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Droughts, though brutal, are becoming fewer in Minnesota, climatologist tells Alexandria audience

Roots of Minnesota's 2021 drought go back to February 2020, climatologist tells gathering at Legacy of the Lakes Museum on Sept. 13.

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A car drives by a puddle of water after a downpour near downtown Alexandria on July 22. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said it will take at least 3-5 inches of precipitation spread over a period of about two weeks to significantly alleviate the current drought. (Lowell Anderson / Alexandria Echo Press)

Decades of climate observation have indicated Minnesota is getting wetter and warmer, and it is, says one of Minnesota's leading climatologist, despite this year's punishing drought.

Data collected for more than 100 years shows a steady trend, and this summer seems to be a natural dip, state climatologist Kenny Blumenfeld said during an online presentation to those gathered at the Legacy of the Lakes Museum on Monday, Sept. 13.

He compared climate change to driving from Minnesota, average elevation 1,200 feet, to Colorado, average elevation 6,800 feet.

"On the way to Colorado, the route isn’t entirely up,” he said. “You go up and then you go down. You go into a river valley or whatever, but in generally, you’re working upwards, and that’s the way we’ve been going with precipitation and also the temperature changes.”

Drought is a natural occurrence in Minnesota, but they've been getting few and far between, he said, showing the audience Zoom graphs of data going back to the early years of the 1900s.

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He said this year's drought can be traced back to February 2020, the first of five consecutive months of below normal precipitation. However, the state received so much precipitation prior to that that the break provided the earth a chance to drain. July and August of 2020 drenched the state again, but dried out again in September, and this time Minnesota received less than average precipitation for six months in a row.

Torrential rains this spring gave way to an intense drought that still continues, as rainfall in parts of the state still hasn't replenished what was lost, he said.

Even though this summer was plenty toasty as well as dry, Blumenfeld said it actually wasn't excessively hot when compared with the historical record.

"It wasn’t even close," he said.

Minnesota is warming in a different way. Instead of intolerable daytime heat, its nights are warming up, and the coldest temperatures aren't as cold as they used to be. The frigid temps in February 2019 were so memorable because they're rare, but they used to happen quite a bit in the first half of the 20th century, according to graphs he shared during his talk.

The reason the coldest temperatures are warming up? Before climate change, the sun's rays would hit the earth during the day, and their warmth would escape into space at night. However, greenhouse gases trap that heat near earth, meaning that our nights are warming up, Blumenfeld said.

In fact, Minnesota is getting more temperate, with a longer growing season and milder winters. Along with the rest of the Upper Midwest, it will fare much better with climate change than western states or states along the Gulf Coast. In fact, Duluth has been singled out by Christian climatologist Katharine Hayhoe on social media as a possible climate refuge, along with other locations, since it has good access to water and isn't far from the amenities of larger cities.

However, Blumenfeld said he wonders if Californians and Floridians, accustomed to the sunshine of the Gulf Coast, would actually be willing to settle in Minnesota, as it will still get long, dark winters.

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“Minnesota's not for everyone," he said. "Some people come here and love it and others come here and leave the next year.”

Hotter temperatures will likely arrive in Minnesota, he said, but that won't be until sometime around 2050.

By mid-century, the Alexandria area could see an additional 10-20 days of 90-degree-plus temperatures, he said.

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