Unseasonably warm weather is pushing the Midwest into an early spring, leaving the soil in need of moisture

Unseasonably warm weather across the Midwest is pushing the region toward an early spring. The Dakotas and parts of Minnesota and Iowa are very dry.

The states need more moisture than the melting snowpack will provide.

Temperatures in the 50s are unusual for early March in Minnesota and those warmer conditions are quickly shrinking the state’s already meager snowpack. Snowfall amounts have varied across the state this winter and much of Minnesota falls in the abnormally dry category, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

State climatologist Pete Boulay says that 2020 was a moderately dry year for Minnesota farmers, many of whom were living off past rains.

According to Boulay, “The excessively wet 2019 was still sitting in the soil last year. So, 2020 was a fairly dry year across the states, but you wouldn’t know it because we still had a lot of soil moisture, and some of that moisture is still sitting in the ground from 2019. Although if we have an open spring, we lose the snowpack early and we get really warm and no rain-- it could dry out in a hurry.”

Because of the frozen subsoil, most snowmelt does little to help soil moisture levels, instead, it helps to refill lakes and streams. Without spring rains, soil conditions could dry out in many areas of the state.

“When I say we have average soil moisture, that’s kind of strange. We haven’t had average soil moisture in quite a few years; it’s been well above average, been very moist,” he states. “So, starting out average, we haven’t seen that in a few years, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens. It’s all about timing.”

The frost levels in Minnesota are relatively shallow and snow following a warmup could deliver some needed soil moisture, but spring rains are still most beneficial.

However, it is all about timing: “We would like to see a little bit more moisture get into the ground, that topsoil, to have a little moisture to work with. We’ve been dry this winter in general across the state, so getting a little bit of above-normal precip in March might help us out a bit.”


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