Rains ease drought fears in Minnesota's thawing south

  • Article by: Bill McAuliffe
  • Star Tribune
  • April 15, 2013 - 8:58 PM

Miserable as it has been, the rain (and slush and snow) of the past week has brought some good news for southern Minnesota: a turn away from drought on the eve of the growing season.

Up to 4 inches of precipitation in the past seven days across the southern one-third of the state fell on newly thawed ground, where it has begun to replenish soil moisture lost during months of drought.

“It’s good news in terms of everybody’s state of mind,” state climatologist Greg Spoden said. “The long spell of cloudy, dreary and rainy weather will be worth it when spring arrives and we won’t be springing right into a serious drought situation in southern Minnesota.”

It’s not so rosy in the Red River Valley to the northwest, however, where heavy, wet snow that fell over the weekend continues to lock up potential spring floodwaters.

“Depressing” is how Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker described waking up Monday to find more than 10 inches of new snow in town, less than a week after volunteers finished filling 1 million sandbags in preparation for the coming flood fight.

The continuing snow and cold mean Fargo and Moorhead, Minn., will be dealing in the coming weeks not only with one of their highest spring-melt river crests on record, but an unusually late one.

The Red River, whose record crest occurred on March 28, 2009, is not likely to crest at Fargo until May, Walaker said. In the meantime, the mayor added, crews and volunteers can’t even stack sandbags because the bags are likely to freeze in the process. That makes them harder to handle and reduces their ability to knit together in a stack. Walaker said he believes the city has enough sandbags on hand to confine the river’s crest.

The 18 inches of snow that fell on Bismarck, N.D., on Sunday — the most on record in a single day there — will flow into the Missouri River when it melts, and not come to Minnesota.

In northern Minnesota, frozen ground and streams mean meltwater and rain will run overland and quickly into river and streambeds.

But across southern Minnesota, Spoden said, recently thawed soils are now absorbing precipitation, to the extent that water levels on some area rivers actually declined in recent days, despite heavy rain. Rochester and La Crosse, Wis., set daily rainfall records Sunday, with 1.35 and 1.11 inches, respectively. Spring Grove, in Minnesota’s far southeast corner, had an unofficial 1.8 inches.

The national Climate Prediction Center indicates that conditions favor wetter-than-normal conditions for southeast Minnesota through June.

Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646

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