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Inside the Outdoors: Break in the weather is welcome relief

Weather affects nature, wildlife as well. Effects of drought, heat are many.

Low water in a river during summer drought. Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

If we could ascribe personality traits to natural phenomena like the weather, we could say that rain has had to live with a blemished reputation. Take the expression “rain on your parade,” for instance. It’s commonly used to describe disappointments, things we would rather not have happen to us. Then of course there is “rainout,” a term we associate with cancelled athletic events, washed-out picnics and the like, and being unable to do things we were looking forward to.

But there are times when rain is as welcome as a winning Lotto ticket. For much of Minnesota, now seems to be such a time. The month of June has given us near-record consecutive day stretches of 90-degree temperatures, not just in the South where it might be expected, but essentially border to border. That’s something that in an average year we might have expected in July or August. This concentration of heat was unpleasant enough. But couple that with week after week of rainless weather, and even the most ardent sun worshipper might have reconsidered their devotion.

Now, for much of the state—officially in drought in many counties—there are signs that the logjam is breaking. At home, there is a truce in the thermostat wars that continually rage in my household during summer months. The air conditioning is off, the windows and doors are open and the welcome sound of raindrops on aluminum gutters and downspouts is accompanying the click of laptop keys. There really is a scent to the rain, something you rediscover as you stand under the porch overhang and inhale deeply. Ah, blessed rain!

Will this really be the break in the weather that we’ve been hoping for? Will a major change in weather patterns stabilize or maybe even reverse some of the troubling environmental effects we’re already seeing across the state? There is no crystal ball to give us that answer, but that’s what is hoped for.

One of the indicators that has made clear the parched state of our state is the depth of our lakes. Some have reportedly dropped six to 12 inches, or even more. On the lake where my family’s cabin stands, there is conspicuously more beach than there was when the ice went out on the first of April. By my unofficial guesstimate the water here is down at least four or five inches.


A consequence of lower water levels and a lengthy period of unseasonably high temperature is rising water temperature. DNR fisheries personnel have reported lake temperatures rising five to 10 degrees in some cases, most commonly in shallower lakes. This stresses and endangers the survival of the most temperature-sensitive species, including important forage fish like tullibees, which are important to the growth and survival of walleyes, muskies and lake trout.

Another potential consequence is fish that will be more susceptible to bacterial infections, which can lead to significant die-offs of both angler-sought and forage species. This, too, is more predictably found later in the summer under a more typical year’s weather patterns.

As if these were not enough, there is also the question of panfish spawning success. With the rapid warm-up of many lakes, there is concern that some bluegills and crappies might have abandoned their spawning efforts. An assessment of this possible effect is not likely to be made before late summer, according to fisheries personnel.

Not to be overlooked are the effects of the dry, hot weather on the wetlands we depend on for much of the duck production for the year. Permanent wetlands account for only a portion of a year’s production of young mallards, wood ducks, teal and other species important to waterfowl hunters. So-called seasonal or temporary wetlands that are filled by spring snowmelt and replenished by rainfall have been drying up at a rate faster than normal.

This is true in Minnesota, the Dakotas and much of prairie Canada. Even with good numbers of breeding birds that returned in spring from their southern wintering areas, dry seasonal wetlands means fewer broods will successfully be raised. There remains some hope that a significant increase in summer rains could lead to re-nesting by some ducks. But predictions as they now stand for production in the “bread basket” of the Mississippi Flyway are not optimistic.

Rainfall after a prolonged drought can be a tonic for fishermen, too. Sunday morning when the rain was pelting down, I watched a pair of intrepid anglers out front from the cabin as they slowly and persistently worked a breakline—for walleyes, I’m sure. Yes, they were wearing rain gear, but even with good gear that gets to be unpleasant after a while. I’m sure they were bedraggled, yet there they relentlessly stayed, “at one with the fish,” you might say.

This rain was just what was needed to recharge our enthusiasm, and maybe even boost the status of our waters and wetlands, too.


Mike Rahn - Inside the Outdoors.jpg
Mike Rahn, columnist

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