HydroClim Minnesota for Early January 2016

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: January 7, 2016

What happened in December 2015:

  • December monthly precipitation totals were much above average at nearly every Minnesota reporting station. In many locations, December monthly precipitation totals exceeded the long-term mean by one to two inches. December precipitation was particularly heavy in southeast Minnesota, where much of the precipitation fell as rain. The state-averaged December precipitation total was 1.82 inches, ranking as the second highest December total on record.
  • Average monthly temperatures for December were well above historical averages across Minnesota, ranging from seven to twelve degrees above normal. December 2015 was Minnesota's warmest December of the modern record. Extremes for December ranged from a high of 53 degrees F at Marshall (Lyon County) on the 9th, to a low of -13 degrees F at Hallock (Kittson County) on the 27th. A number of warm minimum temperature records were set during the first half of December. 

Where we stand now:

  • Snow depths across Minnesota range from as little as two inches in portions of east central Minnesota, to over sixteen inches in the higher terrain of Cook County. Snow depths are near, to above, historical medians for the date in the southern one-half of Minnesota. Snow cover is below the historical median for the date in many northern Minnesota counties.
  • The U. S. Drought Monitor map released on January 7 depicts portions of west central and northwest Minnesota as Abnormally Dry due to precipitation deficits incurred earlier in the year. The map shows no other areas in Minnesota in a dryness category. The U.S. Drought Monitor index is a blend of science and subjectivity where drought categories (Moderate, Severe, etc.) are based on several indicators.
  • The U.S. Geological Survey reports that stream discharge values (where winter measurements are possible) are much above historical medians for the date on most Minnesota rivers.
  • In their final report of the 2015 growing season (November 23), the Agricultural Statistics Service reported that topsoil moisture across Minnesota was 1 percent Very Short, 9 percent Short, 79 percent Adequate, and 11 percent Surplus.
  • Soil frost depths under sod are shallow for early January, generally less than 12 inches at most Minnesota observing locations.
  • Minnesota lakes, rivers, and wetland complexes are ice covered. Warm November and December temperatures delayed ice formation. In some cases, lake ice formation dates were among the latest on record. Lake and river ice is never completely safe.

Future prospects:

  • The January precipitation outlook offers equal chances of below-normal, near-normal, or above-normal conditions in the southern one-half of Minnesota. The January precipitation outlook tilts towards below-normal conditions in the northern one-half of the state. January precipitation normals range from near one-half inch of liquid equivalent in western Minnesota to just over one inch liquid in eastern sections of the state. The median snow cover at the end of January ranges from near five inches in southwest Minnesota, to over 15 inches on the ground in northeastern Minnesota (greater than 24 inches along the Lake Superior highlands).
  • The January temperature outlook leans towards above-normal conditions across Minnesota. Historically, January is Minnesota's coldest month. Normal January high temperatures range the low-teens in the north, to near 20 in the south. Normal January lows range from near minus 10 degrees in the far north, to the single digits above zero in southern Minnesota.
  • The 90-day precipitation outlook for January through March indicates equal chances of below-normal, near-normal, or above-normal conditions in the southwestern one-third of Minnesota, and a tilt towards below-normal conditions in the northern and eastern counties. The January through March temperature projection strongly favors above-normal conditions statewide.
  • 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.

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Greg Spoden, DNR Climatologist

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