Region experiencing severe drought
The word drought has not been in the thoughts or conversations of most Pine County residents during the last six months.
Northern parts of the county have only just begun to recover from the June flooding.
Still, much of the United States suffered from drought during the summer of 2012 and Minnesota was no exception.
Currently, 100 percent of Minnesota is in abnormally dry to extreme drought status.
The northwest corner and extreme southeast corner of Minnesota can claim a full year of drought, according to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Climatologist Greg Spoden.
He said Pine County was one of the counties in a swath from northeastern Minnesota to the southwest corner of the state that received much needed spring rains. It "recharged" the moisture and rescued the soil for the 2012 planting and growing season.
With the lack of summer and fall rainfall, the Hinckley area is now seven inches below normal precipitation levels, equivalent to two summer months with no rainfall.
Unless it rains significantly before the end of the week, there's no chance to improve the moisture levels in the groundwater.
"It's not in the cards," Spoden said.
Normal winter precipitation is 2.5 inches, he said. That will all run off during the spring thaw, which will help the river and lake levels but won't be absorbed into the frozen ground.
The fall of 2011 was the driest ever recorded in Minnesota. Though spring rains erased most of the drought, lack of precipitation in the months that followed put 83 percent of Minnesota, including Pine County, in "severe drought" status. That is a one in 10 year event, Spoden said.
The red areas of the map are in "extreme drought" conditions which happens once in 20 years.
Without improvement in precipitation, the northwest corner and southeast corner of the state will experience "exceptional drought" which is a one year in 50 occurrence.
Spoden said, "It's not unusual to have dry weather in late fall and early winter but the state will be counting on spring rains to recharge the soil." He said it won't be necessary to recover the full seven inches in the spring. The average three- to four-inch rainfall in May would do much to bring those groundwater levels up and would help with agriculture, horticulture and forestry.
However, we will have to have above average rainfall to make up for what we've lost.
Jen Glenn, fire program forester in Sandstone, said the fire danger is low right now but there is a peat fire burning east of Pine City off State Hwy. 70. She said peat fires will be a concern next year and the July 2011 blow down area in eastern Pine County is still a threat for fires.
Hinckley Area Fisheries Manager Roger Hugill said the lakes are still in good shape for fishing. Lower water levels can increase winter kill but he said most of it occurs with heavy snows on the lakes. The snow keeps the sun from getting through the ice to the plant life, which create oxygen for the fish through photosynthesis.
With sufficient snowfall, a good runoff in the spring will promote walleye spawning.