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After a dry month, Hubbard County returns to drought status

Abnormally low precipitation in September has returned Hubbard County to a drought status.

USDroughtMapOct42022.jpg
As this map shows, most of Minnesota is abnormally dry or in a drought as of Oct. 4. The Park Rapids area moved from abnormally dry at the end of August to a moderate drought now, partly due to below average precipitation in September.
Contributed / University of Nebraska-Lincoln Drought Monitor
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The drought monitor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (droughtmonitor.unl.edu) is updated weekly.

Brad Hopkins is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, N.D.

“Right now Hubbard County is at D1, which is in a moderate drought,” he said. “By comparison, Cass, Beltrami and Clearwater counties were all in D0 at the end of September, which is abnormally dry. The drought level takes into account both rainfall and subsoil conditions. The worst conditions are down around the Twin Cities and southwest part of the state. D2 is severe drought. D3 is extreme drought, which is basically the Twin Cities and to the southwest towards Mankato. The most severe level is D4, which is an exceptional drought. No Minnesota cities have reached that level. ”

The Sebeka observer recorded .94 of precipitation last month. “Normally, you’d see 2.7 inches,” Hopkins said.

The recording station at Itasca State Park recorded only 1.15 inches of rain last month. The normal precipitation is 3.08 inches.

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Hopkins said precipitation is needed this fall to help alleviate the drought, but at the moment the forecast doesn’t look very promising.

“Looking through October into early November, it’s looking to be abnormally low as far as precip,” he said. “We’re still going to be in a dry pattern. What you really need to come out of the drought is several days of rain. That’s typically what we see in fall patterns. You get soaking rain for a couple of days and it helps build up that subsoil moisture. It’s not a quick fix. ”

Be careful with fire

Drought conditions also increase fire danger. Mike Lichter is a forestry supervisor with the Department of Natural Resources in Park Rapids. He said recent frosts have killed off green vegetation, and with leaves falling, sunlight can reach the forest floor and dry vegetation.

Fire danger, as of Oct. 10, was considered moderate, but Lichter said that can change quickly.

“With warm and windy days, it is going to dry out really rapidly,” he said.

Normal burning restrictions remain in place. That means with a burning permit leaves can be burned from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. The fire must be attended and extinguished when done burning.

“Use water and stir it to make sure it’s completely out,” he said. “The best way to keep a fire from spreading is to put it in a safe area to start with, with no combustible materials around it, like a driveway in a protected area where the wind doesn’t catch it.”

He said people should take precautions whenever fire is involved.

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“Very few fires escape when a person is right at hand,” he said. “It’s almost always when you turn your back or leave, like if you have a fire at the hunting cabin and then go back to work for the week and suddenly the weather changes. This time of year a lot of fires will go out at night with the cold air and high humidity, but the sun is still high enough to spike warmth and breezy temperatures in the middle of the day. You might feel like the fire you lit at night is out, but if the next day is hot and windy and leaves are blowing around it could spread. Embers under the ash could reignite when a hot, dry wind blows that ash away. That’s one of the worst conditions for spreading fire. So make sure you attend the fire and check it to make sure the embers are completely out by wetting the area and spreading the embers out.”

People with wood burning stoves and fireplaces need to take the same precautions.

“I’ve been to many wildfires over the years where people told me they hadn’t had any fires, but it turns out they dumped ashes from their stove three days ago,” he said. “It didn’t ignite that day, but maybe a day later a fire started from those embers. I have a steel ash pail with a lid, and when I empty the ashes from my fireplace I put them in that pail and it sits out on the sidewalk until I need to empty my ashes. ”

He said waiting several days to dump the ashes is recommended. “Feel with your hand, sift through it and make sure there’s no heat,” he said. “When you dump them out, treat the ashes the same way you would a campfire. Stir and water them.”

The DNR monitors conditions on a weekly basis and posts updated burning restrictions on their website.

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Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
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