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Absent winter means unusual spring

April 22, 2012
Josh Moniz , The Journal

NEW ULM The unusual winter that the Brown County region experienced this year, which was highlighted by an absence of any significant snowfall, will cause this spring to take on many unique characteristics.

The major driving force for difference this year is low levels of snow and precipitation. The Brown County region typically receives an average of 45 to 50 inches of snow every winter. This year, the region received between 20 and 24 inches of snow for the season.

Similarly, the precipitation for the winter is two to three inches below the average for this time of year.

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The drought status over most of Minnesota this year may pose a problem for farm crops. Last minute precipitation this month and last month will likely allow seeds to plant easily this year, but middle to late farming season may run into problems for crops in an extended drought.

Due to the combination of these two factors, the majority of the state is in the status of moderate to severe drought. The dry conditions have persisted since last fall and show little signs of changing before the summer.

National Weather Service General Forecaster Chris Franks said that will take precipitation significantly in excess of usual precipitation levels to make up for the current dryness. He said it is unlikely to occur anytime soon because very little rain is projected into the coming month.

One risk about the drought conditions is that it may affect farm crops for this year. The concern is particularly poignant since this year is expected to be a reasonable planting year to begin with.

University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Extension Agronomist said south Minnesota, especially south-western Minnesota, is the area most affected by the drought effects.

However, he said that the initial plant of seeds should go without a hitch thanks to some last minute raining that occurred this month and last month. He said the important time to watch the crops will be in the middle to late growing season when persistent drought poses a risk of ruining crops that survived the first rounds.

Another detractor of the dry winter is that it's unlikely to knock down insect pest populations. In fact, the earlier warm weather may even cause insects like mosquitos to hatch earlier in the year than usual.

This contrasts with last year, when heavy rainfall in early spring created enough extra standing water to explode the mosquito and gnat populations.

U of M - Twin Cities Extension Entomology Professor Jeffrey Hahn said the rainy seasons can let bug breeding grow, but they tend to be resilient enough to adopt to most dry climates. He said many past bugs should only have a normal population this year, though there might be an population reducing impact if too many hatched before surprise snowfall that occurred in the early portion of this year.

Luckily, not all of the consequences of the strange winter this year will carry negative or difficult effects on spring.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Climatologist Peter Bouley said plants like crabapples tree and lilac bushes are blooming in possibly the earliest times ever recorded.

"They typically have crabapple blooming in the first week of May and lilacs in the second week of May. The fact we're seeing them bloom now makes it almost a full month ahead of time," said Bouley.

The bigger boon from the lack of snow this winter is that flooding risks are essentially eliminated this year. In January, the National Weather Service reported that Minnesota River at New Ulm was 40 percent below normal chances of flooding this year due the lack of water from snow melt. The low probability was among the lowest in the state for locations with traditionally flooding river segments.

"It's going to take a lot of raining for consecutive days to make up for the river level deficit we have," said Franks, "The amount of water we're down is impressive. We went from a few years with flooding due to the area being so saturated to essentially being unable to flood."

(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at



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