Lake Minnetonka: Near lowest level in 12 years; More April showers in March

2-3 feet drop in level of Lake Minnetonka since last spring

.20″ to .40″ rainfall today with spotty coverage

21 states with record highs this week

87 degrees in Chicago Wednesday

8th consecutive record high for the Windy City

70s return to the metro and southern Minnesota this weekend

11 tonka low.jpg

Lowest water level in 12 years on lake Minnetonka.

Photo credit: Paul Huttner

Trouble on ‘Tonka:

It’s getting bad out there when you look at the permanent docks and boat ramps on Lake Minnetonka these days.

Looking at numbers from the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, the level of Lake Minnetonka is near the lowest levels observed in the past 12 years!

The level of Lake Minnetonka dipped to 927.83 feet above sea level last fall and today is 927.99 feet above sea level.

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Source: Minnehaha Creek Watershed District

Tonka has only dipped this low twice in the past 12 years, October 1, 2009 (927.78′) and October 27, 2000. (927.37′)

Just last spring Tonka was at 930.26 feet on May 23,2001…meaning the big west metro “bellwether” lake has dropped well over 2 feet since last spring.

The Gray’s Bay Dam in Minnetonka at the eastern end of the lake controls the level of Lake Minnetonka, and how much water feeds into Minnehaha Creek from the lake.

The MCWD closed the dam last September as drought began to eat away at the lake level. The lake would be higher now had they closed it sooner last summer… given the onset of drought conditions and rapid fall in lake levels. But MCWD has to do a constant balancing act between those who want higher lake levels and those who want more water flowing into Minnehaha Creek.

Either way… Lake Minnetonka and Minnehaha Creek are woefully low this spring at a time of year when we should be seeing our highest levels of the year.

We’ll need several inches of rain this spring on order to boost levels on lakes, rivers & ponds.

April showers today:

Bands of showers today are riding north from Iowa again. That’s great news for our parched soils & low lakes, but probably not enough to put a big bite in the drought.

Coverage will be spotty, but most models indicate between .20″ and .40″ of rain today.

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Source: ISU

There is enough energy that we may see a few thunderstorms pop today into this evening. SPC does not have any risk for severe weather in Minnesota at this point.

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Source: NOAA SPC

Sunnier & warmer weekend: 70s return!

Our wet weathermaker begins to pull east of Minnesota Friday, and right now the weekend is looking sunny & milder. Temps should make the 70s again, but probably fall short of record highs in the metro. The records are 76 and 78 degrees for Saturday and Sunday at MSP Airport.

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Source: ISU

Record heat in 21 states this week!

The scope, magnitude and duration of this March heat wave is impressive…and unprecedented.

As many as 21 states have set temperature records this week from Minnesota south and east.

Check out these highs on Wednesday!

Chicago 87 degrees – 8th consecutive record breaking day!

Madison 83 degrees – warmest March day on record

Green Bay 83 degrees

Marquette, MI 81 degrees – warmest March day on record

The list goes on and on, but you get the idea. We’ve never seen a warm March pattern like this in recorded history.

My former colleage at WGN-TV Tom Skilling has some interesting data from his Chicago Weather Center blog.

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Source: Chicago Weather Center/WGN

Lilacs are leafing out at the weather lab in Minnesota a good month ahead of schedule. Tulips are blooming in Chicago.

Keep in mind our last frost on average in the metro is around April 28th. It’s too soon to say for sure…but it’s more than likely we’ll still see frost this spring in the metro and most of Minnesota.

It would be very unusual for Minnesota not to see another frost…but then again what’s been “usual” about our weather this year?


  • Sarah Bachmann-Lane

    Hooray for a shout-out to Tom! I grew up watching him on WGN in Chicago and didn’t know that he had a blog. Thanks for the information, it will be fun to follow him as well as you!

  • Lars

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks for another great lesson. How did lake levels change during the “dust bowl” years? Is there a big risk to soil moisture and the growing season with such a dry and warm Winter and Spring?

  • MC Bobo

    It’s still early in the season. Soon, thousands of cans of watery beer will be spilled into majestic Lake Minnetonka, and nature will once again be in balance.

  • bobbydole

    Whats up with the crazy jet stream this spring? Has it been that way all winter? It looks unusual in that little graphic from Chicago.