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Climatologist: 'Expect anything at any time'

What does this summer have in store for the Brainerd lakes area? Models used by forecasters for long-term weather outlooks are predicting an equal chance for either a warmer or cooler summer than usual, and an equal chance of being wet or dry. Wh...

Plants are soaking up the sun entering into the start of the summer season.
Plants are soaking up the sun entering into the start of the summer season.

What does this summer have in store for the Brainerd lakes area?

Models used by forecasters for long-term weather outlooks are predicting an equal chance for either a warmer or cooler summer than usual, and an equal chance of being wet or dry. Which is to say, the lakes area is likely in for a "typical" Minnesota summer, said Kenny Blumenfeld, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources state climatologist.

"The right way to think about this is, we've been running a bit warm most summers in central and northern Minnesota for the last two decades," Blumenfeld said. "The warming in our region is in response to some global patterns. So it's slightly more likely than not that you're going to be warm."

Blumenfeld said the Brainerd lakes area sits along the border of two competing patterns-one wet, one dry-and it remains to be seen which pattern will dominate this summer. The southern two-thirds of the state has seen extremely wet weather, he said, while the northwestern part of the state is experiencing drier than normal conditions.

"The Brainerd lakes region is kind of caught between two climatic patterns," Blumenfeld said. "I think the big question for the summer is which of these two competing patterns will win out."

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Also on the docket for this summer's weather is some severe weather, although Blumenfeld said the likelihood of a repeat of last year's busy season was low.

"2016 was an incredibly busy year in the Brainerd lakes area," Blumenfeld said. "Some of these areas in central Minnesota had six different power outages. It's almost unthinkable. ... That is a very, very high amount. We are happy to report that that is such an unusually busy summer that it's very hard to predict a repeat of that."

Blumenfeld said despite this, the lakes area is no stranger to severe weather of all kinds, and is likely in store for its share this summer as most summers. A fast start to severe weather season this March, when the earliest tornados in state history were recorded in Princeton and Zimmerman, calmed down in April and has remained calm since. Blumenfeld said it's difficult to say whether this means a calmer severe weather season can be expected, noting the most active year for tornadic activity-2010, the year Wadena was hit by a tornado-saw a quiet May and June before one day of a tornado outbreak changed that.

"If it's a typical summer in the Brainerd lakes area, then there's going to be some really bumpy weather at some point," Blumenfeld said. "Typically from late June through July, that's kind of prime season for thunderstorms. ... You're going to have bouts of severe weather, maybe not as busy as last year. And three to six days, maybe eight days where the temperature is above 90 degrees."

Days into the 90s are not expected in the immediate future. Blumenfeld said technically the lakes area is still in danger of experiencing frost into early June, along with low-lying areas in the valleys of northern Minnesota.

"Tender and vulnerable plants can be susceptible to damage into late May and early June," Blumenfeld said. "But at some point, you just sort of trust that summer has arrived."

Blumenfeld said he enjoys working as a climatologist in Minnesota, in large part because of the state's famously unpredictable weather. He said the state has a reputation among climatologists nationwide as a place where a tornado arrives one day, and a snowstorm the next.

"Minnesota's weather, it never ceases to surprise us," he said. "All wise Minnesotans know to expect just about anything at any time."

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SIDEBAR

An early summer yard and garden checklist

This time of year, yards and gardens are in overdrive, soaking up the sun and warmth they've missed after months of Minnesota winter. What kinds of chores should area property owners be on top of this time of year? JoAnn Weaver, president of the Crow Wing County Master Gardeners, shared a list of things to do this time of year to give plants the best chance this growing season.

• All garden tools and power equipment should be cleaned, oiled and ready to go.

• Technically, this area is plant hardiness zone 3b. Average last frost date is about May 27, and the first frost can come as early as late September. Depending on the weather, the actual number of growing days can be limited to around 115 or 120 days. Choose plants accordingly.

• It's a relatively short season for many of the vegetable varieties. Check the label or the seed packet for "days to maturity." The count does not begin until the plant is placed in the garden proper. Patio and/or container gardens will be on a slightly different schedule; depending on how mature the plants were if purchased in a container.

• Garden beds should be cleaned up. All the winter mulch, as well as last season's plant debris, should be cleared away as they may harbor disease. Add new mulch planting beds to conserve moisture and inhibit weed growth.

• If winter tree trunk protection was used, remove it, as it could harbor insects.

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• Add compost to garden beds that have been cleaned up and mix it into the existing soil.

• Divide perennials-but wait until fall to divide early blooming perennials such as bleeding hearts.

• Prune dead and broken branches from shrubs and roses.

• If the fruit trees have not been pruned yet, don't. Better to wait until very early next spring.

• Don't prune spring-blooming shrubs, such as lilacs and forsythia, until shortly after they are done blooming.

• Cut back perennial grasses to 3-4 inches of growth.

• Deadhead spent blossoms of spring-blooming bulbs

• "Harden off" any seedlings planted or purchased. Over a period of five to seven days, gradually expose them to outside elements (sun, wind, rain, cooler temperatures, etc.). Then, once they are planted in a garden, they will be more likely to withstand the weather.

• Remove weeds before they flower.

• To minimize transplant shock, move shrubs and trees while the weather is still cool.

• Stir the compost pile. Freshen it up with something green (grass clipping or fruit and vegetable waste) and make sure it's moist enough (a handful stays together but doesn't exude water when squeezed).

• Protect plants from browsing wildlife, particularly deer and rabbits. They love overwatered, overly fertilized plants. Once the deer develop a pattern, they tend to follow that pattern so take action now. Don't feed the deer. Be vigilant. Vary tactics.

• Get soil tested. A soil test will determine the level of available nutrients in the garden soil. Go to soiltest.cfans.umn.edu for complete instructions. It's easy, it's affordable and it will provide reliable, science-based results.

• Regarding lawns, do not add fertilizer too early in the spring. Early spring is a time when the grass should be slow or dormant. Wait until it warms up a bit (after the first mowing and before the hot mid-summer months) to add fertilizer.

• Every few years, consider aerating the lawn.

• Better yet, get rid of the lawn and fill that space with native plants that invite pollinators.

Related Topics: WEATHERSEVERE WEATHER
Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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