Aberdeen-area snow could alleviate drought, but not end it

Farm Forum

The heavy snowfall so far this month has prompted questions about the impact on the drought that plagued the Aberdeen area. Dennis Todey, state climatologist and South Dakota State University associate professor, answered some questions.

Q Will the additional snow affect drought conditions?

A It does, though it kind of depends on where you are. Certainly, we’d rather be having rain and not snow because that would give the moisture a better chance of entering the soil.

Q What is the biggest issue, and does the snow help or hurt it?

A One of the biggest issues right now is dry soil conditions. We’re getting reports from various places where snow is melting. Where that’s happening, we’re seeing moisture entering the soil. It will improve conditions. It will not resolve the drought issues, but alleviate some of them. The more moist the soils are, however, the more slowly they will warm.

Q What are some other benefits to the late snow?

A The other piece of this is what it will do for pasture and rangeland. We will get moisture that will help green up and ease some of the fire concerns we had before the start of the year.

Q How different will this season be, since there was early warming last spring?

A It’s not unheard of to have this kind of weather during this time of the year, though we are getting a bit late. Last year was a record early warmth. We’re colder than average now, so there’s a huge contrast from last year. Last spring is on people’s minds. It is possible to get snowfall well into May. I’m not predicting that, though. It looks like warm air will be entering the area early next week to push along the melting process. That’s the next step we need to have.

Q What’s the drought outlook like for this region?

A What we’ve been trying to depict in the U.S. Drought Monitor is that snow during the wintertime was beneficial, but was not going to resolve drought issues. Now that we’re getting into spring, we won’t improve conditions until there’s more moisture.

Q What would need to occur for that to happen?

A Rain after the snow is done is needed. Most producers would be happy for there not to be anymore precipitation for two to three weeks. That would let them get things in the ground. Then, the precipitation could start. That’s unlikely to happen.