Jun 23, 2021 - News

What's got Minnesota's climate guru worried

Illustration of a thermometer in the shape of Minnesota registering 90 degrees.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

If Minnesota's current weather models for July hold true, climatologist Mark Seeley is concerned that the state's farmers could lose as much as a quarter of their crop.

State of play: A scorching hot June has put 5% of the state into a severe drought, 56% into a moderate drought and the rest into the abnormally dry category, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

  • The heat and lack of rain has dried rivers to near record low levels and turned lawns brown.
  • But the biggest concern is the farmers, according to Seeley.

Threat level: Minnesota's two biggest crops β€” corn and soybeans β€” are largely reliant on rain, unlike other warmer states where crops are mostly irrigated.

  • "We're recovering from a pandemic and we're all hoping that the economy will continue to take off ... If the agricultural economy is hit really hard by drought this year, then that's going to be a definite setback to the state," said Seeley, a retired University of Minnesota meteorologist and climatologist of 40 years.

Flashback: The state's last big drought came in 2012. But the most recent extreme drought β€” one that climatologists and farmers still talk about β€” was back in 1988.

  • Corn and soybean farmers lost 35-40% of their yield that year and Seeley said it took three years to recover.

What he's watching: If Minnesota gets into the extreme drought zone, it will test the new drought-resistant crop genetics that weren't around back in the 1980s, Seeley said.

  • "With the new genetics, if they've done it right, maybe that'll mean we'll only see a 20% or 30% reduction in crop yields," he said.

What's ahead: It's going to warm back into the 90s Wednesday and Thursday before a slight cool down into the 80s.

  • There's about a 50% chance of rain on Thursday and Friday, according to the National Weather Service.

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