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The drought days of summer

It’s no secret southwest Minnesota could use a good soak. The NWS says there’s a chance it could happen this weekend.

July 26, 2012
By Per Peterson , Marshall Independent

Third of a periodic series on this summer's dry conditions.

MARSHALL - Rumor has it that southwest Minnesota was set to get some significant and much-needed rainfall sometime this week. But while nervous farmers watch as each day passes without that good soaker, their anxiety level ramps up a notch.

The most recent crop progress report from the United States Department of Agriculture shows that just 26 percent of the nation's corn crop is rated either in good or excellent condition. About 45 percent of the crop is rated very poor or poor.

Soybean conditions remain slightly better, the USDA said. A little more than 30 percent of the soybean crop is rated good to excellent, while 35 percent is rated very poor or poor.

The driest season in years was extended Wednesday as much of the Midwest continues to labor in drought conditions. More than two-thirds of the Midwest has gone without rain for a good portion of the summer. Not only that, it's been hot, record-setting hot, which has only served to exacerbate the problem.

Central Minnesota got a good shot of rain earlier this week with as much as 2 to 3 inches falling in some parts of the state - more as you head toward the Twin Cities - but as it has been all summer, all the significant rainfall has barely scraped this region to the north.

So, is there relief in sight? Or are those rumors just that?

Mike Fuhs, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service out of Sioux Falls, S.D., said we'll find out this weekend.

"I have noticed there are some indications there might be some decent thunderstorms in the Saturday-to-Saturday-night timeframe, zeroing in on southwest Minnesota, southeast South Dakota," Fuhs said. "Hopefully those will pan out and provide some temporary relief. That could be offering some hope there to get a little bit of moisture into the ground."

Fuhs' outlook provides hope, but nothing close to a guarantee thanks to a stubborn high pressure track that continues to keep the region under a metaphoric umbrella. He blames the conditions in southwest Minnesota, Wisconsin and most of the Midwest on a persistent and very large ridge of high pressure that is centered over the middle part of the United States. That ridge, he said, has pushed the jet stream to the north along the Canadian border.

"Storms have a tendency to track along the jet stream, so it has been a little bit stormier from eastern North Dakota, down through central and northeastern Minnesota," Fuhs said. "When this happens, the upper level ridge sets up and the storms go north. What has been unusual this summer is how persistent that ridge has been. It hasn't been this persistent since the 1980s when you had a good chunk of the Midwest in drought conditions. It's dry everywhere, except when you head north of Marshall where things have been a little better off."

Fuhs said drought conditions can breed drought conditions, which is what happened in the Dust Bowl era. He said when it's this dry and brown, it's harder to get consistent rainfall in these areas. Conversely, he said, wetness can breed more wetness, which is what happened early last summer.

"This really started about a year ago," Fuhs said. "Aside from a couple of months, it really hasn't let up. Many locations went into spring pretty dry because there just wasn't much snowpack. Some spots were able to get some decent rain, but as far as deep soil moisture, it doesn't stick around like a slow-melting snowpack would."

After a wet May, the far southwest corner of the state was about 3 inches off its normal precipitation in June, the NWS said, and it's only gotten drier since. Through Wednesday, southwest Minnesota has dipped to more than 4 inches below normal precipitation.

Fuhs said any rain that falls today through Friday will be spotty at best, no drought-busting rainfalls by any means. The "good news," he said is that the sultry temperatures will take a hike for the rest of the week, and the state can expect temps to fall back into the 80s, which is closer to normal for this time of the year.

The 30- to 90-day outlook doesn't exactly paint a picture of relief, according to Fuhs. It calls for above normal temps and below normal precipitation all the way through October. He said typically in the second half of the summer, precipitation tends to get even more spottier than it has been during the last couple months.

"Usually we would have a wet June, or at least normal precipitation of about 3 to 4 inches, so we're able to handle it, but since it's so dry to begin with, it's a serious problem."

In an effort to scratch up a bit of more good news, Fuhs said with the humidity levels so high at this time of the year, it wouldn't take long to get a good soaking.

"If we do get some thunderstorms at this time of the year, it doesn't take much to get a nice, quick couple of inches," he said.

Consider that another rumor - at least until this weekend.



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