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Good Question: Does Lack Of Snow Mean Drought?

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(credit: CBS) Jason DeRusha
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The winter carnival without snow. The City of Lakes Loppet moved off the lakes. This has been a very unusual winter.

The Twin Cities has had about 14 inches of snow as of Jan. 30, and normally we’d expect about 35 to 40 inches by now.

We know when we get a lot of snow, it can lead to flooding. So does the small amount of snow mean we should expect a spring drought?

No, says Dr. Mark Seeley, a climatologist at the State Climatology Office and an educator with the University of Minnesota Extension Service.

“The vast majority of cases of drought in Minnesota historically have not been associated with low snow seasons,” Seeley said.

The reason is fairly simple: the ground is frozen.

“Even if you got 40 inches of snow, if the ground is frozen 30 to 40 inches, you’re gonna…run it off into the watershed,” he said.

The reality is we tend to overestimate the importance of snow on our overall climate, Seeley said. It looks so impressive.

Seeley said 80 to 90 percent of the moisture in snow runs-off, just 10 to 20 percent is absorbed into the soil. This year, however, that is a problem.

“We have a combination on climate elements that are converging that are not making for a very nice spring outlook,” he explained.

We got virtually no rain in the fall. The soil usually drinks up that fall rain and stores it. During the growing season, the crops occasionally need to dip into the reserves. We’ll get another chance to recharge the soil.

“The scenario that could save us is a late winter/early spring rainfall, rather than an abundant snowfall,” he said.

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