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Northern Minnesota avoids drought as dry, hot conditions bake Twin Cities

"Excess rainfall" this spring has reversed the severe drought the north saw last year, and it's unlikely there will be a drought in the region for the foreseeable future, according to a climate outlook report.

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(Getty Images)
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ST. PAUL — Parts of Minnesota are in a severe drought once again this summer as higher-than-average temperatures and lower-than-average rainfall dry out the central region of the state, particularly around the Twin Cities.

But while rainfall has been lower than average in central Minnesota, the north and far southern regions have so far been spared any drought, according to data released this week by the U.S. Drought Monitor. Areas of the state considered abnormally dry have expanded north from the Twin Cities into areas southwest of Duluth in the past week, but no drought has taken hold.

It's a starkly different picture from summer 2021, when much of northern Minnesota was stuck in an extreme drought the U.S. Forest Service said contributed to multiple major fires in the Superior National Forest. That year, most of the state was in its worst drought in decades, leading many cities to impose water restrictions.

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U.S. Drought Monitor

"The wet spring was absolutely key to really kick us out of that drought status everywhere," said meteorologist Joe Moore with the National Weather Service in Duluth, who said plenty of wet snow pack and normal to above average rainfall have kept the north from drying out.

Helping the situation more, excess rainfall this spring, which led to flooding in the Rainy River Basin on the U.S.-Canada border, has effectively reversed the severe drought the north saw last year, and it's unlikely there will be a drought in the region for the foreseeable future, according to a May climate outlook report from the National Weather Service's Duluth office.

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But even though summer started wetter this year than it did in 2021, areas that are hotter and drier than normal can quickly enter a drought. And in the case of the central part of the state, that's what happened.

“The summertime is when we get most of our rainfall," explained Eric Ahasic, a meteorologist with the weather service in Chanhassen. "And when it's been as hot as it has been, which means there's even more evaporation going on than there normally is in a normal year. That's how we get those droughts building pretty quickly.”

The weather service in the Twin Cities on July 20 reported the sixth warmest month and 10th driest since 1873.

What happens next depends greatly on how much rainfall Minnesota gets in the coming months. May-September is when the state gets the vast majority of its precipitation (4-5 inches), and in the past few months not much has been falling in central Minnesota, Ahasic said.

So far, just about 1.5% of the state is in a severe drought that is concentrated in the Minnesota River Valley and the southern Twin Cities area, according to the drought monitor. About 30% of the state is considered abnormally dry.

The U.S. Drought Monitor seasonal outlook for July 21-Oct. 31 forecasts drought development in all the southern half of Minnesota. Forecasters do not expect a drought in North Dakota and do not expect an existing drought to expand in South Dakota.

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Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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