that condition early in February.

Future prospects:

  • The March precipitation outlook favors below-normal conditions across Minnesota. Historically, average March precipitation totals range from near three-quarters of an inch in northwestern Minnesota to around two inches in southern sections of the state. March is a transition month when cold, dry continental air masses are gradually replaced by warmer, moister air on a more frequent basis. This is demonstrated by the fact that March's normal precipitation is 50 percent higher than February's normal precipitation, the greatest percentage increase between any two successive months.
  • The March temperature outlook tilts heavily towards below-normal conditions across Minnesota. Normal March high temperatures climb from the near 30 degrees early in the month to the low to mid-40s by month's end. Normal March lows begin the month in the single digits above zero in the far north and mid-teens in the south. By late March, normal lows are in the low 20s in the north, near 30 in the south.
  • The 90-day precipitation outlook for March through May offers equal chances of below-normal, near-normal, or above-normal conditions across Minnesota. The March through May temperature projection leans towards below-normal conditions in all Minnesota counties.
  • 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. As of this writing, there is a near-normal risk for moderate or higher level spring flooding along the Red River, Minnesota River, and Upper Mississippi River. There is a somewhat elevated risk for moderate or higher level spring flooding in the St. Croix River basin.

From the author:

  • The harsh winter has had a number of impacts on Minnesotans and their environment:
    • cases of frostbite and death due to exposure
    • home heating propane shortages led to emergency heating assistance legislation
    • numerous school closing days
    • strained snow removal budgets
    • many reports of water main breaks across the state
    • emergency deer feeding operations
    • positive impacts include benefits to the winter recreation industry and potentially lethal temperatures to organisms that negatively impact agriculture and forests

Upcoming dates of note:

  • March 20: National Weather Service releases 30/90 day temperature and precipitation outlooks

Greg Spoden, DNR Climatologist

Back to top