Weather Wednesday: Forests vs. fields

In this Weather Wednesday we explore the difference forests have on temperatures in the spring compared to snow covered fields.

USDA Forest Service

FARGO — We still have yet to hit 40 degrees in Fargo (today marks the 134th day in a row with temperatures below 40 degrees, the third longest streak on record), but places farther north have already seen highs in the 40s last month even with snow on the ground.

On February 11th, Baudette, International Falls and Hibbing Minnesota saw spring-like weather with record breaking temperatures in the upper 40s. And on sunny days, we can expect that particular area across northern Minnesota to see temperatures spike higher than spots farther west and south as we go the next few weeks.

So why is this area so quick to soak up the sun and feel the spring-like air? The simple answer is trees… and lots of them. The Minnesota DNR boasts 17.7 million acres of forest land, much of it across the northern third of the state. Those evergreen trees absorb more heat from the sun since their dark color gives them a low albedo, or low reflectivity. The heat from the sun radiates and helps warm forests faster than fields filled with snow since the white ground has a high albedo and reflects the sun’s rays.

North Dakota has the lowest percentage of forestland coverage in the nation with less than two percent of the state covered in trees, most of which lies in the Killdeer Mountains, Turtle Mountains, Pembina Hills and Devils Lake area with just under a half a million acres of trees.

This is apparent even from space, especially when looking at satellite views from sunny days. The white areas are snow covered but the darker spots are woody pine areas. The difference is still quite distinct in the summer, though the trees help provide shade from the scorching sun during those months.

Jesse Ritka is a StormTracker meteorologist and holds the AMS Certified Broadcast Meteorologist seal of approval.

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