Although not completely spared, North Dakota has fared somewhat better than many states that have been engulfed in heat this summer and sorely lacking precipitation. Many of the statistics issued by the National Weather Service in drought stricken states are staggering. By comparison, North Dakota is fortunate that it is not much drier than it already is.
Crop and livestock producers in South Dakota and Nebraska, the two Central Plains states immediately south of North Dakota, are reeling in the face of a historic drought. The average daily high in July at North Platte, Neb., in the southwest corner of that state, was 98 degrees. At Valentine, in north-central Nebraska, July's daily high averaged 99.4 degrees, a whopping 10.7 degrees above normal.
While high temperatures have been common in Nebraska recently, rainfall has been virtually non-existent. North Platte received just 0.69 inches of rain in July, 2.38 inches below normal. Valentine's situation was even more desperate with a mere 0.08 inches of rain in July. That amount is 3.21 inches below normal and the second driest on record.
Moving north, South Dakota is feeling the weather crunch too. Despite the heat, rainfall totals for the year are not much below normal. However, most of the rainfall occurred early in the growing season. Very little rain has fallen in much of South Dakota since the first days of June.
Huron, S.D., which finished July with a 102 degree high, is only 0.11 inches of precipitation below normal for the year. However, Huron is 3.27 inches below normal since June 1. At Aberdeen, in northeast S.D., the precipitation totals are even worse. Aberdeen has recorded 2.78 inches of precipitation less than normal since June 1, but 3.21 less than normal for the year.
North Dakota has areas of the state that are very dry, particularly in the southwest, but some areas have had limited relief due to thunderstorms that have dropped some timely rainfall. Without those storms, North Dakota's precipitation totals would be much worse. Nevertheless, the numbers are not very good, particularly since June 1.
Dickinson is quite dry. That southwest community is 3.45 inches of precipitation below normal for the year and 2.11 inches below normal since June 1. The Bismarck region has benefited from some timely thundershowers but overall precipitation is 1.34 inches below normal since June 1. Williston's totals are relatively good. According to the National Weather Service, Williston proper is only 0.74 inches of precipitation below normal for the year.
The Minot area has not fared very well in terms of rainfall, with most precipitation coming from very small and spotty thunderstorms. Official numbers for the Magic City show 1.94 inches below normal of precipitation since June 1 and 1.76 inches below normal for the year. July's rainfall in Minot was recorded at just 0.67 inches. The maximum daily high averaged 87.3 degrees in July, including a high of 101 degrees July 19.
"It does seem that, to the south and east, it is worse than in North Dakota," said Michael Mathews, NWS meteorologist in Bismarck. "I wouldn't say we are bullet-proof. We have had some timely rainfall that other places haven't. We were fortunate to have plenty of moisture in the ground prior to this summer. We are better off than other parts of the country."
Looking ahead, it appears that El Nino is continuing to develop. El Nino was in the early stages of development a month ago, too early for the NWS to consider including it in the climate forecast with any degree of certainty. Now though, as El Nino continues to form, the NWS has issued an El Nino Watch for 2012.
"We were expecting it to develop. It takes three consecutive months to say we've got an El Nino," explained Mathews. "We are expecting it to develop in September. El Nino is here."
El Nino is a warming of sea surface temperatures in the eastern Equatorial Pacific Ocean. Evidence of that process first surfaced in July and has continued. The expectation is that El Nino will continue through the upcoming winter. The effect on North Dakota can be a substantial change from what is considered a normal winter.
The El Nino Watch favors below normal temperatures and precipitation in the fall and above normal temperatures and below normal snowfall for the winter months. Warmer winter conditions for the state would be the result of El Nino diverting the polar jet stream further north. The current Climate Outlook takes into consideration the warm and dry conditions that currently exist throughout much of the state.
In the short term much of the state, including the Minot area, has a chance of experiencing thunderstorm activity today and into Saturday. However, according to the NWS, rainfall totals generally are not expected to exceed a half inch.