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Soil moisture and drought continue to improve but concerns remain for 2022

STORMTracker meteorologist John Wheeler said soil moisture throughout much of the region has improved, but the deep soil profile remains dry. That means prolonged periods of dryness could put the region right back into the throes of drought.

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In the peak of the drought over the Northern Plains in mid-August, exceptional drought stretched across large portions of North Dakota and northern Minnesota, STORMTracker meteorologist John Wheeler said.

Now, past the middle of September, the U.S. Drought Monitor has changed significantly. Though exceptional drought still is present in large portions of Montana and into a tiny portion of western North Dakota, the big stretches in North Dakota and Minnesota have vanished after rains throughout late August and September.

Reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that Minnesota's topsoil moisture considered very short to short improved form 84% on Aug. 15 to 35% on Sept. 19. Some areas of southeastern North Dakota and eastern South Dakota have been removed from any drought classification.

But Wheeler cautions that the drought, while improved, is not over, as the "very deep moisture profile" remains dry. What that means, he said, is that a few weeks of dry weather would put the drought impacts right back where they were.

Montana remains in tough shape, drought-wise, with little improvement, the Drought Monitor shows. Montana had the worst topsoil moisture rating in the country on Sept. 19, with 95% very short to short.


Wheeler said the GFS, or American, forecast model shows chances of heavy rain at the end of next week, while the European model show some rain, but not as much. Wheeler said he is inclined to side with the European model at this point.

Temperatures are expected to go far above average in the next week, which will make getting some moisture all the more important.

"There is still some concern that a dry winter, dry spring would lead us quickly back into drought," Wheeler said.

Here's a state-by-state look at this week's U.S. Drought Monitor:

Iowa: Conditions did not change significantly in Iowa. There was a less than 1% increase in severe drought, along with a more than 6% increase in moderate drought, with a corresponding drop in the abnormally dry category.

Minnesota: Minnesota has no land in exceptional drought this week, and extreme drought dropped from 30.32% to 23.58%. The state now has 6.5% of land in no drought category, up from 5.29% last week.

Montana: Little changed in Montana this week, where 20.37% of land remains in exceptional drought. Extreme drought did drop from 33.52% to 30.24%, but the entire state remains in moderate drought or worse, with 98.7% in severe drought or worse.

Nebraska: Extreme and severe drought dropped slightly in Nebraska this week. But the state added a small portion of lands into drought categories compared to last week. Nebraska now has 84.63% of land in some drought category, compared to 84.47% last week.


North Dakota: With a big chunk of central North Dakota taken out of exceptional drought, the state's percentage for that worst category dropped from 1.86% to 0.43%. Extreme drought also dropped from 58.25% to 51.9%. Even so, 99.76% of the state remains in some drought category, with 92.08% in severe drought or worse.

South Dakota: Extreme drought in South Dakota dropped from 14.06% to 10.76%. The portion of the state out of drought conditions rose slightly, from 5.97% to 7.06%.

Wisconsin: Wisconsin saw 0.14% of land fall into extreme drought this week, but overall, the portion of the state not in any drought condition rose from 62.87% to 66.91%.

Jenny Schlecht is the editor of Agweek and Sugarbeet Grower Magazine. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at or 701-595-0425.
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