Parts of Red River Valley no longer in drought conditions
Fall rains and winter snows allowed some areas of the Red River Valley to escape drought, while others remain abnormally dry or in drought.
FARGO — Fall rains and winter snows have combined to ease much of southeastern North Dakota out of drought, while other areas remain abnormally dry or drought-stricken.
The most recent Drought Monitor map, released Thursday, Feb. 10, indicates the southern and central Red River Valley in North Dakota are no longer in drought. East of the Red River, however, most of northwest Minnesota remains abnormally dry or in moderate drought.
“Drought conditions have been improving in eastern North Dakota,” said Adnan Akyüz, North Dakota’s state climatologist. The area no longer in drought broadens along the southern tier of counties bordering South Dakota.
Areas no longer in drought received fall rains and “progressive snows” during winter. Even with a somewhat dry spring, those areas likely will have a “very successful growing season,” Akyüz said.
John Wheeler, chief meteorologist at WDAY, cautions that the Drought Monitor is an index combining a number of factors, including soil moisture, recent precipitation and evaporation rates, that carry less meaning in winter.
On the Northern Plains during winter, “Drought kind of goes into limbo,” Wheeler said. Any precipitation falls on frozen ground, and the amount of moisture that penetrates the soil in spring depends on the kind of runoff.
In a rapid melt, “Most of that water will go into saturating the top few inches and the rest of it will go to Canada,” Wheeler said.
The snowfall in Fargo this winter has matched its normal snow-to-water ratio, with 13.1 inches of snow yielding an inch of water.
“So you really can’t get more normal than this year,” he said. Although the liquid contained within the snow is normal, snowfall in Fargo this winter is running eight inches above normal, making it the 13th snowiest and 21st wettest winter on record to date.
“We have to keep in mind that we still have a lot of winter left,” Akyüz said.
The water content in the snowpack in Fargo is 1.9 inches, Wheeler said.
“That’s like a thunderstorm,” he said
Both Akyüz and Wheeler agree weather conditions for the rest of winter, spring and summer will be important in determining whether an area escapes drought.
A livestock specialist at North Dakota State University Extension said fall rains have improved forage prospects.
“Thanks to above average rainfall across much of the state this fall, there is potential for producers to see average forage production in 2022 if we receive normal rainfall in April through June,” said Miranda Meehan, Extension livestock environmental stewardship specialist.
“Rains during this period are responsible for 80% to 90% of forage production in the state," she added. "The exception will be the western portion of the state where extreme and severe drought persists.”
Areas of the drought map in white, indicating no drought conditions, could see the topsoil dry out in two or three weeks in a dry spring, Wheeler said.
“It really depends on the moisture that falls in spring and summer,” Wheeler said. The most intense droughts he’s witnessed in Fargo came in 1988 and 1989 — between which heavy snow fell, resulting in a spring flood.
“Everything really depends on future weather,” Wheeler said.