HydroClim Minnesota for Early February 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: February 4, 2016

What happened in January 2016:

  • January monthly precipitation totals were near, to somewhat below, historical averages at Minnesota's reporting stations.
  • A significant snowfall event occurred in northwest Minnesota on January 6 and 7. More than eight inches of snow fell along a narrow band impacting portions of Clay, Norman, Mahnomen, and Polk counties.
  • Average monthly temperatures for January were somewhat above historical averages in the northern two-thirds of Minnesota, near historical averages in the southern one-third of the state. Extremes for January ranged from a high of 47 degrees F at Winona Dam on the 30th, to a low of -36 degrees F at Cotton (St. Louis County) on the 11th. This week marks the 20th anniversary of the coldest temperature ever recorded in Minnesota; minus 60 degrees F on February 2, 1996 near Tower in St. Louis County.

Where we stand now:

  • Snow depths across Minnesota range from as little as two inches in portions of west central Minnesota; to over 12 inches in the southern one-third of the state, and over 24 inches in the higher terrain of Cook County. Snow depths are 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 northwest and north central Minnesota counties.
  • The U. S. Drought Monitor map released on February 4 depicts portions of northwest Minnesota as Abnormally Dry due to precipitation deficits incurred in mid-2015. 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. 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 are shallow for early February, generally less than 18 inches at most Minnesota observing locations. Historically, frost depth reaches maximum extent in late February or early March.
  • 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 February precipitation outlook offers equal chances of below-normal, near-normal, or above-normal conditions in the southern one-half of Minnesota, with a tilt towards below-average conditions in the northern one-half of 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 leans towards above-normal conditions across Minnesota. 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 indicates equal chances of below-normal, near-normal, or above-normal conditions in the southwestern one-half of Minnesota, and a tilt towards below-normal conditions in the northern and eastern counties. The February through April 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. Here are current conditions impacting prospects for spring snowmelt flooding:
    • present streamflows are high to very high relative to historical flows for the date
    • soil profiles are moist to saturated in most areas
    • the high stream discharge and moist soils are due to record-breaking high precipitation totals in November/December
    • frost depths are shallow relative to historical values due to very warm early-winter temperatures
    • snow depths are above the historical median for the date in most southern Minnesota locales. Snow depth is below median in central, northwest, and north central Minnesota.

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Greg Spoden, DNR Climatologist

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