FARGO — The dry conditions that have lingered since fall have worsened, placing the southern Red River Valley in the moderate drought category and much of northeastern North Dakota in severe drought.
Dry conditions have prevailed since Sept. 1, and as a result most of northwestern Minnesota and all of eastern North Dakota have received less than half of normal precipitation, according to the National Weather Service.
Warmer-than-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation into early April “could exacerbate the current drought conditions” and result in low stream flows and increased risk of wildland fires, the weather service said.
“Normally at this time we would be discussing Red River and Devils Lake flood conditions, and possibly still anticipating the spring thaw,” Greg Gust, a weather service meteorologist said Friday, March 26.
“Instead,” he added, “we have the dramatic lack of fall soil moisture and winter snowpack now coupling with an early, warm and dry spring leading to intensifying drought conditions and wildland fire danger over much of the area.”
The latest U.S. Drought Monitor, issued Thursday, March 25, shows most of eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota is in moderate drought, with a “fair amount” of northeastern North Dakota in severe drought, Gust said.
Extreme drought is creeping across north-central North Dakota and beginning to extend to the northeast, he said.
“Recent episodes of light rain and or snowfall have held more severe drought conditions at bay over portions of northwest Minnesota and southeast North Dakota and adjacent areas of west-central Minnesota,” according to a weather service drought information statement.
“However, much of east-central through northeast North Dakota and adjacent areas of far northwest Minnesota have received scant rainfall or snowfall over the past 30 days and therefore are experiencing the more intensifying drought conditions,” the drought statement said.
Spring has arrived early, and the climate outlook for June, July and August predicts that the southern two-thirds of North Dakota and much of western Minnesota will most likely be dry, WDAY chief meteorologist John Wheeler has said.
“If our present dry weather pattern continues, drought will become severe by this summer, and all of us will be affected,” he said.
The forecast offers little hope that conditions will improve in a meaningful way over the next week, Gust said.
“Certainly there is the chance for some light rain or a rain/snow mix as we head into this weekend and again through the coming week, yet the higher amounts of precipitation are currently forecast to occur over the far southern Red River Valley and into west-central Minnesota, where drought conditions are already less severe,” he said.
The U.S. Drought Monitor's seasonal outlook predicts that drought will persist throughout North Dakota and most of northern Minnesota through the end of June.