Heavy snow might not relieve Douglas County drought

Jeff Strock
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ALEXANDRIA — Looking at all the snow in Douglas County, you wouldn't think that the area would still be in drought.

It is, though, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which shows moderate drought in the western half of the county and abnormally dry conditions in the eastern half.

This winter's snowfall might not necessarily relieve the drought as much as people hope, says Jeff Strock, a soil, water and climate professor at the University of Minnesota's Southwest Research and Outreach Center.

“While above average snowfall may be perceived as a positive for addressing drought, the reality is that it depends," he said in a university news release. "It’s important to remember that snow is not as effective as rain for addressing drought conditions."

Only about 25% of the water from melting snow will infiltrate the soil, he said. In much of Minnesota, the ground can freeze several feet down, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.


In the spring, if snow melts quickly on frozen ground, very little if any moisture will seep into the soil, Strock said. It could cause flooding in some areas, although it would likely fill rivers, marshes and sloughs that dried up during the drought.

If the spring thaw is relatively slow, some moisture from melting snow will infiltrate the soil, he said. That would help crops and gardens.

Reporter Karen Tolkkinen grew up in Plymouth, Minnesota, graduated from the University of Minnesota with a journalism degree in 1994, and was driven by curiosity to work her way around the United States.
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