Northern Plains becoming hard hit by severe to extreme drought

The Northern US Great Plains into the southern Canadian Prairies are suffering from a growing drought problem. The National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln released their weekly drought monitor which updates on the drought situation for the entire country (every Thursday based on Tuesday data). Drought overall across the United States has begun to grow in coverage and intensity. This can happen just from the local abnormalities in a summer season. However, a persistent pattern of dryness has developed over the Northern Plains beginning in May where significantly below normal rainfall has caused soils and hydrologic sources to begin to dry out.

I took a look at some meteorological stations for their recent climate records. Rapid City, SD (currently in the moderate drought zone) is running 3.37 inches below normal in rainfall for the May 1st-July 21st period. In Bismarck, ND (in severe drought) is even worse at 4.01 inches below normal for the same period. May dryness hit the region hard with a major monthly deficit then it simply continued into the summer. At least moderate drought covers ~28% of the above region (ND, SD, NE, KS, WY, CO). Moderate conditions can result in some damage to crops and reduction in stream/river flows and lowering of lake levels. Extreme – which now exists in spots of southwest ND – can mean widespread and devastating agricultural losses and severe reductions in hydrologic sources.

off01_temp
Above average temperatures likely over the Great Plains (and rest of the country) over the next 3 months. (Climate Prediction Center)
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Meanwhile, there are equal chances (~33% each) for above, near, or below normal precipitation during the same 3 month period. (Climate Prediction Center).

Obviously, “equal chances”- which is based on the expected evolution of various climate patterns – means that there could very well be above average rainfall, which the region really needs at this point to get out of the growing deficit. However, if it ends up being near-normal, they may continue to simply lag behind with similarly bad impacts. Below normal means a worsening and spreading of drought conditions and further difficulty removing the existing drought (anyone remember the difficulty California had in getting out of drought?). Folks in these areas should be prepared for any further water restrictions and do what they can now to conserve in case the dryness lasts longer than expected.

Elsewhere, dryness and moderate drought has begun to spread into parts of the Intermountain West and Four Corners.


Quick update from the Eastern Pacific tropics…new tropical depression! Tropical Depression Ten-E is rolling around between Tropical Storm Greg and TD Nine-E. It’s expected to become a tropical storm in the coming days as it generally moves westward over the open ocean. So there are now 4 existing cyclones in the tropical North Pacific east of 180 longitude. Although Fernanda is dying quickly over cooler waters and dry mid-level air and will likely dissipate by tomorrow.

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Good weekend to you all!

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Author: Meteorologist Nick Humphrey

Meteorologist and geoscientist in Lincoln, NE. Seattle, WA native. Love weather, storm chasing/photography and planetary science.

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