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#3 Record rain in late 2019

Kim Fundingsland/MDN The amount of water entering the Missouri River below Garrison Dam remained well above average for several months in 2019. Total runoff into the basin was the second highest on record and led to high water levels on Lake Sakakawea.

Dry conditions, suggestive of a possible drought emerging, marked the first half of 2019. However, as the months passed any thought of drought gave way to concerns about too much moisture.

Record rain fell in September in many areas of the state. Minot set an all-time record for September precipitation with 7.85 inches of rain, surpassing the old mark of 6.11 inches set in 1971. Williston’s rainfall in September of 8.09 inches crushed their old record of 3.74 inches set in 1959. Bismarck and Jamestown experienced their second wettest Septembers on record.

Ground throughout the state became saturated and soggy. Rivers usually well below their banks in late fall were suddenly on the rise. Potholes that had been receding under the summer sun were filling again. Standing water could be seen in fields and pastures where there was concern about dry conditions a few weeks earlier. Harvest season throughout much of the state came to a muddy halt.

In eastern North Dakota, where sugar beets and potatoes make up the bulk of the harvest, farmers who made an effort to recover their crops often had their machinery become mired in mud. The state’s sugar beet harvest was particularly hard hit. The onset of freezing weather brought an end to the sugar beet harvest with much of the crop remaining in the field.

Elsewhere in the state there were numerous reports of grain sprouting in the field because the ground was too wet for farmers to use their harvesting equipment. Estimates in some areas were that as much as 30% of the crop was left in the field due to excess moisture.

With rivers running full in eastern North Dakota, the James, Sheyenne and Red River among them, Lake Sakakawea was seeing a near-record inflow too. In fact, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at one point estimated runoff into the Missouri River basin would equal the record-setting flow during the historic flood year of 2011.

In response to the very high runoff, which was boosted by rainfall late in the year, the Corps increased the amount of water being released from Missouri River reservoirs. At Garrison Dam a few spillway gates were opened for only the second time since construction of the reservoir was completed in 1955. The previous time the spillway gates were used was in the record runoff spring of 2011.

The soggy conditions throughout the state led, quite understandably, to speculation about what effect the excess moisture conditions might play come spring runoff. Certainly ground with a high moisture content plays a significant role during the snowmelt season because soggy ground leaves little room for absorption. The amount of moisture in the ground is one of the factors considered by forecasters, along with the amount of snow and the speed of the melt, when determining the volume of spring runoff.

The final month of 2019 saw precipitation totals continue to climb the ladder of all-time data recorded by the National Weather Service. By mid-December yearly precipitation received in Minot approached 24 inches, the seventh most ever measured in 114 years of record keeping.

December precipitation, primarily derived from the melting of each measurable snowfall, was running well above average in what is normally one of the driest months of the year. By Dec. 13 the total was already 30th most on record..

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