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Cows and calves have plenty of grass in this pasture south of Beulah, N.D. The area has received rain recently that has helped move it out of drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Photo taken June 20, 2018. (Jenny Schlecht/Agweek)

Rains hydrate SD, ND, MN, MT

The threat of drought backed off in most areas of the Dakotas, Minnesota and Montana, in the wake of recent rains.

The June 21 version of the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor map, found at droughtmonitor.unl.edu/CurrentMap.aspx showed shrinking areas of drought in the Northern Plains, but some dry spots. The drought monitor project is a collaboration among the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the U.S. Department of Commerce and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Widespread rain over the western Dakotas was accompanied by temperatures 6 to 9 degrees above-normal. Rainfall amounts that were 1 inch to 2 inches above normal fell along the Nebraska and South Dakota border.

Dry conditions receded in western North Dakota, according to the drought index. Western South Dakota was downgraded by one full category to "abnormally dry," as the "short-term pattern has brought enough precipitation that only lingering long-term issues remain," according to the drought summary.

SE SD floods

In eastern South Dakota, short-term dryness and heat expanded the "moderate drought" and "abnormally dry" conditions to the south, according to the map's accompanying text summary, although the period was completed as of June 19, so it didn't capture some of the latest rains that were bringing flooding to some areas in the southeast.

Minnesota had warm, wet conditions, with some areas receiving more than 3 inches of rain above normal, withl and some receiving much more.

The monitor removed the "abnormally dry" designation across much of Minnesota.

Kenny Blumenfeld, a senior climatologist with the Minnesota State Climatology office, said the state went from many areas that were "a bit drier than what we'd like to many places much wetter than we'd like." Most of the state has received more than 2 inches of rain in the past two weeks, and "reasonably large areas" have received up to 10 inches.

"Our rain gauges only go to 6 inches and both were running over this a.m.," said Nancy Hyink on June 21, who lives on a farm south of Worthington, Minn., with her husband, Larry. Roads had water over them and some county roads were barricaded. "Oh, what a mess," she wrote in a facebook post. "BUT, it could be worse ... so still thankfull!!!"

Meanwhile, most of Montana has been relatively wet over the short- and long- term. Widespread precipitation over southern Montana has kept that area drought-free. Abnormally dry conditions were introduced in the northwest part of Montana, and expanded in the extreme northeast.

Meanwhile, NOAA is projecting slightly higher percentages of above-normal temperatures for August through October for the much of the Dakotas, Minnesota and Montana, and is not projecting either above- or below-normal precipitation during the same period.

Similarly, a separate "Palmer Drought Index," produced by NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information, showed drought through June 16 in south-central South Dakota, including "severe drought" in the extreme southwest, as well as severe drought in extreme northwest North Dakota.

Most doing well

Daryl Ritchison, interim director of the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network, based at North Dakota State University, does not have input on the drought monitor but said the two national drought index maps don't always reflect the agricultural impacts from current weather conditions.

He noted that stalled upper-level low pressure systems recently have deposited 3 inches to 5 inches of rainfall in South Dakota, making a big impact, and smaller events have kept crops going in much of North Dakota.

Mercer County, N.D., had been in moderate drought conditions but recent rains helped move it to abnormally dry. (Jenny Schlecht)The Drought Monitor maps are somewhat subjective and can be a week behind, while the Palmer Index is more based on data, and is a more long-term descriptor, Ritchison said.

"Really, the vast majority of the area is doing quite well," he said. ""Every single year we get some very small pockets" of drought conditions.

Ritchison said, for example, that a drought area indicated in north central North Dakota has in fact received sustaining rainfall recently, so crop prospects there are relatively positive "at the moment."

The "nature of the Northern Plains" is to have two- and three-week stretches where rain doesn't fall, followed by downpours that can revive the crops. The longer-term maps also tend to include dry conditions in the winter when the impact of moisture is less than the timely rains during a growing season.

The state climatologist for South Dakota was not immediately available to comment, as she was attending a national conference in Nebraska.

Laura Edwards, South Dakota State Climatologist, said dry conditions in the eastern part of the state expanded toward the south. Fortunately, she said, in this part of the growing season crops haven't needed much moisture, but some herbicide activation has stalled for lack of moisture. But this has been a year of extremes with some southeast areas seeing flooding or being too wet to plant.

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