Forecasters Say Much of the Dakotas Could Be in for Drought

By Kim Fundinsgland | March 1, 2021

MINOT, N.D. (AP) — Snowfall in the region earlier this week was a welcome sight, falling on parched ground throughout the area. However, much more moisture is needed to alleviate drought conditions that prevail from border to border in North Dakota.

The quarter-inch or less of moisture contained in the heaviest snowfall band along the U.S. Highway 52 corridor fell prior to the input of data for the latest U.S. Drought Monitor, issued Thursday. However, given the very dry conditions, impact from the snowfall on the ongoing drought gripping the state is expected to be insignificant and have little or no influence in altering future drought designations.

In their weekly issuance of the Drought Monitor, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration concludes that nearly 68% of North Dakota is rated to be in “severe” drought, up from 58% a week earlier. The remainder of the state, primarily the southeast, remains entrenched in “moderate” drought or “abnormally” dry.

“Even though precipitation is normally low during the fall and winter seasons, it has been extremely dry during the past 3-4 months (less than 25% of normal), leading to a lack of any snow cover in eastern Montana, western North Dakota, and north-central South Dakota,” concludes the Drought Monitor. It added that drought conditions expanded this past week “southward across south-central North Dakota and central South Dakota.”

The weekly assessment was compiled while snow was falling in North Dakota, so this week’s snowfall was not part of the data included in the Drought Monitor. Impact from the snowfall, if any, will be included in the next Drought Monitor.

One of the impacts of a severe drought designation, according to the Drought Monitor, is that “river flow is decreased; stocks dams are low.” Low river and stream levels are normal for North Dakota at this time of year. Nevertheless, indicators remain troublesome.

The Souris River that enters North Dakota from Canada near Sherwood, loops down through Minot, and then returns to Canada near Westhope, has seen little or no flow for several months. The release gates at Lake Darling, of which the Souris is the primary source of water and is located northwest of Minot, have been closed since last August.

Lake Darling stood at 1,595.42 feet Thursday, more than a half-foot below its winter operating level as prescribed by the International Agreement between the U.S. and Canada.

“We are in water conservation mode,” said Tom Pabian, Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge manager.

Lake Darling is located at Upper Souris NWR. Furthermore, given current dry conditions in North Dakota and the Saskatchewan drainage area of the Souris River, chances for improvement in water flows remains very minimal.

“Indications are that we will not achieve 1,597,” said Pabian, referring to Lake Darling’s preferred summer operating level.

Dry weather can be expected to continue into the early part of March. The region’s 8-14 day precipitation outlook calls for a well below normal chance of moisture through March 10. The 3-month precipitation outlook for March-April-May favors normal precipitation for North Dakota throughout the outlook period.

About Kim Fundinsgland

Fundinsgland wrote this for the Minot Daily News.

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