Wet weather pattern may relieve drought conditions

Relief likely for drought areas

Kim Fundingsland/MDN Water was flowing over this coffer dam located on the west side of Roosevelt Park Tuesday. The flow was likely boosted by recent rainfall that has helped alleviate concerns about dry soil conditions in the region.

Can you have the odd combination of drought conditions and a pattern of wet weather at the same time? That’s exactly what is happening in much of the northern tier of North Dakota, Ward County included.

Last week’s issuance of the United States Drought Monitor showed a large section of North Dakota, including almost all of Burke, Renville and Bottineau Counties, to have entered severe drought. The northern two-thirds of Ward County was listed as in moderate drought. Both designations were increases from a week earlier.

However, rain that has fallen over much of the drought designated areas of the state in recent days is expected to impact this week’s Drought Monitor which is scheduled for release Thursday. It is likely to reflect improving soil moisture conditions or, at the least, indicate an end to worsening conditions. Furthermore, according to the Climate Prediction Center, much of North Dakota is rated as having a greater than equal chance of experiencing rainfall for at least the next three weeks.

“We’ve had a pretty dry period for several weeks prior to the release of the last Drought Monitor,” said Allen Schlag, National Weather Service hydrologist in Bismarck. “The thing is, ever since then we’ve been quite wet. I think conditions should be improving but are not yet reflected in the Drought Monitor.”

While one storm or rainfall is seldom significant enough to break drought conditions, a pattern of wet weather for several days can produce a much more favorable result.

“Widespread rain of a half inch or so will show improvement in the monitor, probably as early as next week,” said Schlag.

The forecast for the Minot area contains a 20-40 percent chance of showers all the way through the weekend, meaning there is at least a possibility of rain and thunderstorms. A similar forecast has been issued for the Bottineau area. Early indications are that the amount of rainfall expected, should it occur, would be from one-quarter to one-half inch with the possibility of greater amounts falling during thunderstorm activity.

Rainfall for the year measured at the North Central Research and Extension Center immediately south of Minot totaled 5.27 inches through Tuesday morning. That amount included nearly a quarter inch of rain that fell Monday evening. Normal precipitation for the same period is 8.90 inches, or 3.63 inches below average.

Another indicator of dry conditions throughout the region is the amount of water in streams and rivers. Less than 10 cubic feet per second of water was flowing in the Souris River at the Sherwood gauge Tuesday. That compares to a long-term average of 394 cfs. It should be remembered that long-term averages include exceptionally high flows that occurred during flood years.

The Souris at the Baker’s Bridge gauge measured a scant 32.1 cfs Tuesday as compared to a long-term average for the date of 461 cfs. At Westhope, the last reporting point on the Souris before it returns to Canada, Tuesday’s reading was 40.7 cfs. The long-term average for the date is 687 cfs.

“Low stream levels of a short duration are pretty common,” said Schlag. “There’s more concern if they stay there through the summer.”

A trio of reservoirs in southern Saskatchewan that impact Souris River flows have not been releasing any water for several weeks and are not likely to do so unless substantial rainfall should occur above those drainages. Those reservoirs are at or just below their preferred summer operating levels and have met all requirements of water to be released into the U.S.

Lake Darling, an impoundment on the Souris located about 25 miles northwest of Minot, was slightly below its summer operating level Tuesday at 1,596.53 feet. Summer level there is 1,597 feet.

A very small amount of water continues to be released from Lake Darling into the Souris, approximately 20 cfs. While that is a minimal amount it is hoped to be enough to keep aquatic life alive in the Souris as the heat of summer approaches. The flow in the Souris at the Boy Scout Bridge on the city’s west side was 19.4 cfs Tuesday.