Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

Minnesota waterways recovering from drought

A boat floats in a river, a dam is seen in the distance
A fisherman casts downstream of Lock and Dam No. 2 near Hastings on Feb. 14.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Now that the sky is clear of wildfire smoke from earlier this week, much of Minnesota is back to enjoying spring weather and rain is moving in.

The rain we’ve gotten so far this spring have been good news for Minnesota’s lakes, rivers and ponds. MPR Chief Meteorologist Paul Huttner joined MPR News host Cathy Wurzer to explain.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: Well, the skies are pretty clear of the wildfire smoke that we had earlier in the week, which is good news. And much of Minnesota's back to enjoying this sunny spring weather. But it looks like we could have some rain on the horizon. As a matter of fact, it's raining right now in portions of northwestern Minnesota. Chief Meteorologist Paul Huttner is here to explain. Hi, Paul.

PAUL HUTTNER: Hey, Cathy Wurzer.

CATHY WURZER: Hello. Well, it's nice to have the rain. And it looks like-- we were talking to Luigi Romolo, gosh, last week or so with that last drought monitor report. And of course, he cautions that we're not out of the drought completely yet. But it's been nice to see the lake and the river levels going up this spring, thanks to precipitation.

PAUL HUTTNER: Yeah, and of course, the last three years, we started off semi-wet and went right into flash drought in the summer. So that's what I'm hoping won't happen this year, that we keep our precipitation frequency up, if you will, across Minnesota during June and July and August. But yeah, you mentioned the lakes, land of 10,000 lakes. They get a lot of the headlines in Minnesota. But the ponds, the creeks, the rivers, everything important to wildlife in Minnesota, it's been a really good story this spring because we've recovered those levels.

I'll give you a couple of examples. Lake Minnetonka is up about a foot this spring. And the Grace Bay Dam, which is the control mechanism that feeds into Minnehaha Creek, that runs all the way through the western Twin Cities, down to Minnehaha Falls and eventually into the Mississippi River, that was flowing at 275 cubic feet per second. That's fast. That's a lot of water. That was a week or two ago. Now, it's been reduced to 75 cubic feet per second. So that's just a nice, gentle flow going into Minnehaha Creek and running into Minneapolis.

The Minnesota river, southwest of the Twin Cities, actually just borderline flood stage, just below, so that's been flowing swiftly, the Mississippi River flowing very nicely. It's been a very good spring to see our water levels recover. And I've noticed some of the ponds are brim full here in the western Twin Cities, so just a good story with all that extra rainfall this spring. Let's hope we can keep it going.

CATHY WURZER: Yeah, no kidding, fingers and toes crossed. You'd hate to get back into another flash drought.

PAUL HUTTNER: Yeah, I hope we don't see it for a fourth year in a row.

CATHY WURZER: I know. But we do have some scattered showers today. So is this because of what? What's incoming at this point?

PAUL HUTTNER: Yeah, it's a pretty weak low pressure system, but it's going to be enough to dump a little bit of rain. Right now, pretty vigorous showers. I'm looking at the radar near Fargo-Moorhead, east to Detroit Lakes, and then southeast along I-94, Fergus Falls. Even down toward Saint Cloud and Little Falls, there are some pretty good rain showers. That'll be the area that'll get the most rain. West Central Minnesota into North Central Minnesota could pick up half an inch to an inch of rain.

Twin Cities, our rain will come later tonight, scattered showers, maybe a thunderstorm, nothing severe. But in the hours around midnight, I think, Twin Cities, Eastern Minnesota, maybe a quarter of an inch, Cathy, lighter rainfall totals here. And then showers will linger in northern Minnesota tomorrow, but partly cloudy Twin Cities and south. And we'll head back up into the low 70s again. It's been just a great run of weather.

CATHY WURZER: Nice. I like that. Say, I want to get back to rain for just a moment here. With the soil moisture that we have, planting has got to be going really well for farmers, right?

PAUL HUTTNER: It is. In fact, it's right tracking on average for corn. 56% of corn has been planted. That's according to the latest crop report on Monday. And that tracks with last year and the five-year average. So farmers seem to be doing pretty well. They had three days of suitable field work in the last week. And the soil moisture is 70% adequate around Minnesota, 20% surplus. So there's a little extra water in some of the fields, especially western, southwestern Minnesota. But overall, it's a pretty good spring so far. And these dry days where we get the sunshine and we've had all that wind will dry out some of those fields, too.

CATHY WURZER: How about the weekend forecast?

PAUL HUTTNER: Yeah, we've got a good looking run of weather here. Today, though, scattered showers and tonight. Tomorrow, they end, 73 in the Twin Cities. Friday's warm, mostly sunny and warmer, 80 degrees in the Twin Cities, 70s up north. And then the weekend starts warm. I think we'll hit 80 in the Twin Cities and southern Minnesota. But there's a cold front that will zip across the state, so a chance of some scattered showers and thunderstorms, especially north of the Twin Cities, it looks like. We'll touch 80 in the Twin Cities, fall into the 70s later in the day. Sunday looks like the more beautiful, tranquil day of the weekend, mostly sunny, mild, 76 in the Twin cities, 60s and 70s up north, just great to see those leaves bursting out everywhere, Cathy. It's been a fine spring so far.

CATHY WURZER: I love it. Before we go, of course, you've got Climate Cast coming up.

PAUL HUTTNER: Yeah, and I'm going to talk with our MPR News reporter from Duluth, Dan Crocker today. He did a story. It turns out heating and cooling our buildings in Minnesota, that accounts for about four. 40% of the greenhouse gas emissions in our state. And he's looking at the building codes in Minnesota and how updating these codes can not only save homeowners money on energy, but also reduce our greenhouse gas output in Minnesota. So I'm going to chat with him in just a few minutes, Cathy. We'll hear that conversation tomorrow on All Things Considered.

CATHY WURZER: Beautiful. Thank you. Talk to you later.

PAUL HUTTNER: Thanks, Cathy. Appreciate it.

CATHY WURZER: Paul Huttner is our Chief Meteorologist. You get to listen to him every afternoon with Tom Crann on All Things Considered. You want more weather information, you can always check out the Updraft blog at mprnews.org.

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