Fargo in drought conditionPart of the Red River Valley has slipped into moderate drought conditions in what climatologists say could merely be an interruption of the persistent wet weather.
By: By Patrick Springer, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
FARGO — Part of the Red River Valley has slipped into moderate drought conditions in what climatologists say could merely be an interruption of the persistent wet weather.
Much of eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota has been abnormally dry in recent weeks, a stark turnaround from the unrelenting wet conditions that have mostly prevailed for years.
The latest official drought monitor map, released Thursday, shows that the area’s abnormally dry region has expanded.
It now includes much of eastern North Dakota and extends west into Montana, covering roughly the southern third of North Dakota.
All of Minnesota now is considered abnormally dry or in various stages of drought, with the driest areas in the south and southwest.
Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Neb., said one of the reasons for the region’s shift to drier weather is that much of the area from Kansas to Texas is extremely dry.
Precipitation originating from the Gulf of Mexico – the main source of outside moisture for the northern Plains – tends to disappear as it passes over the arid expanse as weather systems move north.
“As it goes over a dry environment, it loses some of that moisture and we’re seeing some of that now,” he said.
Adnan Akyuz, the state climatologist for North Dakota, noted that much of the region to the south was in extreme drought a year ago.
For reasons that aren’t known, it’s as if the area’s precipitation switch has abruptly flipped to the off position, he said.
“What triggers that turnaround point is very much unknown,” Akyuz said.
Because the Plains and Upper Midwest are so far from either coast, most of the region’s moisture comes from the weather and fluctuates with conditions.
“The moisture has to come a very, very long distance,” Akyuz said. “We mostly rely on local moisture.”
For whatever reasons, the weather abruptly shifted to a more dry pattern that so far has prevailed during the late summer and entire fall.
Fargo concluded autumn as the fourth driest on record, with 1.43 inches of precipitation.
“Somehow when it starts it tends to stay dry,” Akyuz said. “We call that positive feedback. The feedback mechanism is the essence of the dry and wet periods.”
Still, he added, the area’s climate can abruptly switch. A dramatic example came in 1936 and 1937.
The fall of 1936 was the second-driest on record, with 1.2 inches of moisture. That was followed by the winter of 1936-37, which had 82.3 inches of snow, the fourth snowiest on record.
Patrick Springer is a reporter
at The Forum of Fargo-
Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.