Noticed it's been kind of dry lately?
You're not imagining it: Looking at the period starting in May through now, the Twin Cities has seen less rain this year than any year for the past five decades.
The chart below shows cumulative precipitation — basically, total rainfall — from May 1 to June 22. That blue line at the very bottom is 2023.
But wait, you might remember, didn't we just come off one of the snowiest winters on record? Weren't we just worried about rivers flooding?
That also happened! The chart below looks at the first part of the year, January to May. The blue line near the top is 2023. By the way, if those totals in inches seem less impressive than you remember, it's because this chart shows precipitation, which in the case of snow, the National Weather Service calculates by first melting it down to water.
And while a lot of that snow stayed on the ground throughout the winter, as spring weather came, it melted, driving the flooding seen in late April.
The net effect of the very wet winter and a very dry spring means looking at overall precipitation for the year, the cumulative total is right in the middle.
Still, the moisture a farmer needs for seeds to germinate and crops to thrive is not present at the moment.
Dean Engelmann, who farms outside Plato, Minn., grows produce for the Tangletown Gardens CSA. He said after a hot and dry early growing season had him watching a beautiful crop of spinach wither in 10 days, a short burst of rain last weekend found him beside himself with emotion.
"Do you go out in a puddle and cry or dance?" he said. "Those little rains are priceless."
He also has known the agony of the season. He's been up all night, moving irrigators across his fields. He described the tiny window of time for peas, arugula and radishes to thrive. Those crops love cool, spring weather, and they've suffered under this year's abrupt transition from winter to what Engelmann calls "the cooker."
It's also the third season in a row he's managed drought conditions on his farm an hour west of the Twin Cities.
"The worst thing is when it forecasts rain, and you watch it coming your way only to dissipate before reaching you," he said.
On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln reported 92% of Minnesota is now in drought conditions. Two months ago, drought conditions were markedly lower.
The worst of the drought hovers just south of Lake Mille Lacs. In central Minnesota last weekend, many producers along Hwy. 10 had turned on irrigators to keep crops hydrated, often more of a telltale sign of midsummer than June.
In Chisago County, John Peterson stood in his field of calf-high corn, recounting the tenths-of-an-inch of rain his grounds had seen since Mother's Day. Peterson is a no-till farmer who prides himself on soil health. But he bent low to pick up a fried earthworm lying atop the dirt.
"He didn't make it," Peterson said. "The drought got him, too."
It's a worrying sign for farmers who've been on the land for decades. The only hope for now is to keep watching the sky, waiting for one of those million-dollar rains.