April, May showers bring a shot of drought relief

  • Article by: BILL MCAULIFFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 3, 2012 - 10:05 AM
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A few baseball fans braved the rain as they sat in an water soaked Target Field at the game between the Minnesota Twins and the Kansas City Royals was rain delayed on 4/28/12. Bruce Bisping/Star Tribune bbisping@startribune.com

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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Recent rains have provided a well-timed break from the prolonged drought that has bedeviled the Twin Cities and much of Minnesota.

Tuesday night's soaking -- which included 3.11 inches of rain at St. Cloud, more than 2 inches in the northern metro suburbs and .78 inch at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport -- continued the flight from the dry spell dating to last summer.

April precipitation was above normal, after an eight-month stretch that was among the driest on record, particularly across the southern half of Minnesota. Last autumn was the driest on record statewide.

"We're definitely seeing a drift away from drought," said assistant Minnesota state climatologist Pete Boulay. "Things will continue to get better as long as we keep getting rains like this."

But he cautioned: "This rain was not a drought-buster by any means. It'll help things out, but it certainly isn't going to end it."

Tuesday night's rain raised the level of 14,000-acre Lake Minnetonka by 1.2 inches, Boulay said, although it remains at one of its lowest points in the past decade.

Good timing

The recent rains are particularly well-timed, said University of Minnesota Extension climatologist Mark Seeley.

Although they haven't come close to erasing the moisture deficit that deepened through the winter, they will help crops and plants just now being planted and taking hold in the top inches of soil. Many of the state's crops have been planted well ahead of schedule -- sugar beets and spring wheat are almost entirely in the ground, and corn was about at the halfway mark Monday.

"Winter is probably the best time to have a drought," Seeley said, adding that most of the recent precipitation has been able to soak into the ground rather than run off what in recent springs had been saturated ground.

The rain will also be a boon to just about everything growing in the garden and landscape, said Extension educator Karl Foord.

"I'd say for everybody, it's a welcome thing to have an inch of rain," Foord said.

Normal rainfall this time of year is about .75 inches per week. Boulay noted it will take a lot more than that to replenish groundwater supplies and bring lake levels back up.

The National Climate Prediction Center has identified no clear tendency for precipitation or temperature for Minnesota in May.

But short-term forecasts by the National Weather Service are citing chances of rain and thunderstorms across the state into the middle of next week.

Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646

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