BROWN COUNTY The "yo-yo" nature of Minnesota radically switch back and forth from warm to freezing weather is having a impact on the region in a variety to of ways.
To put the radical changes in context, areas around the state have had temperatures into the high 30s or low 40s plummet to negative degrees within one or two days. On a large scale, cities on Minnesota's border with North Dakota have gone from 100 degrees last August to negative 20 degrees just six months later.
The first and foremost issue that safety officials have been emphasizing over the last few weeks has been stressing that people take extreme caution when going on the ice on lakes, particularly with any kind of motor vehicle. Brown County joined a large number of Minnesota counties two weeks ago in warning against driving onto lakes all together, with particular warning about Lake Hanska. Despite the warnings, there have been an increasing number of reports of people going lakes with their vehicles or snow mobiles, which can prove extremely danger during the days weather shifts back to sub-zero temperatures. The most poignant example has was on Feb. 1, when a man was killed after accidently going through the ice with his Jeep on Lake Elysian even though he had spent his free time warming people of the danger.
Photo by Steve Muscatello
The fluctuation in temperatures has made for unpredictable ice conditions on area lakes and rivers. Pictured is the Cottonwood River near Brown Co?13 just outside of New Ulm
In a similar manner, police agencies have been reported an increasing number of car accidents where the vehicles go off-road or crash due icy roads with each switch from warm temperatures to frigid colds. The trend is common when the first few snowfalls occur at the start of each year, but the switching weather has created many of the same conditions on several of the last few weeks. Most notably, the warm weather has been melting the frequent snowfalls, but the cold temperatures have come back before the melt water has been entirely evaporated. Police and transportations agencies have been sending our frequent warnings about road conditions while urging cautious driving each time these conditions have come up in the recent days.
Finally, hospitals across the region have been warning people about the dangers of frostbite and hypothermia when the temperature plunges to sub-zero degrees. The major concern is people preparing for the warmer temperatures and leaving the house underdressed for the cold temperatures. Hospitals have particularly warned about the risk when drinking, which lower your body temperature, or those with medical conditions like diabetes, which reduces their ability to recognize how cold they are due to low blood sugar. If conditions like frost bite occur, people are suggested to run the affected body parts under warm instead of hot water and to start at unaffected skin areas before working up to the source. If severe frostbite or hypothermia is detected, visit a hospital for medical treatment.
On the other end of the spectrum, return of frequent snowfall has not yet been enough to combat the severe and long-running drought that persisted over all of last year. The U.S. Drought Report being used by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says 80 percent of Minnesota is facing a severe to extreme drought at this time. Precipitation reports for most of central and southern Minnesota were seven inches below normal yearly levels last year. In fact, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center predicts Minnesota will not even get out of drought status by April. The reason for lack of drought change is the ongoing drought has depleted so much moisture from the ground that not even above average rain or snowfall for the next three months will make up the amount lost. The drought will require extreme, "drought-busting" precipitation event or high rainfall over a very long period to be turned around. There is currently no prediction for either one to occur yet.
The result so the drought has resulted in extremely unusual cases, with more frequency in central Minnesota and the Twin Cities, where the dirt has shrunk from the drought, resulting in their cracked house foundations or the houses sinking into the ground. The degree to which it impacts a house is largely dependent on the type of soil, with sandy areas less impacted and wet soils, especially with clay, being more impacted. Southern Minnesota has been less impacted by this occurrence since it received comparatively more rain those the rest of Minnesota, though it still lags behind the usual precipitation levels. The first warning signs are severe cracks in the foundations of houses, which should be addressed immediately.
There are some minor benefits for this year projected to come out of the drought conditions: severely reduced pest bug populations, the pheasant population being less impacted by freezing temperatures, there will be less runoff into waters from farms and certain crops like grapes will be helped the absence of damp conditions.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)