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North Dakota goes from too wet to too dry

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Current dry conditions across North Dakota are a sharp contrast to a year ago when harvest equipment was getting stuck in wet fields and many crops couldn’t be brought to market due to excessively of soggy conditions.

The primary reason was record precipitation in September 2019 that fell throughout the state. Today conditions are vastly different.

This week’s release of the U.S. Drought Monitor shows dry conditions throughout the state persist with nearly a quarter of North Dakota now considered to be in “severe drought.” However, for the first time in several weeks, drought conditions have not noticeably intensified. Still, only a small portion in the southeast corner of the state, roughly eight percent of North Dakota, is rated as drought free.

The situation is not unusual for North Dakota, which is known for vast swings in weather, but going from too wet to too dry in one year is an attention getter. The wet soil that hindered harvest last fall was widely credited with providing necessary moisture to germinate crops this past spring. It wasn’t until July that rainfall exceeded the monthly average and then by a mere 0.41 inch.

Precipitation, either from rain or snowfall equivalent, other than in July, has been below normal in every month this year. May and September precipitation proved to be the most scarce this year with deficit rainfall of 1.13 and 1.14 inches respectively. October appears to be almost certain to have less than normal precipitation as well. The October historical average precipitation for Minot is 1.16 inches. Only 0.23 inches had fallen through the 21st of this month.

As for the year to date, the Minot area is nearly five inches below normal precipitation for the year. According to data from the National Weather Service, Minot had received 10.87 inches of precipitation this year up to Thursday morning of this week. That compares to 20.44 inches through the same date one year ago.

The chance of precipitation falling in the near future, either rain or snow, is not very good. The Climate Prediction Center’s outlook through Nov. 4 has nearly all of North Dakota in the “below normal” probability for precipitation. Looking further ahead, all the way into January of next year, there is an increasing likelihood of above normal snowfall across the northern United States due to the presence of La Nina.

Although it is possible, drought conditions generally do not intensify much during winter months. Melting snow and spring rains can, and often do, change soil conditions rather dramatically. Based on the current drought assessment, a replenishment of soil moisture will be critical to next spring’s planting season.

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