Snow, Drought and Wildfire
Northeastern Minnesota isn’t in a severe drought like other parts of Minnesota. One would think all of the snow that has fallen would help the drought situation but unfortunately most will melt and run-off instead of soaking into the ground where it is needed. This combined with a dry spring could result in a busy fire season for parts of Minnesota. See what the DNR has to say about the drought conditions and how to protect your home and property from wildfire.
Melting snowpack won’t help drought; spring floods predicted
Melting winter snowfall won’t do much to alleviate the extremely dry soil conditions across Minnesota, even if some areas experience spring flooding, said Greg Spoden, the state climatologist.
Roughly 70 percent of Minnesota is in extreme drought or severe drought. “All of the snow that has fallen over the winter by and large remains on top of the landscape, a landscape that is largely frozen,” he said. “Now the dust remains beneath the concrete.”
Despite winter precipitation that’s a little above average for much of the state and well above historic levels for parts of west-central and north-central Minnesota, soil moisture remains near all-time lows in much of the state.
Even flooding at this point won’t alleviate a drought.
The National Weather Service, which produces flood outlooks, has called for a high risk of flooding in the southern reaches of the Red River Valley, including the communities of Fargo-Moorhead and Wahpeton-Breckenridge in the late winter and early spring.
As the spring melt comes, the sun’s energy will be used to melt the snow first, rather than thaw out the ground. Water will flow over the land, leaving it drought-stricken once the waters subside. “First the snow has to leave before the soil unfreezes,” Spoden said. “So we can’t face a situation really where the soil will thaw and allow a significant infiltration of that snowpack.”
Abundant spring rain is needed to recharge the soil. The average March through May rainfall in Minnesota ranges from six to eight inches. “If we get at least that, we’ll be fine for the spring planting season,” Spoden said. “But to replenish those desperately dry subsoils, we’ll have to exceed that six- to eight-inch amount.”
The latest outlook from the Climate Prediction Center, a branch of the National Weather Service, calls for above average precipitation from March through May for the eastern half of Minnesota and for equal chances of above or below normal precipitation for the western half.
For more on the latest drought conditions: http://climate.umn.edu/doc/journal/drought_2013.htm.
DNR QUESTION OF THE WEEK
Q: With the potential for a severe wildfire season this spring, is there anything people can do to protect their homes and cabins?
A: Late winter is the best time to prune trees. Look at the trees and shrubs within 100 feet surrounding the cabin or house. Eliminate ladder fuels by pruning 6 to 10 feet up from the ground. Thin out evergreen trees so their branches are 10 feet apart. Maintain a 10-foot space between the crowns of those trees. Clean roof and gutters of any pine needles, leaves or debris. Prune off any tree branches that may be touching the house. Move any wood piles outside of the 30-foot zone surrounding the cabin or house. Make sure that chimney has a spark arrestor. Now, while the snowpack is still here, burn brush piles. Remember, people need a burning permit if there have less than 3 inches of snow on the ground. Check with local forestry office for more information or go to www.mndnr.gov/firewise.
-Linda Gormanson, regional firewise specialist