“First the snow has to leave before the soil unfreezes. So, we can’t face a situation really where the soil will thaw and allow a significant infiltration of that snowpack.”
Drought, simply defined, is a lack of adequate moisture.
Based on that definition and the data collected by Minnesota climate officials over the past several months, the state is in a drought, and it is going to take significant rainfall to make up for what is lacking.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, nearly 70 percent of the state is in what is categorized as extreme to severe drought, with subsoil moisture across 88 percent of the state classified as short or very short.
The current state of drought began in Fall 2011, and despite a wet May, in 2012 the rainfall total statewide for the year was below average.
What about the snow this past winter? Is it going to make a difference?
According to the Minnesota Department of Natural resources (DNR), the answer is probably not. Greg Spoden, DNR state climatologist, recently stated even if areas would experience spring flooding that does not indicate the moisture is going to help alleviate dry conditions.
The issue, said Spoden, is as the sun gets warmer and begins to melt the snow that snow subsequently runs off the land and into the state’s bodies of water. While those rivers and lakes certainly can use the moisture to help replenish low levels, water running away from the fields does not improve subsoil moisture content.
In order for the water to make a different in the subsoil, the ground must first thaw, and across much of the state there is six to eight inches of frost in the ground. The sun can only begin to warm up the soil after the snow cover is gone.
“First the snow has to leave before the soil unfreezes, said Spoden. “So, we can’t face a situation really where the soil will thaw and allow a significant infiltration of that snowpack.”
For the drought to be addressed in the state’s soil, the state needs to have a wet spring, and according to Mark Seeley, a U of M Extension Service climatologist, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting “frequent weather disturbances” through the spring months, which could lead to increased precipitation statewide through most of May.
Seeley, who spoke about the current drought at a U of M Extension program held at the Southwest research and Outreach Center near Lamberton, Minn. in February, said historically speaking the current dry conditions over the 18 months have not been seen in a long, long time.
“The last time the country saw this kind of drought was in 1936,” said Seeley.
University of Minnesota data shows that 1936 drought persisted for 65-75 months through the midwest.
Even with a good spring recharge, the state is going to need consistent rainfall throughout the year to recharge the soil.
“The spring recharge rescued us last year,” said Seeley. “We will need it again this year, or 2013 will be a test of drought tolerant genetics.”
Much of the state needs in the area of six to 12 inches of moisture to alleviate drought conditions
Seeley is projecting more than 80 percent of the state is going to be in the extreme to severe drought going into the early weeks of spring, and he anticipates much of the state is going to continue in drought through the planting season and into the growing season.
Farmers, said Seeley, need to plan accordingly.