Ask Updraft: Strange springs are happening

Droplets form on the surface of a puddle
Rain pools on West 3rd Street in downtown Red Wing, Minn. during a rainstorm on April 16, 2024.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

What does our historical spring record tell us right now? Have we broken any records this year? Are we going to keep getting rain this summer?

MPR meteorologists Paul Huttner and Sven Sundgaard are here to answer your questions. This week, Sven answers a number of questions about our spring season in 2024.

Get daily weather texts and send Paul and Sven your weather questions by signing up to the MPR News weather text group:

As farmers in Stearns County, my wife and I have been discussing how moderate this spring has been compared to the whiplash springs of the past several years. How unusual have the last several springs been relative to the historical record? — Curtis from Clearwater

This is a really great question. You are right: this was the warmest spring since 2016. Most months are seeing significant warming trends in recent decades, but February and April are two months that were flat or even cooled in the current 1991-2020 average compared to the 1981-2010 average we had used before.

You probably remember, specifically 2018, when we had the snowiest and coldest April on record, counter-intuitive to warming trends. There seems to be an increase in polar vortex disruptions, specifically in late winter and early to mid spring.

One theory being hypothesized is that with the rapidly warming temperatures in the arctic, the temperature contrast between mid-latitudes and the Arctic are less. And so the jet stream winds (which are driven by that temperature divide) are becoming weaker, more wobbly, stuck in blocking patterns that allow unusually cold air to sink far south and very warm air to move farther north than usual on either side of that. We call this a more-amplified jet stream pattern. The Dakotas and Minnesota are one of the places in North America seeing a noticeable flat or cooling temperature trend in spring as a result.

Spring day at the Weather Lab
Beautiful spring day at the Weather Lab in the southwest Twin Cities.
Paul Huttner | MPR News

Has Minnesota weather broken any records in 2024 yet? 

Oh yes! The big one is the winter of 2023-24 being the warmest ever recorded. Monthly and, even more so, seasonal average temperature records are the hardest to break as it requires quite the consistency (compared to a daily record high for example).

It was also the warmest February on record by far. We also broke a big high temperature record on Feb. 26 this year: not only did it break the record high for the date (which isn’t as tough of a challenge) but it was the warmest ever February high temperature and the earliest we ever reached 65 degrees in the Twin Cities. These are just a couple records that stand out.

May 2024 marked our 13th consecutive month of warmer-than-normal temperatures. Many lake ice-outs were also at record earliest (and record late ice-ins for many in December and January) — some by several days from previous records or more.  

A Somali boy shoots a basketball
Sudayis, 13, shoots hoops at Peavey Field Park in Minneapolis as unseasonably warm temperatures peaked in the 40s on Dec. 29, 2023.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

How rainy/wet has this May/spring been compared to other years recently? And do you expect to see this pattern continue further into summer? — Melissa Horejsi from Webster

This was the wettest spring for the Twin Cities since 2019, which consequently was the wettest year ever recorded. The long range models paint a mixed picture as to summer rainfall, but the consensus is that we shouldn’t slip into drought, but precipitation is one of the least accurate and hardest to predict variables in weather forecast models.

Temperature trends are easiest to forecast and most models and forecasts lean toward warmer-than-normal temperatures for this summer.

An ominous storm cloud rolls over a town's main street
A severe thunderstorm rolls through Winona, Minn. during the ‘Sketches of Minnesota’ event on May 21.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

I love the Minnesota weather! It always gives us something to talk about. We lived in Duluth many years ago (beautiful city) and noticed what a difference it made if you lived down the hill closer to the lake or if you lived on top the hills. I think that's called lake effect, but what happens? Back in the mid ‘60s when we lived there, no one had air conditioning who lived closer to the lake. Has climate change has altered that? We also grew up in northern Indiana and had lake effect snows. We had a lot of snow but it often turned to slush in a few days. Our town, LaPorte, was about 12 miles from Lake Michigan, and I don't remember that the lake made LaPorte cooler in the summer. Maybe too great a distance? — Jan Tarnow from Rochester

Lake Superior is the coldest of the Great Lakes because it’s the deepest, biggest, most interior and farthest north (part of the Canadian Shield). It does keep Duluth much cooler often times.

Duluth and Lake Superior — like all of Minnesota — is warming. Minnesota and Duluth are also becoming more humid (higher dew points) in the summer. Since 2010, Duluth averages 38 days per year with highs of 80 degrees or higher, that’s 10 days more than in the 1961-1990 average of 28. Summers are also getting longer by about a week on each end (starting earlier, ending later). 

People walk along the beach at Park Point
People walk along the beach at Park Point while a surfer prepares to enter the water on April 6 in Duluth.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

How much rain did we have last May-August and where are we at so far this May onward?

We had only 7.41 inches last May-August in 2023 compared to a normal value of 16.86 inches. This May in 2024 we saw 5.81 inches more than June, July, and August combined last summer! 

Want to send Paul and Sven a weather question? Feel free to text our weather club or email us your question at tell@mpr.org.