Drought shows no signs of easing up throughout Dakotas

Blake Nicholson
Associated Press
Weather News

BISMARCK, N.D. — Extreme drought shows no signs of releasing its grip on North Dakota, despite recent cooler weather and widespread rainfall.

The U.S. Drought Monitor map released May 6 shows 85% percent of North Dakota in extreme drought, the second-worst of four categories. Extreme drought blankets the western and central portions of the state, with most of the Red River Valley in moderate or severe drought.

“Areas of extreme drought expanded in northern South Dakota and southern North Dakota,” wrote Western Regional Climate Center Associate Research Scientist David Simeral and Climate Prediction Center Meteorologist Richard Tinker.

“In northwestern South Dakota, the town of Lemmon saw its driest January-through-April period on record with only 0.71 inches of precipitation observed,” they said. “The South Dakota State Extension and the North Dakota State Climate Office are both reporting drought-related impacts in their respective states, including poor water quality for livestock and dry stock ponds.”

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.

April climate statistics from the National Weather Service show that precipitation for the Bismarck area was more than half an inch below normal. In Dickinson it was even worse — more than an inch below normal. Temperatures for the month were just under normal, after a hot March.

The state has received widespread precipitation over the past two weeks, The Bismarck Tribune reported.

“Combined with recent cooler temperatures, it has been enough to slow down drought degradation,” the National Weather Service said in a drought update issued May 5. “However, soil moisture remains well below average across the majority of the state.”

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 81% of subsoil as being in those two categories — both up from the previous week. Ranchers’ hay supplies were rated 54% short or very short, and stock water supplies were 74% in those categories, also higher over the week.

Gov. Doug Burgum earlier this month declared a statewide disaster. The State Water Commission has reactivated the Drought Disaster Livestock Water Supply Project Assistance Program. The state Agriculture Department has reactivated the Drought Hotline and interactive hay map. For more information, go to www.swc.nd.gov and www.nd.gov/ndda.

The tinder-dry conditions across the state have led to more than 800 wildfires scorching nearly 80,000 acres — 8½ times the number of acres that burned in all of 2020, according to Beth Hill, acting outreach and education manager for the North Dakota Forest Service. Burned areas total four times the square mileage of Bismarck.

All but four of North Dakota’s 53 counties have some form of outdoors burning restrictions in place. Much of central and eastern North Dakota was in the “very high” fire danger category on May 6, with the eastern half of the state under a red flag warning from the National Weather Service for “critical” fire weather conditions — warm temperatures, low humidity and wind gusting to 40 mph.

The overly dry conditions are likely to persist or worsen through the summer, according to the National Weather Service. The agency’s precipitation outlook for the May-July period shows a low probability of even normal precipitation in North Dakota, and the three-month outlook for late summer shows a high probability of below-normal precipitation for the entire state.

“At this point it would take an extended period of above-normal rainfall to bring the region back to near-normal hydrologic conditions,” the weather service said. “Crops across the region face greater-than-normal uncertainty as normal to below-normal rains may still see crops struggle, as there is not enough soil moisture to allow crops to thrive in the absence of regular rainfall.”