REGIONAL— It will all come down to the rain. After last year’s disappointing wild berry crop, the signs were pointing to better news this year for fans of blueberries, juneberries, and …
REGIONAL— It will all come down to the rain. After last year’s disappointing wild berry crop, the signs were pointing to better news this year for fans of blueberries, juneberries, and other wild foods here in the North Country. Berry bushes were full of flowers in late May and the area mostly avoided any serious freeze in June, which allowed the berries to set.
But a drier than usual spring has since turned into a moderate drought across much of the area, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. That, combined with unusually hot temperatures for the region, could well leave a promising berry crop withered, at least in some areas.
Rocky outcrops, where shallow, acidic soils and more sun tend to favor blueberries, are already parched in many cases, although sporadic rains earlier in the week provided a little short-term relief. Areas with sandy soils aren’t faring much better, since they drain quickly in the absence of regular rain. While swamp berries typically have better moisture reserves available, the intensifying drought could limit the abundance of those as well.
The drought is a remarkable turnaround from last fall and early winter, when the area saw some of the wettest conditions in years, leaving rivers and lakes at exceptionally high levels. Now, river and stream flows are at near-record low levels for early summer and lake levels have dropped precipitously.
How dry has it been? According to the Department of Natural Resources, much of northern St. Louis County is running anywhere from the 0-5 percentile for rainfall since April 1 (see map at left). That means it’s anywhere from a once-in-a-century dry spell to a once-every-twenty-year event, depending on the location.
Temperatures forecast to hit the low 90s on Friday and Saturday won’t help the situation, as the hot temperatures prompt plants to draw more heavily on what limited moisture is in the soil than under average conditions.
The parched conditions have created a risk of wildfire, which is normally very low in early summer. More than a dozen firefighters from Tower, Greenwood and Breitung battled an escaped brush fire on Lake Vermilion’s Pine Island late this past Saturday. About an acre of rocky terrain was scorched in the blaze.