The rainstorms that mercifully fell over central Minnesota and the Twin Cities the past week were the first this summer to make a noticeable dent in the drought. A great deal more, however, would be needed to break the dry spell and return the state's soil and rivers to normal.
"That was partially what we needed, but the bad news is the next seven to 10 days look like they're going to be hot and dry," said Craig Schmidt, National Weather Service senior service hydrologist. "There's a big ridge over the entire Midwest that looks like it's going to keep all storms away."
About three quarters of the state remains in drought, according to a Thursday update from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. Southeastern Minnesota as well as the Duluth and Brainerd areas are in severe drought. While August rains have been helping most of the state, they haven't been enough to make up for a dry July and a historically parched June. Time may be running out for the state to pull within the realm of normal this year.
Historically, June, July and August are when Minnesota receives the bulk of its precipitation for the year. With El Niño expected to bring about a mild winter, the drought could linger, Schmidt said.
"Most of the time, El Niño tends to make things warmer and drier for us," he said. "But this one is a little strange."
El Niño is a weather phenomenon that happens when surface water temperatures climb in a certain part of the Pacific Ocean. But this year water temperatures are far above normal in just about every part of the ocean, Schmidt said.
"When surface temperatures are above normal everywhere, it's hard for anyone to get a good feel for what this pattern could give us," he said. "There are a lot more unknowns than knowns."
The state's weather has whipsawed from one extreme to another over the past five years. Record rainfall in 2019 led to the wettest year in Minnesota's history, while the drought of 2021 caused one of the driest. The state was crisped by drought again throughout the spring and summer of 2022, only to receive its snowiest winter in recorded history that year. The record snowpack melting this spring caused flooding along major rivers. After the snow melted, precipitation not only seemed to stop, but temperatures also spiked, as this June was the fourth hottest on record — beaten only by 2021, 1988 and the Dust Bowl's 1933.
"The way things are changing, I think we're going to see weather more and more on the extremes," Schmidt said. "We just keep going from one extreme to the other."