By Jeff Wagner

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — You don’t have to look far to see or even feel that much of Minnesota is in a drought. Some areas of the state are struggling more than others.

This extreme weather has us wondering, how is drought measured? And what will it take to stop or reverse its effects? Good Question.

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Jeff Wagner learned things might get worse before they get better.

The thirst is strong with the plants Sheila Foster is watering outside a St. Paul home, even the ones that she normally skips over.

“The things that would normally be thriving right now are requiring daily watering as opposed to maybe once a week,” she said.

A layer of mulch is Steve Scott’s remedy for helping his garden retain moisture.

“This seems like it’s very, very early for this kind of heat and this kind of dryness,” said Scott.

He’s not wrong. As Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Climatologist Pete Boulay puts it, we’re getting July’s weather in early June.

What does it take to achieve drought status?

“First it stops raining,” Boulay said. “And then you get high heat much above normal.”

Ten out of 11 days so far in June had a high temperature in the 90s in the Twin Cities, combined with a severe lack of rain.

“Now we’re getting low humidities, too. So put those together and every day, day after day, it gets worse,” he said.

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The USDA measures drought in five categories.

The lowest levels are abnormally dry, then moderate drought. Both cover most of Minnesota right now. That’s when you notice lawns turning brown and towns start restricting water usage, which began last week in Minnetrista.

The third level is severe drought, which is starting to appear in southern Minnesota. Crops losses begin while lakes and rivers start to show clear recession.

The next categories are extreme, which Boulay says last happened in 2012. Widespread water shortages happen along with major crop and pasture losses. Exceptional drought is the worst, a level not seen in Minnesota since 1988.

“We had wells going dry, very low stream flows. We had a complete watering ban in the Twin Cities for 17 days. Lot of people lost their lawns in 1988,” said Boulay.

When did this drought begin? Much earlier than people may think. Boulay said it started last year.

“2020 was a dry year, but since 2018 and 2019 were so incredibly wet, we were drawing from the bank of moisture from those years,” he said.

What followed was a dry winter that carried into 2021. Low rainfall totals in April, May, and June only made matters worse.

What will it take to slow or reverse the effects of this drought?

“What we would need typically in the summer [is] about an inch of rain every week,” Boulay said.

On top of that, the temperature needs to drop to slow the evaporation rate, allowing plants to hold on to every last drop. Right now the evaporation rate continues to outpace the rainfall rate, allowing the drought to worsen.

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To see the latest drought conditions in Minnesota and across the country, click here.

Jeff Wagner