MANKATO — A persistent drought that stretched from mid-summer to late fall left soils dry as the freeze-up set in.
Snow adds little water to the landscape.
Tom Hoverstad, a scientist at the University of Minnesota Southern Research and Outreach Center in Waseca, is hopeful spring will bring rains that replenish soil moisture.
“Wet springs are normal around here so I think we stand a good chance of adding a lot of soil moisture. We usually get 4 to 5 inches from mid-March through April,” he said last month.
By August, the areas of severe and moderate drought expanded across south-central Minnesota.
The Drought Monitor map showed the moderate drought grew significantly, stretching from near St. Cloud to the southern tip of Nicollet County and from the Twin Cities all the way to the South Dakota border near Pipestone.
Meanwhile severe drought reached ever farther southwest, covering Sibley County, northern Nicollet County and a slice of Brown County. The severe drought was in part or all of Redwood, Renville, Brown, Nicollet, Sibley, Le Sueur, McLeod, Carver, Scott, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Anoka and Washington counties.
Thanks to heavy rains to the east of Mankato, Waseca County and counties to the east and south of there had adequate moisture.
By November, things got worse, with extreme drought across a large swath of southern Minnesota.
All of Sibley County, much of Brown County and the northwestern corner of Nicollet County were in severe drought.
Blue Earth County and counties to the east and south of it continued to fare better, staying in a moderate drought.
Drought conditions covered just over half of Minnesota in November.
Parched soils and dried-up wells in southwestern Minnesota ended up contributing to a river in northwest Iowa drying up. A 2-mile segment of the Ocheyedan River dried up in September amid drought conditions and increased pumping by Osceola County and the Osceola County Rural Water System, which sold at least a quarter of its water to southwest Minnesota.
The dry river led to the deaths of an undetermined large number of fish and other aquatic life, diminished wildlife in the area and left less water for local livestock, according to The Des Moines Register.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has told the rural water system to remedy the problem of drying up the river.
By fall, drought impacted over half the country.
The drought across the Mississippi River basin had the river at record or near-record lows.
That has backed up barge traffic that uses the river to move grain, road salt and a variety of other materials from as far as the barge docks on the Minnesota River at Savage to the Gulf of Mexico.
Thousands of barges were stalled along the river and those that are moving are carrying about half their normal loads.
Despite the conditions, farmers in most of the region were happy with their harvest.
“Right in this area, everybody was pleased with their yields,” Hoverstad said in November.
But farmers in some counties didn’t see as good of yields.
In late October Nicollet, Le Sueur and Sibley counties were declared primary natural disaster areas because of drought, allowing farmers to apply for emergency credit to replace equipment, livestock, or refinance certain debts.