It’s Melting!

March 29, 2013 Comments Off on It’s Melting!

The snow is beginning to melt. Hooray! This week we have finally seen a thaw that is causing the beginning of the spring melt, and finally weather that should start the sap running in the trees with warmer than freezing daytime temperatures and cool down at night. I have been hoping for these days as I’ve watched the ice begin to build up on the roof. Yes, it is ice dam season, and the worst I’ve seen in my present house.

All in all, it has been a wet late winter with a total of 44.6 inches of snow from February 1 through March 20 in Duluth, and making the winter total 78.3 inches for Duluth, which puts us in the above average snowfall category for winter of 2012-2013. We are in good company with many areas up here in the Northeast with above average snowfalls for the year. Isabella, International Falls, Wolf Ridge, Cook, Orr and Chisholm all report above average snowfall for this year.

Last week I taught a class for some older home school students. The topic was snow analysis, so I opted for a little snow melt investigation. Our mission was to figure out how much water was in a square foot of snow, and then to explore how much would begin to melt over the area. We looked for and found an area of about 10 feet by 10 feet that was fairly level, and determined that there was an average snow depth of 2 feet. Then we harvested our square foot of snow. It was a highly scientific study, I assure you! We determined that there was about 2 gallons of water in that square foot of snow, and then went to work determining the amount of water in our 10 foot by 10 foot plot. This yielded about 200 square feet times 2 gallons per square foot which left us with about 400 gallons. A lot of water for a fairly small area. Students realized that there be a whole lot of melting going this spring.

In fact, meteorologists tell us that this late season snow has been exceptionally wet, with the estimate for the North Shore liquid water content in snow estimated to be equivalent to 6 to 8 inches of water. This is a lot of water for spring melting. I asked the students if they thought Minnesota was still in a drought. They quickly assured me that we couldn’t possibly be still in a drought after last summer’s flooding and all the snow from this winter. But truth of the matter is that Minnesota is still in a drought, though this region of the state is not as bad off as other areas. Most of the North Shore falls into the moderate drought category. See map below.

So all this runoff in the spring will solve the drought problem right? Wish we could say it was so, but unfortunately, we are not likely to get a whole lot of benefit from all this snowfall as far as the drought is concerned. Remember those lovely rain events in December and January? We have ground that is well frozen because we didn’t have much snow cover in the early part of the winter and those ice events left us with a nice layer of ice down there on the bottom of the snow as well, so most of this snowfall will just run off into rivers, and streams. Hence the heighten concern across the state in the Red River Valley. This year is expected to be a flooding year in that region.

But there is good news in all of this- first of all the snow is disappearing and spring is emerging! This spring fever sufferer is happy about that news. Secondly, Lake Superior should get a bit of a boost from the runoff. This year’s ice cover on Lake Superior was somewhat better than last year’s, when there was almost none. However, it was not a particularly good year, which left us with another winter of losing lake water through evaporation. Prior to spring runoff, the lake level is low, below average, and in fact it is lower than it was this time last year. Current conditions map below. We aren’t at record low levels yet, but we are closer to that than the average at this point. Here’s hoping that spring runoff gives that lake level a good boost. It should- there is plenty of water to be had for spring runoff! And as far as the draught is concerned, we need some good normal rainfall after the thaw to get groundwater back where it should be. The Farmer’s Almanac predicts a wetter than normal April and May, here’s hoping they are right! Time as always will tell, in the meantime melt snow melt, and run sap run!

These updates are made possible by a generous donation from David and Rosemary Good.