HydroClim MN for Early March 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: March 8, 2023

What happened in February 2023:

  • February did not live up to its reputation of being the driest month of the year. Many places in the state had well above normal precipitation, the only exception was in the northwest, which was close to normal or even a little bit below. Snow and rain events contributed to the hefty totals. Sherburn in Martin County saw 3.92 inches. The Twin Cities saw 2.38 inches, for the fifth wettest February on record back to 1871. One of the driest locations was Crookston in northwest Minnesota with only .08 inches or .45 inches below Normal. The preliminary state average for Minnesota was 1.63 inches or .82 inches above normal.
    [see: February 2023 Precipitation Total Map  | February 2023 Precipitation Departure Map  | February 2023 Climate Summary Table  |  February 2023 Percent of Normal Precipitation Map]
  • February 2023 was a very active month for snow… and rain events!
  • A warm, wet, and fast-moving storm system covered much of Minnesota with moderate to heavy rain on Tuesday February 14th, 2023, before an intrusion of strong winds and cold air produced a short-lived but dangerous blizzard in western Minnesota and a "flash-freeze" over the rest of the state on Wednesday. The storm made it the wettest, rainiest Valentine's Day on record in some areas.
    [see: Valentine's Day Soaker ]
  • A large and highly anticipated winter storm lasting almost 48 hours, from Tuesday February 21 into Thursday February 23, 2023, produced 12 to 20 inches of snow and left large snow drifts across southern and central Minnesota. The storm was quite large and intense, but in fact was less intense than had been feared.
    [see: Winter Storm and Heavy Snow, February 21-23, 2023]
  • Bands of heavy snow spread into western, central, and northern Minnesota from Tuesday February 28 into Wednesday March 1, 2023. The snow developed to the north of a stationary (warm/cold) boundary and low-pressure area that moved from South Dakota across Minnesota. Snow began falling Tuesday evening, and continued through the night and through much of Wednesday, hitting hardest in the communities near Fargo-Moorhead, where the snow accumulated to 10 inches or more. Kragnes and Moorhead in Clay County both reported 14 inches and Dilworth reported 12 inches.
    [see: Western and Northern Minnesota Heavy Snow, February 28 - March 1, 2023]
  • February 2023 finished very close to normal statewide. The preliminary average statewide temperature was 15.5 degrees or 0.3 degrees below normal. The coldest temperature found in February 2023 was -39 degrees F on February 3rd and 4th at Kabetogama and the warmest temperature was 51 degrees on February 14 at Minnesota City Dam.
    [see: Minnesota Climate Trends  |  February 2023 Climate Summary Table  |  2023 February Departure from Normal Temperature Map]

Where we stand now:

  • The snow depth ranking for March 2 depicts a wide range of snow depth across the state. The far southeast and south central parts of the state have virtually no snow on the ground at all. A very large part of the state from Sioux Falls to Fargo and from the Twin Cities to Duluth has a foot or more of snow on the ground and is in the 80th percentile for ranking. Two to three feet of snow are on the ground along the North Shore away from the lake.
    [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 March 2, 2023 depicts 43% of Minnesota with no drought designation. This is exactly the same a year ago. There is more of the state covered by moderate drought than last year at this time. About 29% of the state was Abnormally Dry, and 27% of the state in Moderate Drought conditions. The heavy wintertime precipitation has improved the drought situation over the last three months. 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 normal to above the historical median for the date for the few Minnesota rivers that have data, mostly in the central and southeast.
    [see: USGS Stream Flow Conditions]
  • 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 the entire state.
    [see: Fire Danger Rating Map]
  • Frost depths are shallow across eastern and southern Minnesota, generally a foot or less. There are some locations such as at Lamberton where there is little or no frost in the ground. The frost depths are deeper in west central and northwest Minnesota, but less than this time last year. The deepest frost found is 34 inches at Grand Forks and 31 inches at Watson in Chippewa County. Soil temperatures are near the freezing mark over central and southern Minnesota at the four and six inch depths. Typically the maximum frost depth occurs near the end of February.
    [see: National Weather Service Frost Depth Data  |  MnDOT Road Frost Depths  |  Minnesota Department of Agriculture Six-Inch Soil Temperature Network ]
  • Minnesota lakes and wetland complexes continue to be ice covered, but some streams in the southeast are opening up. The median date for lake ice to leave lakes in far southern Minnesota is late March. Lake and river ice is never completely safe. Ice cover on Lake Superior has been well below the 1973-2022 median for the entire winter. On March 7, 2023 8.7% of Lake Superior was ice covered. The maximum ice coverage for Lake Superior typically happens in late February.
    [see: DNR Conservation Officer Reports  |  Median Lake Ice-Out Dates  |  Great Lakes Ice Cover]

Future prospects:

  • The March precipitation outlook has a slight tilt for above normal precipitation for the western half and the southern parts of the state. North central to east central Minnesota has “equal chances” of above normal and below normal precipitation and the far northeast tip has a slight tendency for below normal precipitation. 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 warm, moist 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.
    [see: Climate Prediction Center 30-day Outlook  | March Precipitation Normal Map]
  • The March temperature outlook indicates a fairly strong tendency for below normal temperatures. Normal March high temperatures climb from near 30 degrees early in the month to the low to mid-40s by month's end. In the south the average high temperature is near 50 by the end of the month. 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.
    [see: Climate Prediction Center 30-day Outlook  | March Temperature Normal Map]
  • The 90-day precipitation outlook for March through May indicates equal chances for below, normal and above normal precipitation across the state except in the far southeast, where there is a little bit of a tilt for above normal precipitation. The March through May temperature projection indicates a slight tilt for below normal temperatures in the northeast and equal chances for below, normal and above normal temperatures elsewhere.
    [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:
  • Risk of significant (moderate or higher) flooding has increased slightly for the Red River Basin. Precipitation has been near the median in this basin for meteorological winter with some more recent precipitation in the Fargo area. The chances of spring flooding for the Minnesota, Upper Mississippi and St. Croix River basins has increased. The flood outlooks are above normal. This was an increase over the initial outlook from late January with an additional 1-2 inches of water. Since the update on February 23, there's been another inch or so of water added to a good part of central and southern Minnesota since then. There is now 4-5 inches of water in the snowpack on the landscape over much of central and southern Minnesota. The next flood outlooks will be released on March 9.

[see: National Weather Service –Covering Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers]
[see: National Weather Service – Covering Red River and Devils Lake Basin]
[see: National Weather Service - North Central River Forecast Center]

From the author:

  • Many locations in the central and south saw a top three wettest Meteorological Winter (December-February) of 2022-23 There was the record wettest Meteorological Winter at Rochester. The second wettest at the Twin Cities and St. Cloud, and the third wettest at Duluth.

[see: Very Wet Meteorological Winter (for Many)]

Upcoming dates of note:

  • March 16: National Weather Service releases 30/90 day temperature and precipitation outlooks

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Pete Boulay, DNR Climatologist

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