HydroClim Minnesota for Early March 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: March 3, 2016

What happened in February 2016:

  • February monthly precipitation totals were near historical averages at most of Minnesota's reporting stations. Monthly precipitation totals were somewhat above normal in portions of southwest and northeast Minnesota.
  • Significant winter storm events occurred in southern Minnesota on February 2, and in western and southern Minnesota on February 7 and 8. Heavy snowfall and/or high winds in these events created multiple travel hazards. Thunder and lightning was reported in some locations on the 18th and 19th, a relatively rare occurrence in February in Minnesota.
  • Average monthly temperatures for February were above historical averages at nearly all Minnesota reporting stations. It was Minnesota's sixth consecutive month of above-normal monthly temperatures. Extremes for February ranged from a high of 65 degrees F at Browns Valley (Traverse County) on the 27th, to a low of -36 degrees F at Embarrass (St. Louis County) on the 14th. Temperatures climbed into the 50s and low 60s across Minnesota on February 27, breaking several maximum temperature records for the date.

Where we stand now:

  • Snow depths across Minnesota range from zero across large sections of central and western Minnesota, to over 24 inches along the Lake Superior highlands in northeast Minnesota. Snow depths are below historical medians for the date nearly everywhere in Minnesota with the exception of far northeast Minnesota where snow cover is somewhat above median.
  • The U. S. Drought Monitor map released on March 3 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 are shallow for early March, less than 18 inches under sod at most Minnesota observing locations, much shallower in many locales. Historically, frost depth reaches maximum extent in late February or early March.
  • Minnesota's lakes 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. Warm February temperatures led to sloppy ice conditions on many lakes. As of this writing, an early lake ice-out is anticipated. Lake and river ice is never completely safe.

Future prospects:

  • The March precipitation outlook offers equal chances of below-normal, near-normal, or above-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 leans heavily towards above-normal conditions across Minnesota. Normal March high temperatures climb from 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 indicates equal chances of below-normal, near-normal, or above-normal conditions in the western one-half of Minnesota, and a tilt towards below-normal conditions in northern and eastern counties. The March through May 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. The present threat for significant, impactful, snowmelt flooding is very low. 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 below, to well below, the historical median for the date in most Minnesota locales.

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Greg Spoden, DNR Climatologist

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