Obviously, it's not anyone's imagination, December 2011 - indeed the entire fall - has been very warm and dry. How Warm? How Dry? A look at the preliminary data shows that for the the first twenty one days of December 2011, the 23.7 degree average temperature in Fargo is quite mild - the 11th warmest on record. At the UND/NWS Climate station it's a bit cooler; the average temperature of 20.9 degrees for the first 3 weeks in December 2011 is not in the top 10, but ranks 18th warmest.
Precipitation has been quite a bit off from normal as well. In the case of the UND/NWS Climate station the trace of precipitation is the driest December on record, tying with several other years. Down in Fargo the 0.03 inch is the 3rd driest on record.
Below is a table of the preliminary average temperatures and precipitation totals for the first three weeks at the UND/NWS Climate Station and for the Fargo Area.
* This station's record may include data from more than one, possibly incompatible, locations. It reflects the longest available record for the Fargo Area. Parenthetical values represent days of missing data for that period.
The data above clearly shows that December has been, as we already know, quite mild and very dry. When combined with the persistent above normal temperature pattern, the result is the development of a Moderate Drought within the Red River Valley region. Based on information from NWS and other weather spotters, soil conditions - while dry - are moist enough so that frost is present down to a few feet in some locations. Based on reports from observers, the water table in many locations has dropped anywhere from 2 feet in the clay based Valley to as much as 6 feet in the sandy loam of the western Minnesota Lakes country.
Below is the latest Drought Monitor.
National Drought Monitor
National Drought Monitor - Midwest Region
National Drought Monitor - High Plains Region