Heavy rain blasts metro, shuts MSP

  • Article by: BILL MCAULIFFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 3, 2012 - 4:32 PM

Short downpour, wind shuts down airport briefly

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The sky started to clear over Lake Waconia at Mase's In Towne Marina after a rain storm passed thru on May 3, 2012.

Photo: Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

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Planes were pinned down briefly at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, streets were flooded, and pedestrians ran for cover Thursday morning as an intense but brief downpour moved through the metro area.

No planes moved in or out of the airport between 10:15 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. because of the heavy rain and winds. Various severe weather warnings had moved out of Minnesota into Wisconsin just before noon.

The National Weather Service recorded .76 inch of rain between roughly 10 a.m. and 11 a.m.; so did the Minnesota DNR Climatology office at the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus, between 10 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. Similar amounts were recorded at Crystal Airport and Woodbury. Meteorologist Frank Watson measured .94 in Roseville, and an observer in Osceola, Wis., measured 1.03 in an hour.

Large hail also battered rooftops across the region, from Alexandria to Somerset, Wis.. But by early afternoon, the sun was out in downtown Minneapolis, where farmers market vendors who had pulled their tents down and hid under them for protection were back in business over the lunch hour. The temperature at mid-afternoon reached 80, and the forecast called for only minimal chances of rain through the afternoon and evening.

Combined with heavy rains Tuesday, the Thursday morning drenching will cause area rivers to rise, but only slightly in coming days. Recent rains will be absorbed first by soil and wetlands that are well short of moisture after months of drought, said Diane Cooper, hydrologist with the North Central River Forecast Center.

"The ground is just really appreciating this rainfall," Cooper said.

Tuesday night's rainfall 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.

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.

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