River levels drop toward record lows as drought conditions overtake Minnesota

Weeks of below-average rain are taking a toll.
Publish date:
Mississippi River Minneapolis - June 18, 2021

The unrelentingly dry weather in recent weeks is pushing rivers toward record-low water levels. 

Rainfall through the first half of June has been well below normal for much of the state, according to Mark Seeley at the Minnesota WeatherTalk blog.

"Over half of the stations in the climate reporting network have reported less than a quarter of an inch for the month," Seeley wrote June 18, "and some places have reported no measurable rainfall." 

This is exacerbating drought conditions. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, all of Minnesota is at least "abnormally dry," with large swaths experiencing "moderate" drought. A few pockets are in a "severe" drought." 


Related: 15 outdoor water parks in the Twin Cities - and when they open

These types of conditions result in river levels dropping to below normal. Recent measurements show rivers nearing historically low marks in some places.

Take a look at some readings along the Mississippi River as of Friday morning, along with the forecast for the days ahead:

Aitkin: 3.49 feet at 9:30 a.m. June 18.
Forecast to slowly drop to 3.3 feet by June 23. 
Record lows:

  1. 0.60 ft on 09/01/1961
  2. 2.34 ft on 09/14/1998
  3. 4.10 ft on 02/06/1991)

St. Cloud: 4.23 feet, 9:45 a.m.
Forecast to remain at 4.2 feet through to June 25.
Record lows:

  1. 2.50 ft on 10/18/1992
  2. 3.69 ft on 08/23/1989
  3. 3.76 ft on 08/05/1988
  4. 4.71 ft on 02/03/2002

St. Paul: 3.19 feet at 10 a.m. 
Forecast to drop to 3.1 feet by June 25. 
Record low:

  1. 2.65 ft on 01/20/1976

Winona Dam: 645.59 feet at 10:15 a.m.
Forecast to hold steady through to June 25
Record lows:

  1. 639.65 ft on 08/17/1936
  2. 642.96 ft on 01/27/1944
  3. 643.95 ft on 12/13/1980
  4. 644.35 ft on 02/03/1945
  5. 644.40 ft on 12/16/1938

Meanwhile the St. Croix River in Stillwater had actually risen to 75.5 feet Friday at 10:15 a.m. - but that's just 0.4 feet (less than 6 inches) off from the record low of 75.10 feet, which happened on July 1, 1988.

Related: Why conditions in Minnesota are ripe for more bear-human conflicts

Other rivers were low, though not necessarily creeping towards records.

The St. Louis River in Scanlon was at 2.81 feet Friday morning, Red Lake River of the North in East Grand Forks was at 16.01 feet, Snake River in Pine City was at 2.87 feet (just shy of the record low of 2.54 feet), and the South Fork Zumbro River at Rochester registered at 2.81 feet.

A Red Flag warning is in effect for many counties Friday, and authorities that morning were battling a wildfire at a northern Minnesota state park.

The latest forecast from Sven

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