HydroClim Minnesota for Early January 2023

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 13, 2023

What happened in December 2022:

  • December 2022 was a wet month. The preliminary average statewide precipitation total was 1.97 inches or .88 inches above normal. The wettest locations were in the northeast, where a location seven miles northwest of Two Harbors had 4.43 inches, or 2.46 inches above normal (The same location had 4.43 inches in December 2021) Most places in northeast Minnesota were from one to two inches above normal. The driest locations were areas that saw normal to slightly above normal precipitation in southeast Minnesota. Despite the wet finish, 2022 was the third year in a row of below normal precipitation.
    [see: December 2022 Preliminary Precipitation Total Map  | December 2022 Precipitation Departure Map  | December 2022 Climate Summary Table]
  • December 2022 was an active month weather-wise and had three events that stood out for the month, and in the first week of January 2023 was another whopper of a storm.
  • A band of accumulating snow, including bursts of intense snowfall with lightning and thunder, hit parts of far southern Minnesota on Friday, December 9th, 2022.
    [see: Southern Minnesota Heavy Snow, December 9, 2022 ]
  • A powerful and unusually damaging winter storm lasting multiple days brought wind, rain, heavy mixed precipitation, and intense wet snow to Minnesota from Tuesday December 13th, lasting into Saturday December 17th, 2022. Across the state, but especially in northern Minnesota, the storm damaged countless trees, blocked roads, closed snowmobile trails, and knocked out power to tens of thousands of customers. Its massive geographic footprint and duration meant that virtually all of the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Wisconsin received significant snowfall accumulations, with Winter Storm and even Blizzard Warnings covering the entire 300,000 square-mile area at times.
    [see: Blizzard, Ice, Slush Storm, and Rain, December 13-17, 2022 ]
  • An enormous, powerful, and deadly winter storm overtook much of Minnesota and the surrounding region after an abundant and powdery snowfall ending on Thursday December 22, 2022, set the stage for a long-lasting and brutally cold regional ground blizzard.* The virtually impossible and life-threatening conditions on nearly all exposed roads in between cities and towns severely impeded holiday travel across multiple northern and central states.
    [see: Accumulating Snow and Arctic Ground Blizzard, December 21-24, 2022 ]
  • The new year greeted Minnesota with another large, messy winter storm, as a concoction of heavy snow, freezing rain, sleet, rain, and thunderstorms pounded parts of the state from Monday January 2nd through Thursday January 5th, 2023. The storm produced widespread accumulations of over one foot, and broke into the top-20 for storm-total snowfall in the Twin Cities.
    [see: Another Big, Messy Winter Storm: January 2-5, 2023 ]
  • December 2018-2021 all had above normal statewide temperatures. December 2022 finished well below normal and was the coldest December since 2013. The preliminary average statewide temperature was 13.9 degrees F or four degrees below normal. With some late reports coming in the statewide average will be closer to 12.8 degrees F. The warmest temperature of the month was 47 degrees at La Crosse on the 2nd of December, with the coldest reading found so far was -36 degrees F at Norris Camp on the 7th and at Baudette on the 20th. The cold finish to 2022 tugged the annual average temperature down to 40.3 degrees, 1.5 degrees below normal and the coolest year since 2019.
    [see: December 2022 Climate Summary Table  |  2022 December Departure from Normal Temperature Map]

Where we stand now:

  • With the snowy December and the early January snowstorm, the entire state has a robust snowpack, some of the deepest snow for so early in the season. The only exception is in southeast Minnesota along the Iowa border where the snow depth is a few inches. Much of southwest, central and northwest Minnesota has eight to fifteen inches of snow. In the northeast there is generally one to two feet of snow, with even some higher amounts in the Lake Superior Highlands. The recent mild weather in January is settling the snow pack.
    [see: Weekly Snow Depth and Ranking Maps  |  NWS Snow Depth Estimation Map  |  Midwest Regional Climate Center Snow Depth Map]
  • The snowy winter has put a bit of a dent in the drought that began in 2022. Not only was December wet, It was quite an exceptional week of weather for the first week of January with precipitation well above and beyond what is typical. So far the peak of the Drought of 2022-23 was in November, 2022. There’s been gradual improvement since then. The U. S. Drought Monitor map released on January 10, 2022 depicts 31% of the state free of drought designation. About 32% of the state was Abnormally Dry, and 30% of the state in Moderate Drought conditions, and 6.5% in Severe Drought conditions. 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 in Minnesota (where winter measurements are possible) are near historical medians. Most rivers and streams are now impacted by ice.
    [see: USGS Stream Flow Conditions]
  • Lakes were generally falling before freeze-up. The level of Mille Lacs was unavailable at freeze-up. The last lake level reading for Lake Minnetonka before freeze-up was 927.33 feet, about .67 tenths of a foot lower than in early December 2021. White Bear Lake was at 922.42 at freeze-up in early December 2022 and was .87 feet lower than early January 2022. Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake are in the median band. Lake Superior was forecasted to be 602.10 feet, eleven inches higher than the same date in 2022 and seven inches higher than the long term average for January
    [see: Mille Lacs Lake Water Level  |  Lake Minnetonka Water Level  |  White Bear Lake Water Level  |  Lake of the Woods Control Board Basin Data  |  Corps of Engineers Great Lakes Water Levels]
  • In their final report for the season, On November 29, 2022 the Agricultural Statistics Service reported that topsoil moisture across Minnesota was 18 percent Very Short, 35 percent Short, 46 percent Adequate, and 1 percent Surplus. Corn for grain harvest was 96% completed by November 14, on pace with 2021 and about two weeks ahead of the five year average. Soil moisture levels at Lamberton on November 1 showed a soil moisture deficit 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]
  • Soil frost depths under sod are very shallow for early January, ranging from a about eight inches or less at central and southern Minnesota observing locations. There are reports of soft ground beneath the deeper snowpack areas. A few locales have deeper frost such as 17 inches at Watson in Chippewa County and 22 inches in the Grand Forks area. Historically, the deepest frost occurs in late February to early March.
    [see: National Weather Service Frost Depth Data  |  University of Minnesota - St. Paul Campus Soil Temperatures Under Sod]
  • Like many lake ice-in seasons, the ice formed in fits and starts across the state. In general, lake ice formed near the median at most places. There was a good start to the lake ice season, then the heavy snows came and is causing slushy conditions.
    [see: DNR Conservation Officer Reports  |  2022 Ice-In Dates]  |  Median Lake Ice-In Dates]

Future prospects:

  • The January precipitation outlook has a tendency for above normal precipitation in northeastern Minnesota, but equal chances for below, normal and above normal precipitation over the rest of the state. With the large storm of January 2-5, many locations have already met or exceeded the normal precipitation for the month. 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).
    [see: Climate Prediction Center 30-day Outlook  | January Precipitation Normal Map]
  • The January temperature outlook is fairly heavily weighted for normal temperatures, Through January 12, the average statewide temperature is 4.7 degrees above normal. 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.
    [see: Climate Prediction Center 30-day Outlook  | Temperature Normals]
  • The 90-day temperature outlook for December through February has a tendency for below normal temperatures across the northwest, with equal chances of above, below and normal temperatures. The 90-day precipitation outlook for December through February indicates a tendency for above normal precipitation across the north and the southeast, with the rest of the state having equal chances for above, below and normal precipitation.
    [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.
    [see: National Weather Service - North Central River Forecast Center]

From the author:

  • What lies in store in 2023 with regards to the drought? The severity has lessened a bit due to some timely rains before freeze-up and the wet early winter. There is still moderate drought in the west and east central parts of the state, due to the summer and fall 2022 deficits. Parts of southwestern Minnesota is still in a Severe Drought, Many lakes in the persistent drought areas are still quite low. A very snowy season will give an assist, but it will be when the rains come back in April and May will that determine the direction of the drought. The Climate Prediction Center's outlook for April-June has equal chances for above, below, or normal precipitation in eastern Minnesota, but we will have to wait and see.

Upcoming dates of note:

  • January 19: National Weather Service releases 30/90 day temperature and precipitation outlooks


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Pete Boulay, DNR Climatologist

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