Severe drought covers much of area
Parts of western Stutsman County and surrounding area are classified as being in a severe drought at this time.
Dry conditions observed in central and western North Dakota have been confirmed by maps issued by the North American Drought Monitor agency that monitors weather conditions across Mexico, the United States and Canada.
The drought monitor map issued by the agency has indicated extreme drought for much of Wells, Foster, Eddy, Stutsman and Kidder counties and smaller parts of Burleigh, Emmons and Logan counties. The map has been consistent for the past two weeks.
"It has been drier to the west of there," said Daryl Ritchison, director of the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network. "... everyone is dry."
Richard Heim, author of the map issued Dec. 1 that first indicated the severe drought, said the agency considers dozens of indicators.
"We use what the bulk (of the indicators) are converging on," he said. "Soil moisture and precipitation deficits are amongst them."
Local reports indicate how dry the area is at this time.
"if we don't get decent snowfall this winter, we'll have a whole lot of problems," said Penny Nester, extension agent in Kidder County. "We don't have hardly any surface moisture. The top inch or inch and a half from the surface is where germination takes place. That is completely dry."
Nester said the growing year started with surplus moisture.
"Lots of surface water last spring," she said. "Definitely didn't get the precipitation last summer."
The loss of surface water has been a good thing for some roads in the region, according to Mikey Nenow, road superintendent for Stutsman County.
"Water levels are down on most roads in the western part of the county," he said. "... it has made some roads useable again."
Nenow estimated some larger sloughs had dropped more than 2 feet and some smaller wetlands are completely dry.
Alicia Harstad, Stutsman County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, called 2020 a "whiplash year."
"Super wet this spring then it quit raining," she said. "We used subsoil moisture pretty much this whole growing season. We are starting to worry about what happens next spring."
Change in the drought conditions is unlikely to occur through the winter, Ritchison said.
"Drought in the winter is an oxymoron," he said. "We don't get a lot of moisture during the winter."
Heim said dry soil conditions can even get worse during the winter.
"The air masses are so dry," he said. "Sunny, windy weather can contribute to the drying of the soil."
The extended forecast for North Dakota issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calls for below normal temperatures and slightly above normal precipitation for January, February and March.
Ritchison said weather is always variable and a single storm can change the situation immensely.
"We're going into winter dry," he said. "If we get a lot of snow this winter we won't be thinking about a flood next spring."
Heim said there has been a lot of variability in the weather just in the last few years.
This year, the months of September through November was the third driest on record in North Dakota, he said.
"Last year that same period was the wettest on record," Heim said. "Sometimes climate does that. Makes it hard for people to adapt."
Nester said the local farmers will have to adapt to whatever the weather conditions are next spring.
"If we could predict the weather there would be very few challenges in agriculture," she said.