HydroClim Minnesota for Early February 2024

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, 2024

What happened in January 2024:

  • It was a relatively quiet January precipitation wise, with the bulk of the precipitation in Minnesota occurring in a single event. The majority of state wound up with below normal precipitation for the month, with a statewide average of .59 inches or .24 inches below normal. There were a number of locations in the state that wound up with a quarter-inch of precipitation or less. The highest precipitation totals found so far was Grand Marais that finished with 1.93 inches or .94 inches above normal. Combining December-January across the state still shows a surplus, due to the extremely wet December.
    [see: January 2024 Precipitation Map  |  January 2024 Precipitation Departure Map  |  January 2024 Climate Summary Table  |  January 2024 Percent of Normal Precipitation Map]
  • The largest precipitation event was on January 7-9, where heavy snow fell in southwest and southeast Minnesota, with lighter amounts elsewhere. Snowfall totals in the southwest corner of the state were 6-10 inches, with 9 inches reported by the NWS Cooperative observer near Worthington, and a CoCoRaHS observer in Rock County reporting a state high for the event of 11.8 inches. The high totals cut off sharply to the north and east, with the observer in Marshall and Windom reporting just 4.5 and 3.7 inches, respectively.
    [see: Heavy snow in the far southwest and southeast, January 7-9, 2024]
  • The non-winter of 23-24 took a break for ten days in January, with a cold snap that finally brought a winter-like feel to the state. As cold outbreaks go, it was on the weaker side. It was enough to pull the average January temperature down a bit (The Twin Cities saw its 13th warmest January on record with 22.1 degrees or 5.9 degrees above normal. The month ended with temperatures in the 50s and even a temperature reading in the 60s. Along with the warmth came the clouds and January 2024 was the gloomiest January since solar radiation University of Minnesota St. Paul Campus climate observatory began in 1963. The preliminary statewide average temperature for January 2024 was 16.4 degrees or 5 degrees above normal. The warmest temperature of January 2024 was 61 degrees at Marshall in southwest Minnesota on the 31st and the coldest temperature of the month was -28 degrees at Norris Camp in Lake of the Woods County on January 19.
    [see: January 2024 Climate Summary Table  |  January 2024 Departure from Normal Temperature Map

Where we stand now:

  • As of February 1, there is scant snow cover over the state, with bare ground over 2/3rds of the state. The little snow that remains is over the far north, with generally 2-5 inches. Even along the north shore, amounts are 8-12 inches in the highlands away from the lake, with very little near the shore.
    [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 1, 2024 depicts 83% of the state with some level of drought designation. About 42% of the state was Abnormally Dry, and 28% of the state in Moderate Drought conditions. 12% of the state are in Severe Drought conditions and a tiny fraction is in Extreme Drought 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]
  • Typically, in early February, streams would be in their hydrologic slumber. Not this year! While many streams are still ice affected, there are some showing stream flow data, including Otter Tail River near Fergus Falls and the Long Prairie River at Long Prairie. Both are in the normal range. The Minnesota River near Ortonville and Lac Qui Parle are much above normal. Other rivers and streams are impacted by ice.
    [see: USGS Stream Flow Conditions]
  • In their final report for the season, On November 27, 2023 the Agricultural Statistics Service reported that topsoil moisture across Minnesota was 9 percent Very Short, 27 percent Short, 60 percent Adequate, and 4 percent Surplus. Corn for grain harvest was 97% completed by November 19, on pace with 2022 and one week ahead of the five year average. Soil moisture levels at Lamberton on November 15 showed a one-inch surplus compared to the median going into freeze-up.
    [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]
  • The frost behavior has been acting like it is late March, not early February, The frost is very shallow and weak across central and south, with some places like Lamberton in southwest MN with no frost at all. Soil frost depths under sod are very shallow for early February, ranging from about a foot or less over many southern and central locations in the state. Where there is a deep snowpack, there is little if any frost in places like Lamberton and La Crosse. Frost depths are from a foot and a half to two feet over the north, also shallower than typical for this time of year.
    [see: National Weather Service Frost Depth Data  |  MnDOT Road Frost Depths  |  University of Minnesota - St. Paul Campus Soil Temperatures Under Sod]
  • The lake ice in season for 23-24 was one for the record books. Many lakes in the state that had froze over in late November, open up in December and then finally froze over in January, setting lake ice in records. While not as robust of a long-term dataset as lake ice out, there are a few lakes with long records. Waconia in Carver County has lake ice in data since 1940 and the lake ice in of January 4, 2024, broke the old record of December 24 set in 2020. Lake Superior ice cover is quite low this season compared to average with only 3% covered by ice.
    [see: DNR Conservation Officer Reports  |  2024 Lake Ice-In Dates  |  Great Lakes Ice Cover]

Future prospects:

  • The February precipitation outlook has equal chances of above, normal and below normal precipitation, with the best chance of above normal precipitation to the southwest over Nebraska and the best chance for below normal precipitation to the east over Michigan. 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 a strong probability (about 75% chance) of an above normal temperatures. 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 equal chances of above, normal and below normal precipitation over the entire state, with a tilt for above normal temperatures, especially in the northeast.
    [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:
    • Red River: As of February 6, conditions have remained very dry since the start of the year. December 2023 was very wet. Key message: The risk for significant (moderate or higher) spring flooding is low, running below long-term historical averages across the Red River Basin.
    • Minnesota and Mississippi: Overall, the initial flood threat is below normal. While there was replenishment of soil moisture due to a wet October and December 2023, there has been little to speak of in the form of a substantial snow pack. As of February 1, much of the headwaters of the Mississippi continue to be under a moderate to a severe drought with much of the Minnesota River free of any drought. As is often the case with the early February outlook, much is still to be determined by temperatures and rainfall in the spring.
    • We still have quite a bit of winter to go, so there may be changes to the situation.
    [see: National Weather Service - North Central River Forecast Center]

State Climatology Water Cooler Talk:

  • The strange and winterless winter continued into January of 2024, which started warm, ended even warmer, and had a middle 10-day period with the only winter-like weather since December 1st. It was dry, and nearly snowless in many areas, although our brief, wintry interlude did bring a couple snowfall events to parts of the state. January was also the least-sunny on record, with less solar radiation observed in St. Paul than any winter since 1963.
    [see: A Warm, Dry, Snowless, and Somewhat Cloudy January 2024]
  • None

Upcoming dates of note:

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  • February 15: National Weather Service releases 30/90 day temperature and precipitation outlooks

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