Odds good for drought extending into 2018

NDSU Extension
Farm Forum

The drought North Dakota experienced in 2017 could continue into 2018, according to Adnan Akyuz, state climatologist and professor of climatological practice at North Dakota State University.

That may be the case, even though the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) is forecasting a greater chance for wetter and colder than normal weather in February and March, he says.

“The forecast weighs heavily on La Nina patterns, even though the persisting weather so far in winter does not support it,” he notes. “Even though La Nina winters usually mean colder and wetter than average weather for North Dakota, we have to keep in mind that not all La Nina winters are the same.”

Last winter, for example, lived up to its expectation in terms of precipitation: North Dakota was the sixth wettest on record. However, the overall winter temperature for the state was the 31st warmest on record.

Even though this winter has had some cold spells, overall conditions up to this point are near normal.

“Sometimes using the accumulated heating degree day tells us about the overall conditions in winter,” Akyuz says.

This winter, Bismarck had 92 fewer accumulated heating degree days, compared with the average. Fargo accumulated 218 fewer heating degree days, compared with the average.

Snowfall totals across the state also show a nontypical La Nina pattern. For instance, Fargo has received 15.1 inches less snow than average. The season-to-date snow deficit for Bismarck is 15.8 inches.

“The lack of snow is concerning in areas scarred by the worst drought to hit North Dakota since 2006,” Akyuz says. “We do not have the access moisture we had last fall and winter, which was the ninth wettest September-through-February period on record.

“While coming into spring, we are as vulnerable as we get,” he adds. “The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s estimation of the 2017 drought’s economic impact for North Dakota, Montana and South Dakota is $2.5 billion. If last spring repeats, the accumulated impact of drought could result in even higher numbers this year.”

Based on his experience and the CPC’s past performance, he doesn’t think the center’s forecast for the spring is reliable enough for North Dakotans to lower their guard against a continuation of the 2017 drought into 2018.

“Therefore, the best mitigation measure is to prepare for it as if will continue into the 2018 growing season,” he recommends.

For the latest information on potential drought conditions and resources for farmers and ranchers to cope with drought, visit NDSU Extension’s drought website at www.ag.ndsu.edu/drought/.