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Published July 25 2012

Rain soaks Fargo and Grand Forks areas but misses dry counties in between

FARGO – Heavy rains that swept across strips of eastern North Dakota and northwest Minnesota on Tuesday and Wednesday put a dent in drought conditions, but the long-term benefits and impacts will take more time to assess, a National Weather Service official said.

“One rain event does not a drought eradicate,” said Mark Ewens, data manager at the weather service office in Grand Forks. “I mean, it certainly helps. It’s a good start.”

Two narrow bands of storms dumped much-needed rain on the Fargo and Grand Forks areas but largely missed the counties between them struggling with severe drought.

Fargo’s Hector International Airport received 2.35 inches of rain before midnight Tuesday, breaking the previous record of 1.05 inches set on the date in 1993. Grand Forks International Airport also saw a record 1.96 inches, beating the old record of 1.3 inches, also set in 1993.

However, in Traill County, Mayville received only 0.04 inch of rain. Cooperstown, the Griggs County seat, reported 0.06 inch.

“So, there was a very sharp cutoff between the heavier precipitation down in Fargo and the second band of storms that affected the Grand Forks area,” weather service meteorologist Jeff Makowski said.

At the C-W Valley Co-op elevator in Comstock, Minn., about 12 miles south of Moorhead, manager Joel Trowbridge measured roughly 5.25 inches in the rain gauge Wednesday morning.

Trowbridge said he hadn’t heard of any flooding or other problems caused by the rain, which he said was “very needed.”

“It was really, really dry,” he said.

It’s unclear yet whether the moisture will help crops fully recover from recent drought conditions, Trowbridge said.

“I can’t believe the corn and beans were hanging on as good as they were, so it had to hurt it somewhat, but we won’t know until fall now,” he said.

Heavy rains – not to mention hail and high winds – could do more harm than good for crops stressed by drought, Ewens said. Stunted crops can drown in low areas where ponding occurs, and mud splattering on leaves can further stress certain crops, he said.

The Red River Valley’s clay-based soils tend to saturate quickly, causing much of the heavy rainfall to run off, Ewens said. In farm fields that were able to capture the water and allow it to soak in, the moisture should benefit crops that haven’t been stressed beyond the point of recovery, he said.

“But in the grand scheme of things, it was really a pretty narrow area that got hit,” he said. “So you’re going to have relief in the areas that got the more significant rain, but when we’re looking at the area as a whole, you’ve still got a lot of folks that missed out on it.”

The city of Kindred logged the highest preliminary rainfall total, with 4.8 inches reported to the weather service. Totals from the Devils Lake area ranged from 1.77 inches to 4.59 inches. The lake immediately rose by one-tenth of a foot, but only minor rises are expected, the weather service said.

The weather service forecast called for a 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms before 1 p.m. today and a slight chance Saturday through Tuesday, but Ewens doesn’t expect any heavy rains in the near future.

After Tuesday’s record downpour, Fargo’s precipitation totals remained 0.88 inch below normal since June 1 and 2.77 inches below normal since Jan. 1.

“When you look at what it’s going to take to alleviate the drought, we’re talking more than what we saw,” Ewens said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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