HydroClim Minnesota for Early February 2020

HydroClim Minnesota for Early February 2020

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 6, 2020

What happened in January 2020:

  • January 2020 was another month of generally above normal precipitation across the state, but not excessive. The few exceptions were in west central Minnesota. Northeast Minnesota saw a boost in precipitation with lake-enhanced snowfalls from a largely open Lake Superior. The heaviest precipitation was along the Lake Superior Shore, where a site seven miles northwest of Two Harbors reported 2.42 inches of precipitation. The preliminary statewide precipitation average for January 2020 was .99 inches or 0.17 inches above normal. In comparison, statewide precipitation for January 2019 was a little below normal.
    [see: January 2020 Precipitation Map  |  January 2020 Precipitation Departure Map  |  January 2020 Climate Summary Table  |  January 2020 Percent of Normal Precipitation Map]
  • The main precipitation event of January 2020 was the winter storm and blizzard of January 17-18. Snow moved northward across the state during the afternoon of Friday, January 17th and was the heaviest across the Twin Cities in the evening. Then the snow tapered off to a light freezing drizzle for the rest of the night in the Twin Cities, with heavy snow shifting into northern Minnesota. Strong winds created blizzard conditions across western Minnesota. The heaviest snow fell in northwestern Minnesota with Thief River Falls measuring eleven inches. Winds were clocked at 60 mph at the Fargo Airport. Many events were preemptively canceled across the state and the Twin Cities.
    [see: January 17 to 18, 2020 Winter Storm and Blizzard]
  • Temperatures for January 2020 see-sawed between a mild start, then a cold mid-month and a balmy finish. The preliminary statewide average temperature for January was 15.5 degrees or 4 degrees above normal. January 2019 was 6.5 degrees or 3.4 degrees below normal. The warmest temperature of January 2020 was 45 degrees at Mabel in southeastern Minnesota on January 9. The coldest temperature of the month was -36 at Norris Camp in north central Minnesota on January 11.
    [see: January 2020 Climate Summary Table  |  January 2020 Departure from Normal Temperature Map

Where we stand now:

  • As of February 6, snow depth readings are deeper than the median across most of Minnesota. The snow depth ranking in a wide swath from west central to northeast Minnesota is in the 80th percentile or higher. Southern Minnesota has in general three to nine inches of snow on the ground. The thinnest snow is along the Iowa border. The snow pack deepens rapidly north of a line from Redwood Falls through St. Cloud and Cambridge. 12 to 24 inches of snow on the ground is common across the north half of the state. The highest totals are in the Superior Highlands with two to three feet of snow on the ground.
    [see: Weekly Snow Depth and Ranking Maps  |  NWS Snow Depth Estimation Map  |  Midwest Regional Climate Center Snow Depth Map]
  • The U. S. Drought Monitor map released on February 6 shows that the entire state is free of any drought designation. This has been the case since mid-September. The U.S. Drought Monitor index is a blend of science and subjectivity where drought categories (Moderate, Severe, etc.) are based on several indicators.
    [see: Drought Conditions Overview]
  • The U.S. Geological Survey reports that stream discharge values (where winter measurements are possible) are much above the historical median for the date for the few Minnesota rivers that have data. The Minnesota River at Ortonville is at one of the highest flow measurements seen for early February. Most rivers and streams are now impacted by ice.
    [see: USGS Stream Flow Conditions]
  • In their final report of the 2019 growing season (November 25), the Agricultural Statistics Service reported that topsoil moisture across Minnesota was 0 percent Very Short, 1 percent Short, 64 percent Adequate, and 35 percent Surplus.
    [see: Agricultural Statistics Service Crop Progress and Condition  |  U. of M. Southwest Research & Outreach Center (Lamberton)  |  U. of M. Southern Research & Outreach Center (Waseca)]
  • The potential for wildfires is currently rated by DNR Forestry as Low across Minnesota.
    [see: Fire Danger Rating Map]
  • Soil frost depths under sod are very shallow for early February, depending on snow cover. Frost depths are generally a foot or less in the central and south and one to two feet in northwest Minnesota. Soil temperatures at the U of M St. Paul Campus Climate Observatory have stayed near 32 degrees at the four inch depth throughout much of the winter.
    [see: National Weather Service Frost Depth Data  |  MnDOT Road Frost Depths  |  University of Minnesota - St. Paul Campus Soil Temperatures Under Sod]
  • Lake ice in started early due to the cold conditions in November, but mild conditions that followed caused some lakes to thaw and to refreeze again. Some lakes stayed frozen, others had multiple freeze-thaw dates. In general lakes first froze over for good during the first few days of December, close to historical averages. The deep snowpack on lakes in central and northern Minnesota created slush that caused problems for ice anglers. Lake and river ice is never completely safe. On February 6, Lake Superior had nearly 3% ice cover. last year at this time Lake Superior was 40.6% covered by ice. The maximum ice coverage for Lake Superior typically happens in late February.
    [see: DNR Conservation Officer Reports  |  Median Lake Ice-In Dates  |  Great Lakes Ice Cover]

Future prospects:

  • The February precipitation outlook has equal chances for above, below and normal conditions in Minnesota. There is a slight tilt for above normal precipitation in northwest Minnesota. February is typically the driest month of the year. Precipitation normals range from near one-half inch of liquid equivalent in western Minnesota to just over three-quarter of an inch of precipitation in 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).
    [see: Climate Prediction Center 30-day Outlook  | February Precipitation Normal Map]
  • The February temperature outlook has equal chances above, below and 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.
    [see: Climate Prediction Center 30-day Outlook  | February Temperature Normal Map]
  • The 90-day precipitation outlook for February through April indicates a tendency for above normal precipitation. The February through April temperature projection indicates a tilt towards below normal temperatures.
    [see: Climate Prediction Center 90-day Outlook]
  • 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 the current weather conditions impacting prospects for spring snow melt flooding:
    • present stream flows are very high relative to historical flows for the date
    • soil profiles are moist due to above normal precipitation in 2019.
    • frost depths are relatively shallow.
    • snow depths are well above the historical median for the date in much of central Minnesota, the Mississippi Headwaters and the Red River Valley. Snow depths are also above the historical median along the Minnesota River.
    [see: National Weather Service - North Central River Forecast Center]

From the author:

  • Minnesotans expect January to be clear and crisp, but January 2020 followed a different path, finishing with less solar radiation than any January since records began at the U of M St. Paul Campus Climate Observatory in 1963. In other words, it was the cloudiest January in 57 years of records. The gloomy month was punctuated by a streak of ten consecutively cloudy days, from January 22-31, which is unusually long for the middle of winter, when high pressure and clear skies often dominate. Cloudy conditions are generally more common during the fall and early winter than during January.
    [see: Gloomy January 2020]

Upcoming dates of note:

  • February 20: National Weather Service releases 30/90 day temperature and precipitation outlooks
  • Late-February: National Weather Service releases updated spring flood probabilistic outlooks

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Pete Boulay, DNR Climatologist

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