Weather Wednesday: Why a winter drought doesn't matter that much for crops

In this week's Weather Wednesday, John Wheeler looks at why the rain we get in the summer is more important for crops than the snow we get now.

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Here in the Northern Plains, the ground freezes in winter to a depth of several feet.

Much of the water content held in the winter snow pack runs off into the rivers in spring. Surprisingly, little of that water in the snow gets absorbed by the soil.

Underneath the snow, soil conditions are dry. It was an exceptionally dry fall and up to now, the winter has produced very little snowfall.

Fortunately, it is winter and so our water needs are also smaller. But consider that a large part of the region has had around or less than two inches of rain and snow water content all the way back to Sept. 1.

More than half of the state of North Dakota is currently under a Severe Drought condition and the rest of the tristate area is at least dry.


Because winter snow is not that good at replenishing soil moisture, it’s our summer rains that really matter when it comes to drought.

Our region gets well over half its annual precipitation in just one third of the year, from May through August. However, most of that rain comes from thunderstorms, which distribute rainfall very unevenly.

To recharge the water table and grow healthy crops, we’ll need summer rains. A drought in the middle of winter isn’t really that important.

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