New month, worsening drought conditions in Minnesota

Rocks exposed by low water along a river
More of the bed of the Mississippi River is exposed below the Coon Rapids Dam in Coon Rapids, Minn., under hazy skies on Thursday. Prolonged drought conditions across the state have left many rivers running near historic lows.
Emily Bright | MPR News

After one of the driest Julys on record in parts of Minnesota, the drought conditions affecting the region show no signs of letting up to start the month of August.

In the Twin Cities, the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport ended July with just 0.87 inches of rain for the month — more than 3 inches below normal. Since June 1, the airport is nearly a half-foot below normal rainfall.

St. Cloud, Rochester, Duluth and International Falls also are between 3 and 5 inches below normal rainfall since June 1.

Last week's U.S. Drought Monitor showed more than three-quarters of Minnesota in severe or extreme drought. This week's update will be issued on Thursday — and there's no indication of widespread rain coming in the next few days.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

Forecasters say repeated, soaking rains are needed to break the drought across the region. Without those rains, already-evident effects of the drought may worsen through the coming weeks.

There have been reports of wells running dry in parts of Minnesota. Crops are stunted by the lack of rain, pastures are drying up, and some farmers are running out of hay to feed their livestock.

Some rivers across the state are running at or near historic lows — and some lake levels are dropping, too.

Trees show signs of drought stress

Some trees are showing signs of stress from the abnormally dry conditions.

Val Cervenka is forest health program coordinator at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. While autumn is a long way off and weather patterns could change, she said if dry conditions stick around it could diminish the fall colors.

Fallen leaves on a dry lawn
Fallen leaves are seen on a very dry lawn in the Twin Cities on Sunday. Leaves on some trees are turning colors or falling early amid ongoing drought conditions.
Andrew Krueger | MPR News

"Drought can kind of promote some fall color — but that's in the fall. We're not in the fall; we're already dry," she said. "So it's kind of hard to say, 'Well, the fall color is going to be good in some trees because because they're dry.' You just don't know; they just may drop their leaves before then because they're trying to conserve water."

And Cervenka said fall colors in Minnesota may arrive earlier than usual — again, that's if the drought continues. But even if the overall fall color display is muted, she said there'll always be pockets of more vibrant leaves.

As for trees showing signs of drought stress now, Cervenka said she's heard some reports of sumac and birch leaves changing colors, or trees dropping leaves to save moisture.

Drought-stressed trees can be more susceptible to insects and diseases. They also create a greater danger of wildfires.

But for the most part, forest trees around Minnesota should be able to get through the drought — as long as it doesn't extend into multiple seasons.

"In general, most trees, if they haven't already been stressed for several years in a row, they're able to bounce back from a year of this kind of weather," Cervenka said. "Most trees are able to bounce back from just about anything if it doesn't go on year after year."

For trees in yards, especially new trees, watering may be needed — if it's allowed under local ordinances; some communities have restricted watering.

If watering is allowed, Cervenka said trees need to be deeply watered so that it promotes deeper root growth. Watering in the evening or early morning helps prevent evaporation.