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Experts say melting snow won’t help drought conditions

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Weather and climate experts said Monday that the melting snow will do little to alleviate drought conditions for the Wadena area.

Layers of frozen ground will prevent moisture from reaching the soil levels that mean the most to farmers, who will have to wait to see if better rain comes later in spring. Greg Spoden, state climatologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said although melting snow poses a flood risk in the south part of the state near the Red River, Minnesota is mostly going to miss out on the positive aspects of all the new moisture.

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“Unfortunately, very little of this over-winter precipitation is going to reach the soil, the soil that’s desperately dry,” Spoden said. “The core space is clogged with ice right now … in the parlance of the weather service, they call that ‘concrete frost.’”

However, Spoden said there is a chance for farmers to see relief later on with spring rain. If this year is as wet as 2012, Spoden said, long-term drought conditions that have plagued the area off and on since 2011 may be lessened.

“Having said that, May of 2012 was the wettest May in state history, so we can’t count on that, obviously,” Spoden said.

Paul Walker, senior meteorologist at AccuWeather, agreed the snow melting right now would moisten only the upper layer of soil, and the amount of moisture contained in the snow was not ideal.

“I think that because of how cold it’s been up in your area, the ground hasn’t melted enough to get down very deep,” Walker said. “That’s where the farmers are really looking for the moisture.”  

Despite the poor moisture situation right now, Paul Pastelok, head of the Long-Range Department at AccuWeather, was optimistic about upcoming spring conditions.

“From April into early May, there will be some cold fronts, there will be some moisture that comes through, so there’s no long-term dry spells that I expect to take place during those couple of months,” he said.

Pastelok said late spring and early summer would see dry times, but “carry-over” moisture from the rainy, early part of spring would help mitigate them.

Pastelok also predicted rainfall during the spring would be steady and light compared to the intense fits of storms that nearby areas can expect. He said regions near ours have an increased chance of M.C.Cs, or Mesoscale Convective Complexes, making a dramatic appearance.

Pastelok defined M.C.C.s as “a smaller area of high winds and very intense rainfall” that typically come in late May and early June. Although the storms give out a great deal of moisture, areas affected by them also have an increased risk of hail and tornado damage.

Chances that the Wadena area will see an M.C.C. are better than last year, but Pastelok said our rainfall will likely be more spread out, consisting of frequent, smaller systems.

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