Duluth’s summerlong drought that eased in July worsened again in August, with September so far bone dry and little help.
Through mid-September, 2020 is the fifth-driest year since records have been kept in Duluth starting in 1874, according to the National Weather Service in Duluth.
Duluth now sits nearly 8.5 inches short of rainfall for the year, with only 14.6 inches of rain and melted snow when the normal is 23 inches. September is already down 1.81 inches from normal and August was down an inch from usual.
The last significant rainfall in Duluth was Sept. 1 and there is no measurable rain in the forecast for the next week.
While some areas have had drenching thunderstorms in recent weeks, others have missed most of the rain. The drought is worst around Duluth, in Cook County and parts of Lake and Koochiching counties, all areas of officially moderate drought, according to the National Drought Monitor report released Thursday morning. Lake and northern St. Louis counties are considered abnormally dry.
While below-normal snowfall in early months kickstarted the 2020 dry spell, it was June — usually a wet month, but this year 3.54 inches below normal — that triggered the drought. Only July, up an inch from normal, has been wet.
The worsening drought will mean increasing fire danger for some areas — some of the state’s historically largest wildfires have been in autumn — but it also is impacting the health of trees and shrubs. Experts say young trees and plants need an inch of water per week right up until their leaves turn color and fall off. And areas that were hit hardest over the summer also may see duller fall colors, with leaves simply turning brown and falling off.
Through mid-September, 1934 was the driest year on record in Duluth at just 12.8 inches of rain, nearly 2 inches less than this year.
The dry spell has been good news for Lake Superior shoreline property owners. With September usually the lake’s peak height for water level each year, Superior is still 10 inches above normal, but is 2.5 inches below record levels set in 1950. The lake is down 2 inches from the same time last year.
Parts of southwestern Minnesota, along the South Dakota border, also are experiencing moderate drought. Much of the western half of the U.S. is seeing very dry conditions, with extreme drought covering much of Oregon, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona and western Texas.