Rain doesn’t slow down drought expansion

LINTON, N.D. -- Rain has fallen in much of central North Dakota in the past week, but that wasn't enough to keep the area in severe drought in the state from doubling.


LINTON, N.D. - Rain has fallen in much of central North Dakota in the past week, but that wasn’t enough to keep the area in severe drought in the state from doubling.

The June 13 U.S. Drought Monitor, released on June 15, reports 27 percent of North Dakota is in severe drought, compared to 13.54 percent the week prior. An additional 56.4 percent is considered to have moderate drought conditions, while the remainder of the state is abnormally dry.

North Dakota has the largest area of drought conditions in the country, though its neighbors also have growing problems.

South Dakota’s severe drought area increased to 13.14 percent from 11.37 percent the past week. Moderate drought encompasses 31.96 percent of the state, and an additional 34.36 percent is abnormally dry. Montana now has 10.02 percent in severe drought, 10.53 percent in moderate drought and 15.18 percent abnormally dry, all in the east. Minnesota has 11.97 percent in moderate drought and 27.97 percent abnormally dry, all in the northwest.

National Weather Service hydrologist Allen Schlag, located in Bismarck, N.D., says the worst hit area in North Dakota appears to go south along the Missouri River corridor from about Washburn. He’s heard of canola planted three weeks ago that still hasn’t germinated in the Harvey area and says pastures toward the South Dakota border are brown.


The North Dakota Department of Agriculture has launched an interactive online map designed to display the information being gathered by the department’s drought hotline.

The map, available on the Department of Agriculture website , details counties where producers have called the hotline expressing a need for hay, as well as those with hay to sell, pasture or hayland to rent, and individuals who are available to move hay. North Dakotans and producers from nine other states have contacted the department and are willing to sell hay or rent pastureland to North Dakotans in need. The hotline number is 701-425-8454.

Schlag works with the state climatologist to report local conditions to the U.S. Drought Monitor. And while the recent rainfall has been helpful, it’s far from enough to allow the area to lose its drought designation, he explains.

He uses the Bismarck area - now in the severe drought category - as an example. There was a 3.5 inch precipitation deficit there, so an inch of rain still left a 2.5 inch deficit.

“If we were to receive something pretty similar to this event, let’s say next week … I think we would at least be discussing the concept of taking them from (severe drought to moderate drought) simply because we would be getting rid of that numeric deficit,” he says.

There also needs to be an improvement in the effects of the drought to consider pulling the area out of the severe drought designation, he says.

That might take some time to see. Emmons County Extension Agent Kelsie Egeland says the small cereal grains crop hasn’t looked good and appears to be close to heading out. What farmers can harvest likely will have low yields, she expects. Some may not have gotten tall enough to harvest - Egeland says some small grains are shorter than 10 inches.

But pastures and row crops might recover now given the more than 2 inches that fell in the area in the past week, especially if more timely rains follow.


Egeland says pastures near the South Dakota border were brown. Cattle producers have been culling cows from their herds in anticipation of inadequate grass for the summer or feed supplies for the fall and winter.

It’s likely too late for cool season grasses to recover, Schlag says.

“The question is, can we start seeing enough midseason or warm season grasses greening up to keep the countryside from being brown overall,” Schlag says.

Egeland thinks some ranchers will slow down on the culling for the moment to see how pastures recover. And some are looking at their small grains crops as potential sources of forage. That discussion brings up considerations as to what is allowed under crop insurance and what the nutrient and nitrate levels are, she explains.

Schlag says the rains in most areas were not excessively heavy, so the soil soaked up much of the water rather than having it run off into streams and sloughs.

“It will provide that soil moisture for many days going forward, which is what the plants are going to need when the sun comes back out,” he says.

Schlag says the Climate Prediction Center’s six- to 10-day outlook, as of June 14, was calling for warm temperatures and below-normal precipitation.

“So once we exit this rainstorm, they have us being pretty dry again,” he says.


The eight- to 14-day outlook shows an eventual cooldown, with below-normal temperatures farther north in the state and near-normal temperatures in the south, he says.

There is hope that more timely rains will follow. The land can’t recover immediately from months of too little moisture, but people’s spirits were up right away, Egeland says.

“Everybody’s just a lot happier,” she says.

Schlag advises people to do their best not to worry about conditions they can’t control. A lot could change as the summer wears on.

“It’s still a little bit early to write everything off or to be doing cartwheels saying ‘I’ve got 2 inches of rain,’” he says.

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