Minnesota DNR climatologist said drought developed so quickly ,,,
- Rain is relief for drought-stricken areas
By MARTIGA LOHN
Associated Press Writer
ST. PAUL (AP) - As most of Minnesota dries up, government officials
are watching their graphs and charts line up with the landmark drought
years of 1988 and 1976. It'll take a lot of rain - more than an inch a
week - to keep 2006 from joining those years.
At a state drought task force meeting Tuesday, map after map showed
how quickly drought developed in parts of the state. Blue and green
splotches showing above-average moisture in May gave way to swaths of
red and brown by the end of the hottest July in 70 years.
An L-shaped chunk of the state is the hardest hit, in a wide corridor
descending south from Lake of the Woods, swinging around Mille Lacs
Lake and heading eastward into Wisconsin. Water levels in some rivers
and lakes are approaching historic lows, including the St. Croix River
and Lake Winnibigoshish.
"The timing of the lack of rain couldn't have been worse," said Greg
Spoden, a climatologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural
Resources who said drought developed so quickly that he didn't e-mail
his boss about it until early July.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty also formed an agricultural drought advisory
committee to monitor the drought's impact and seek federal aid. The
U.S. Department of Agriculture's State Emergency Board will meet
Monday to prepare a federal disaster declaration request.
In a letter asking for help from the U.S. Senate Appropriations
Committee, Pawlenty described seeing "thousands of acres of withered
wheat, sugar beets, soybeans and other crops" when he visited
northwestern Minnesota last week.
The only parts of the state not officially considered drought-stricken
are southeastern and south-central Minnesota. There, conditions
are "abnormally dry," or one level below drought.
"The entire state is in a dry spell," Spoden said. "This has been
quick to happen but it will be slow to heal."
So far, state officials have pulled 83 surface water permits for golf
courses, nurseries and farmers in hard-hit watersheds. That's a small
fraction of about 1,200 such permits statewide.
Meanwhile, Xcel Energy officials are monitoring Mississippi River
levels because their Monticello nuclear power plant draws water for
cooling from the river. If levels fall too low, the plant has to shut
That hasn't happened yet but it's a worry, said Pat Flowers, Xcel's
water quality manager.
Representatives from Minneapolis and St. Paul told the task force that
they have no immediate plans to impose watering restrictions, but
they're watching the situation. The two cities, along with St. Cloud,
draw most or all of their water from the Mississippi.
If the drought worsens, watering bans are the most effective way to
conserve water used by cities, because increased summer demand can
boost municipal water use by up to four times, said Kent Lokkesmoe,
who heads the task force and the DNR's waters division.
Officials are operating under the second-highest level of a state
drought response plan, which includes the possibility of emergency
releases from reservoirs. If conditions worsen, they could declare an
emergency and Minnesotans could see power brownouts, bottled water
handouts and water being hauled around to meet the most pressing
needs, according to the plan.
Some relief may be in sight. The National Weather Service predicted
heavy rain in southern Minnesota Tuesday evening and issued flash
flood watches for 22 counties.
Craig Edwards, the meteorologist in charge of the Chanhassen
forecasting office, said another storm could develop early next week
in northern Minnesota, and there's a chance of more showers and
thunderstorms toward the end of next week.
"It's going to take a lot of rain to get us caught up," Edwards
said. "What you need is one of those all-night rains when you can hear
the rain running down the gutter and you roll over in bed and say,
`I'm glad I'm not going anywhere."'
The drought of 1988 came on gradually after a dry winter and was
mitigated by a wet fall. Spoden said this year's conditions more
closely resemble the drought of 1976, which started out with a wetter
spring and quickly deteriorated.
On the Net:
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources:
Climatology Working Group: http://www.climate.umn.edu/doc/journal/dry-
National Weather Service: http://www.weather.gov/