Since the National Weather Service in Duluth started recording information in the 1900s, this is the seventh driest year for much of Minnesota.

"Year to date (there have been) 6.14 inches (of rain)," said meteorologist Dean Melde. "The average is 10.7 inches, so that's 3.6 inches below normal."


" One thing we've been noticing is it is dry enough now that a person doesn't need to be what I would consider negligent with fire. Even if you're doing something fairly average like grinding or welding or a lawnmower hitting a rock. Things like that come into play now, but typically this time of year it would be really hard to get a fire going if it was as green as it normally would be. "

— Curt Westerman.


Moderate drought conditions tend to result in some damage to crops, but not yet total crop failures. Voluntary requests for water restrictions and shrinking river and reservoirs with some water shortage is likely. So far 2021 does not compare to 2006 with just 4.25 inches of rain that year.

"That would be the driest we have," Melde said. "That's almost a two inch difference. In 1987, it was 5.27 inches."

Newsletter signup for email alerts

There is no particular name for the weather trends or phenomena right now.

"I think it's just kind of a culmination of just getting missed overall by a lot of these (rain) systems," Melde said. "It's been fairly widespread."

U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook. Graphic/ National Weather Service
U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook. Graphic/ National Weather Service

Drought conditions are causing some concern with area foresters who are witnessing an uncommon number of wildfires.

"I'd say we'd have somewhere around 75 fires we would have responded to so far, and right now we're at about 124 with 25 of those fires in June. Typically we would maybe get a couple fires in June and they would be nuisance fires," said Backus Area Forestry Supervisor Curt Westerman. "Maybe a small fire in a ditch rather than something that requires extensive suppression."

This is something Westerman and other forestry workers see from time to time.

"It's not unprecedented," Westerman said. "It's probably a once-in-a-decade type occurrence to have things this dry or even a little more than that. Typically June is about the wettest month where we average about an inch of rain per week, which we obviously haven't been getting."

Fire danger and burning restrictions graphics for July 8, 2021, from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website. Screenshot.
Fire danger and burning restrictions graphics for July 8, 2021, from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website. Screenshot.

The dryness, of course, has resulted in stricter burning restrictions.

Everything but campfires is restricted as of now, and even those are forbidden in campsites that are not official, managed campgrounds, like areas the forestry classifies as "dispersed camping," such as at Spider Lake near Pine River or Long Lake near Backus.

"Campfires as recreational fires are allowed right now," Westerman said. "But they have to be in a designated fire receptacle designed for such use. And the key point of this is they have to be associated with a residence, a dwelling, a campground or a resort. So if you weren't by one of those things, you would not be allowed to have a campfire. Let's say you were taking a trip down the Pine River or something like that and wanted to pull over or on a lake and you wanted to have a short lunch. You wouldn't be able to do that."

A map shows about 45% of the state is either abnormally dry or under moderate drought conditions. Moderate drought persists in portions of Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing and Todd counties as of June 30. Map / U.S. Drought Monitor
A map shows about 45% of the state is either abnormally dry or under moderate drought conditions. Moderate drought persists in portions of Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing and Todd counties as of June 30. Map / U.S. Drought Monitor

Going into July and August, which are typically hotter, drier months, the forestry is at attention. Others should be too, as almost all fires are caused by humans in one way or another.

"I would say with maybe the exception of one of the 124 fires we have had, they are all human errors," Westerman said. "One thing we've been noticing is it is dry enough now that a person doesn't need to be what I would consider negligent with fire. Even if you're doing something fairly average like grinding or welding or a lawnmower hitting a rock. Things like that come into play now, but typically this time of year it would be really hard to get a fire going if it was as green as it normally would be."

Drought conditions cover much of the western half of the country, with extreme drought conditions as close as North Dakota. Much of the eastern portion of the country, however, is operating within normal levels of rainfall. Some places, such as Texas, are experiencing abnormally low temperatures.

Conditions may be monitored at https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com.