#1: Dry conditions plagued 2017

In 2017 this wetland dried up due to a lack of rainfall. In some places there was just enough rain to keep crops alive, which meant a reduced harvest over much of western North Dakota. Photo by Kim Fundingsland/MDN

The weather took the Minot region, and most of North Dakota, for a wild ride in 2017. The year started with drifts of deep snow courtesy of a series of three blizzards that began in late 2016.

From all appearances it looked like the winter of 2016-17, at least for snow depth, was going to be one for the record books. But the heavy snowfalls came to an abrupt halt. As spring arrived there was growing concern about a lack of precipitation throughout most of the state. By early June the situation was growing dire. The extreme range of North Dakota weather was increasingly evident.

In early June the entire state was in need of rainfall. Nearly all of the state was declared to be in “moderate to severe drought” by the United States Drought Monitor. The southern half of Ward County was exceptionally dry. Hayland was suffering and crop producers anxiously watched the skies for rain clouds that never came.

Minot’s total precipitation for the year through the first week of June was just 1.36 inches, well below the long-term normal of 6.10 inches. The total included a mere 0.29 inches of rain in April and 0.63 inches in May.

For many farmers the lack of moisture meant a very poor start to the growing season. As one National Weather Service forecaster described it, “In some places seed has just given up, hasn’t had a chance.”

By mid-July there was still no relief from the growing drought. Allen Schlag, Bismarck NWS hydrologist, compared the dry conditions to the worst drought period in U.S. history.

“The current drought rivals what was experienced in the infamous “Dirty 30’s“, not in duration but certainly in terms of lack of moisture,” said Schlag.

The facts backed Schlag’s analysis. Minot had received a scant 0.04 inches of precipitation in the first two weeks of July. The Souris River at Verendrye was flowing at 40.4 cubic feet per second compared to the long-term average of 288 cfs. The gates at Lake Darling Dam, which releases water in the Souris, was closed to conserve water.

The dry conditions continued through the end of July. Governor Doug Burgum declared a “drought disaster” for nearly all counties in the state. Much of Ward County was listed as being in “exceptional” drought, an increase in misery from earlier “severe” classification.

2017 will be remembered as the year that spring and summer rains never came. Moisture conditions became so bleak that some farmers in the state were cutting and baling crops for livestock feed rather than attempting to harvest them for sale.

It wasn’t until August that the Minot region and other areas of the state received measurable rainfall. Minot registered 2.25 inches of rain in August. It was welcome, especially after having less than a half-inch recorded in July, but arrived too late to rescue most failing pastures and crops.

Additional rain fell over select areas of the state in September and October, including the Minot area, but it was sporadic. Total moisture for the year would be less than half of normal at most reporting points, but some greening-up of pastures before the first frost was an encouraging development. However, soil moisture content remains very low heading into the first months of 2018.

Late summer snow

The amount of snow that fell in Minot in late 2016 and early 2017 caused a myriad of problems for the city’s snow removal crews, not the least of which was where to put the tons and tons of snow removed from clogged city streets. A decision was made to utilize the parking lot at the Sertoma Sports Complex on Minot’s north side. So much snow was dumped there that it soon became known as “snow mountain.”

A Caterpillar was used to push the snow higher and higher as a steady stream of trucks brought more and more snow to the site. The Minot Daily News and I. Keating Furniture World teamed up for a contest where entrants would offer their best guess as to when the snow pile would be completely melted.

The contest came to an end July 31 when the once massive pile of snow finally disappeared under the summer sun.

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