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Farmers 'wait and see' as dry conditions could persist into spring

A pedestrian braves the elements while walking to North Dakota State University on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, in Fargo. David Samson / Forum News Service

FARGO — The lack of snowfall this winter is contributing to drought conditions that have persisted throughout most of North Dakota—conditions the state climatologist warns could continue into spring.

More than 60 percent of North Dakota is in moderate drought, and most of the rest of the state, including the central and southern Red River Valley, is considered abnormally dry, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a greater chance for wetter- and colder-than-normal weather in February and March, but Adnan Akyuz, the state climatologist, is skeptical.

The center's forecast is heavily influenced by the assumption that La Nina conditions, which generally bring colder and wetter weather to North Dakota, will be in effect. But so far a La Nina has failed to be officially recognized, Akyuz said Monday, Feb. 5.

"It is fair to say that it is a La Nina-like weather pattern," he said, but not strong enough to earn the designation. An upper air pattern that set in last year during early spring has persisted, keeping conditions in North Dakota dry, Akyuz said.

Dry conditions prevailed throughout the state last summer and fall, reaching the most severe category, exceptional drought, in areas of western North Dakota. Last summer's drought was the worst in North Dakota since 2006, Akyuz said.

"Unfortunately we are going into next spring with a deficit," he said, adding that soil moisture in many areas was depleted by the chronic dry conditions.

The lack of snow, Akyuz said, is "concerning," especially now that the moisture reserves have been tapped.

"While coming into spring, we are as vulnerable as we get," Akyuz said. As a result, North Dakotans should plan for continued dry conditions to persist, he added.

The change of seasons, however, could bring a change in the weather. "New weather systems are going to develop," which might include rainstorms, he said.

According to the Drought Monitor, the only part of North Dakota not in drought or abnormally dry was an area in the northern Red River Valley including most of Walsh County, much of northern Grand Forks County, and a small portion of eastern Traill County in the central valley. All of Cass County is abnormally dry.

Alyssa Scheve, Traill County agricultural and natural resources extension agent, said farmers are getting nervous with the persistent dry conditions as spring planting approaches.

"We are considerably drier than normal," she said, though added there still are plenty of opportunities for significant snow. "It'll be interesting to see what spring holds for us."

Last year, Traill County farmers experienced a rainfall shortage of about 5 inches, but managed to produce average yields. But now the soil moisture is lacking.

"I think it's too early to get really worried," Scheve said. "It's kind of a wait and see game."

Fargo recorded its lowest temperature—24 below zero, on Dec. 31—since January 2014, and has had some cold spells. Nonetheless, temperatures so far this winter are running a bit above normal, Akyuz said.

"We are actually warmer than normal," he said.

Patrick Springer

Patrick Springer first joined the reporting staff of The Forum in 1985. He can be reached by calling 701-241-5522. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to letters@forumcomm.com

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