'Absurd': 3 Minnesota towns crushed state rainfall records last year

Massive rainfall totals are the new normal
Massive rainfalls are the new normal as the climate changes. A state climatologist expects Minnesota's precipitation record to be broken again soon.
Courtesy of Nick Schwarz

The southeastern Minnesota towns of Harmony, Mabel and Caledonia all beat the state's old annual precipitation record in 2018.

Harmony finished at No. 1 with 60.21 inches of precipitation last year, according to unofficial results. The previous record came in 2016 when Waseca had 56.24 inches.

The results are unofficial until the National Weather Service certifies the precipitation totals.

In climate terms, breaking a precipitation record by nearly 4 inches is "a little absurd," said Kenny Blumenfeld, senior climatologist with the state Department of Natural Resources.

Usually, "statewide records are going to be broken very politely," he said. "They kind of get nudged out."

Sixty inches of precipitation in a year is normal for a city on the Gulf Coast. Not for Minnesota.

But these rainfall totals are the new normal under climate change. "I'm kind of done assuming that these records are safe for anything more than a couple years at this point," Blumenfeld said.

Average annual precipitation amounts have been increasing since 1970, and this decade is shaping up to be the wettest in Minnesota history .

Major storms account for much of the increasing precipitation amounts. That can cause devastating floods, ruining crops or ravaging homes, infrastructure and businesses.

But as the climate gets wetter, it's also getting more variable, Blumenfeld said. For example, he pointed out that about 20 miles northwest of Harmony, the annual precipitation was about 45 inches. And in northwestern Minnesota, overall precipitation was lower than normal.

For weather and climate observers, year-to-year conditions are getting tougher to predict.

Blumenfeld said it's possible for Minnesota to vary from "extremely wet" to "extremely dry" periods within just a year or two. "This is definitely something that's going to keep us on our toes."

Listen to MPR News chief meteorologist Paul Huttner interview Blumenfeld with the audio player above.