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National Weather Service says North Dakota drought likely to continue into summer

Drought likely through summer

Kim Fundingsland/MDN In most years water flowing over coffer dams in Minot is to be expected at this time of year, but not this year. Drought conditions are beginning to dominate the landscape and may continue to do so this summer.

North Dakota is dry. Much of it very dry. Drought dry and, says the latest Drought Briefing compiled by the National Weather Service, such conditions are “likely to persist or worsen through the spring and into the summer.”

Ominous signs of just how dry conditions are throughout the state, particularly in Ward County, are rapidly drawing attention as the lengthy period of less than usual precipitation is extended month after month.

Burn restrictions are in effect for 36 of the state’s 53 counties and more counties may soon be added to the list. North Dakota State University Extension and Ag Research is advising ranchers to “expect a delay in grass development this spring” and warning producers to prepare to make “drought management-related decisions.”

Many potholes vital to livestock operations are already either very low or completely dry. Without any snowmelt or spring rain, streams and rivers are motionless. The release gates at Lake Darling, situated on the Souris River above Minot, have been closed for months and seem destined to remain that way. The reservoir is already below its preferred operating level and, with Canadian reservoirs on the Souris in a similar condition, no inflow is anticipated.

In Minot there’s been little or no flowing water evident in the Souris for several months. Where winter ice cover has begun to melt on the Souris, due to warm temperatures and not the customary spring flows, green and stagnant water from last fall has begun to emerge.

The signs of unusually dry conditions are evident on the prairie, too, where the absence of drought tolerant pasqueflowers bursting forth with their early season color, often through a covering of snow, hasn’t happened.

Statistics confirm what the farming and ranching community already knows, soil moisture conditions are much too low and precipitation, lots of it, is needed to reverse a very disturbing trend. Dating back to April 2020, nine of 11 months have seen less than average precipitation in Minot and those two months of above average precipitation, July 2020 and February 2021, amount to a mere plus of 0.48 of an inch.

This March seems destined to be added to the list of rainfall futility with only eight one-hundredths inch of precipitation measured for the month through Tuesday of this week. And, says the NWS, the prospect of rain falling yet this March is not good.

In their Drought Briefing issued this week the NWS says North Dakota is “consistently favored for above-average temperatures” through spring and into summer with “drought persisting or worsening.” The NWS notes that a cooler/wetter pattern is always possible, but adds “there is no indication of that happening.”

Long-range weather outlooks, which are always subject to revision, do not indicate a change in overall weather conditions that would result in an abundance of much needed rainfall. The April-June outlook issued by the Climate Prediction Center strongly favors above-normal temperatures for North Dakota and an “equal” chance of normal precipitation. However, the June-August outlook anticipates a high probability of below-normal precipitation and above-normal temperatures, not conditions to alleviate a drought.

The NWS Drought Briefing concludes that “severe to extreme drought is ongoing early in the spring season” and that “warm and dry weather is favored for the summer months.” It also cautions that an “early and active spring fire season will continue” and warns that if drought conditions persist into summer it could lead to an “earlier than average summer/fall fire season.”

The Drought Monitor considers nearly 17% of the state, primarily in the northwest and including all but the northernmost section of Ward County, to be in “extreme” drought. Most of the remainder of the state is rated as being in “severe” drought. The U.S. Drought Monitor is issued every Thursday.

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