No, it wasn't your imagination.

Last week's endless days of rain and leaden skies were, indeed, the stuff of records.

The National Weather Service announced Friday that the 18.91 inches of rain that fell in the Twin Cities during August, September and October set a record -- well before October ends.

The rainfall -- which ebbed enough this weekend to allow people to get outdoors to rake leaves -- broke the previous record for the same three-month period, 18.63 inches set in 1900.

At the same time, the climatological observatory at the University of Minnesota's St. Paul campus reported that the first 16 days of October were the cloudiest stretch for that time of year in the 45 years the observatory has been measuring solar radiation, measuring less than three-quarters of average.

"It's the dreariest such October period we've ever had, so if you feel you haven't seen the sun at all for a while, you're right," said Greg Spoden, an assistant state climatologist.

The most significant result of this long, gray stretch of rain is the fact that it has gone a long way toward loosening the stranglehold of drought that has gripped much of the state since last year.

Data published by the climatology office show that drought has been retreating, particularly in the past week, having largely disappeared along the Canadian border and the North Shore of Lake Superior.

It continues to hang on stubbornly in a pocket of central Minnesota, near Wadena County, "though the last 36 hours of rain have probably helped," Spoden said.

Declaring the drought officially over, though, is another matter. "Drought doesn't play well for the media, because no one can stand behind a podium and make a proclamation," he said. "It's more gradual than that.

"But all of the hydrological systems are starting to improve. This time of year, to use a textbook analogy, we're getting a lot of deposits and very few withdrawals. The trees have lost their leaves so they're not drawing water out of the ground. The ground itself is recharging."

That last news is good for the state's farmers, already looking toward next year's growing season, though the recent rains came too late to have much effect on this year's crops, said Craig Anderson, a statistician for the Minnesota office of the National Agricultural Statistics office.

Less welcome for farmers is the fact that sodden fields can be tough -- or impossible -- to combine. "There's no danger of losing crops, but they could lose progress in combining," Anderson said. "A week ago, they were ahead of average, but they could lose ground to the average."

An exceptionally wet early fall says precisely nothing about the coming winter, said Karen Trammell, a forecaster for the National Weather Service office in Chanhassen.

"The pattern could break any day now, or it could hang around awhile," she said. "Just because it's wet now doesn't mean it's going to be wet this winter. It's not a precursor of anything."