Sponsored By
The Farmer Logo

Is Minnesota experiencing its wettest drought?Is Minnesota experiencing its wettest drought?

A historical look at drought periods put everything in perspective.

Kevin Schulz

August 29, 2023

3 Min Read
Cracks in dry soil
HOW DRY, EXACTLY? Every drought period has haves and have-nots — those that receive rainfall and those that do not. While most of Minnesota is in some level of drought, historically speaking, this drought may be one of the wettest on record. Sadly, that knowledge doesn’t help fill the cracks in the soil. Kevin Schulz

Sounding like the king of all oxymoron definers, Kenny Blumenfeld says parts of Minnesota are experiencing one of the wettest droughts on record.

“I don’t want to downplay the severity of the drought that parts of Minnesota have experienced over the last few years,” says Blumenfeld, a climatologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “In order to be classified as being in a drought, you have to have a pretty substantial or long-lasting precipitation deficit, relative to what’s average or normal for that time of year.”

Blumenfeld says parts of southern Minnesota and further north in 2022 experienced the driest June through October on record. “And in some of the precipitation deficits that we have seen this year — going back to mid-May, especially through late July, less so if you include August — but some of those were also kind of historically steep, precipitation deficits for that time of year.”

But, he says those months-long dry spells have been followed by “fairly wet periods.”

“When we look back at this entire multiyear period in the early 2020s, we’re definitely going to say this was a dry period that featured a lot of episodes, at least three episodes of the drought … But it’s also been interrupted by fairly wet conditions each year,” he says.

All in context

For example, Blumenfeld points to the Cannon River watershed area which includes the Northfield, Morristown and Red Wing areas in Minnesota. Acknowledging that 2023 is still ongoing, he says 2021 was the worst of the current three-year drought period. “By this time by mid-August 2021, we had a large area of red, or extreme, drought covering much of northern Minnesota. Almost total coverage of moderate and severe drought everywhere else, and even a little stripe of what’s called exceptional drought in northwestern Minnesota. So that was your worst year.”

For context, again focusing on the Cannon River watershed, about 25.5 inches of precipitation fell throughout all of 2021. Normal precipitation annually based on the averages from 1991 to 2020 would be about 33.25 inches for the watershed. “What that means is the precipitation in 2021 was about 7.75 inches below normal in the Cannon River area,” he says. “So, it’s very dry. Those are pretty large deficits, maybe 30%, 28% below normal.”

While 2021 was one of the watershed’s driest years, two years prior was one of the wettest, when 47.5 inches of precipitation fell in 2019, making for a 20-inch drop in precipitation between those two years. “When you look at it on a graph, it appears to be this remarkable downturn,” he says. “But when you look at all other dry periods, downward spikes, 2021 is really just the 28th-driest year on record for the watershed — meaning that you can find 27 other years that had less precipitation, which tells us that as bad as this drought was, it’s not been historically significant in terms of its lack of precipitation.”

Again, not to downplay the severity of the current situation, Blumenfeld says 2022, though “very dry, with below-normal for precipitation” ranks as the 41st-driest year on record in the watershed.

Blumenfeld reiterates that 2019 was the watershed’s wettest year on record, and 2016 was the second-wettest year on record, “both by quite a large margin separating them from No. 3 and No.4.”

‘The wettest dry period’

This past decade has shifted to a much drier period than the previous decade.

“In the 2010s we had a No. 1 and No. 2 event for wetness; and so far in the 2020s, we’ve had a No. 28 and a No. 41 event for dry,” he says, “So again, to put it all back into some perspective, we’re used to having more rain, our averages have gone up, and certainly conditions have gotten warmer, so we need more water. … We are feeling the effects of these precipitation deficits — but in terms of the amount of precipitation that is falling, this is really one of the wettest, if not the wettest, dry periods on record in this region.”

About the Author(s)

Kevin Schulz

Editor, The Farmer

Kevin Schulz joined The Farmer as editor in January of 2023, after spending two years as senior staff writer for Dakota Farmer and Nebraska Farmer magazines. Prior to joining these two magazines, he spent six years in a similar capacity with National Hog Farmer. Prior to joining National Hog Farmer, Schulz spent a long career as the editor of The Land magazine, an agricultural-rural life publication based in Mankato, Minn.

During his tenure at The Land, the publication grew from covering 55 Minnesota counties to encompassing the entire state, as well as 30 counties in northern Iowa. Covering all facets of Minnesota and Iowa agriculture, Schulz was able to stay close to his roots as a southern Minnesota farm boy raised on a corn, soybean and hog finishing farm.

One particular area where he stayed close to his roots is working with the FFA organization.

Covering the FFA programs stayed near and dear to his heart, and he has been recognized for such coverage over the years. He has received the Minnesota FFA Communicator of the Year award, was honored with the Minnesota Honorary FFA Degree in 2014 and inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame in 2018.

Schulz attended South Dakota State University, majoring in agricultural journalism. He was also a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and now belongs to its alumni organization.

His family continues to live on a southern Minnesota farm near where he grew up. He and his wife, Carol, have raised two daughters: Kristi, a 2014 University of Minnesota graduate who is married to Eric Van Otterloo and teaches at Mankato (Minn.) East High School, and Haley, a 2018 graduate of University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She is married to John Peake and teaches in Hayward, Wis. 

When not covering the agriculture industry on behalf of The Farmer's readers, Schulz enjoys spending time traveling with family, making it a quest to reach all 50 states — 47 so far — and three countries. He also enjoys reading, music, photography, playing basketball, and enjoying nature and campfires with friends and family.

[email protected]

Subscribe to receive top agriculture news
Be informed daily with these free e-newsletters

You May Also Like