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Facing severe drought, North Dakotans turn to higher sources

BISMARCK (AP) — Leaders of a Bismarck church last Sunday morning took the first steps in organizing a communitywide prayer effort aimed at ending the state’s drought, which continues to worsen.

The timing of that message may have helped their cause.

“It was very powerful — as we first told folks here at McCabe that, it was raining outside,” said Karl Kroger, lead pastor at McCabe United Methodist Church.

Some members of the church after discussing the drought on social media approached the church’s leadership about praying for rain and inviting other congregations to do the same. Kroger and Associate Pastor Jenny Hallenbeck Orr liked the idea, and this week through personal invitations and emails they’re asking other churches to join, The Bismarck Tribune reported.

“I love the idea of churches and other religious groups being unified in positive action together after a year filled with so much disunity over a host of things,” Hallenbeck Orr said.

The effort is an opportunity for people to come together and pray for the state and those who are most adversely affected by the drought, Kroger said. Church leaders are asked to activate a prayer team or coordinate into their services a moment of silence or other prayers and “continue as long as they feel led by God,” Kroger said.

“As Christians we believe that when one suffers we all suffer,” he said. “We recognize the hurt and the challenges people experience, and we want to let them know we’re with them.”

A prayer for rain posted on the church’s Facebook page is available for people to use and share, Kroger said.

Extreme drought continues to expand in North Dakota and now covers three-fourths of the state, including all of the central and west, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor map. Extreme drought is the second-worst of four categories. Most of eastern North Dakota is in severe drought, with the southeastern corner in moderate drought or abnormally dry. No areas are yet in exceptional drought, the worst category.

The U.S. Drought Monitor is a partnership of USDA, the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The High Plains generally saw cooler-than-normal temperatures and widespread precipitation over the last week, and locally heavy amounts of rain helped ease dry conditions in southeastern North Dakota, according to National Drought Mitigation Center Climatologist Deborah Bathke and U.S. Department of Agriculture Meteorologist Brad Rippey. But precipitation wasn’t enough in other areas to prevent worsening conditions.

“Agricultural field reports indicate planters are being idled, except in the southeastern corner of the state, and cattle are being culled,” they wrote.

The weekly crop report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service rates 83% of topsoil in North Dakota as being short or very short of moisture, and 80% of subsoil as being in those two categories — slight improvements over the week. Ranchers’ hay supplies were rated 48% short or very short, and stock water supplies were 68% in those categories, relatively stable over the week.

The National Weather Service in a drought statement said: “Not only will evaporative concentration of salts be an issue in stock dams and wetlands, but faster warming of the water is likely to encourage algal blooms.”

Gov. Doug Burgum last week declared a statewide disaster, and the State Water Commission reactivated the Drought Disaster Livestock Water Supply Project Assistance Program and dedicated more than half a million dollars to the rancher aid program.

Documented wildfires in North Dakota increased over the past week from 194 scorching about 34,000 acres to 243 burning more than 43,000 acres, according to Beth Hill, acting outreach and education manager for the North Dakota Forest Service. The acreage is more than triple what burned in the state all of last year.

“It’s important to note that there is a lag in this reporting system and that not all (fire) departments report,” Hill said. “However, it looks like with the small breather we got with the precipitation, more departments got a chance to sit down and catch up on reporting.”

The fires include ones that burned about 3 ½ square miles in the Medora area and an 8-square-mile blaze in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

All but five of North Dakota’s 53 counties have some form of outdoors burning restrictions in place. The five that don’t are in eastern North Dakota. All of North Dakota was in the “low” or “moderate” fire danger categories. The five-day state forecast from the weather service called for few chances of precipitation.

“Drought is likely to persist or worsen through the rest of spring and into the summer,” the weather service said in a statement, adding that “An active spring fire season will continue.”