Recent Rainfall Helps Alleviate Drought

On the heals of a record warm and dry winter, area agricultural interests were becoming increasingly concerned for the potential of significant drought. In fact, large portions of the Red River Valley Region were already classified as experiencing severe drought conditions, with portions of the Tri-State region experiencing extreme drought. Recent rainfalls have gone a long way to helping alleviate the more serious drought conditions, but many areas remain very dry.

The driest parts of our region, from the fall of 2011 through the late winter 2012, was in the southern Red River Valley and adjacent Minnesota Lakes Country. Over the past month, sufficient rain has fallen across in the driest areas to reduce or all but eliminate the drought. In a reversal of fortunes, the wetter areas north of the U.S. Highway 2 corridor have been the driest. Severe drought conditions continue from the upper Devils Lake Basin along the International Border and on into the Lake of the Woods region. The Minnesota DNR State Climatologist has an excellent web article here.

Despite the rainfalls, stream-flows remain below the long term median in portions of the Red River Valley, in particular across the Minnesota side and along the International Border. While the main-stem Red River from Fargo downstream is at or above early May flows, sub normal flows are noted at Wahpeton, with very low flows on the Minnesota Wild Rice River and the Pembina River in North Dakota. These sub-normal flows suggest that the recent rainfalls, while beneficial to agriculture, have not been enough to replenish the deeper soil moisture. Generally speaking, 3 to 6 - or more - inches of precipitation are needed over northwest Minnesota to totally eradicate the drought.

Not only are there agricultural concerns, but Fire Control Agencies such as the Minnesota DNR and North Dakota Interagency Dispatch Center are keeping a close watch on the dry conditions. Residents are asked to be mindful of any burn restrictions in your area, and use extreme caution even when burning is allowed.

What does the future hold? Near term climate predictions suggest a continuation of at least normal amounts of rainfall  through the last week of May, and continued above normal temperatures. This combination of rain and warmth should help keep the top soils moist and warming. Beyond the last week of May, longer term climate predictions suggest normal climate variability in both temperature and precipitation. Based on information from the Climate Prediction Center, summers following a La Nina winter have a higher frequency of warmer than normal days, with an enhanced risk for below median rainfall. Should warmer and drier conditions develop, the lack of deep soil moisture may present issues for later in the growing season.

Below are some images that depict the developing dry conditions, then the recent increase in precipitation. All this information is compiled by various agencies including the National Weather Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, North Dakota State Water Commission and respective Offices of State Climatologist. The information is compiled by the Regional Climate Center in Lincoln Nebraska.

April May 2012 Precipitation Departure

 Precipitation Departure from Normal April 4th - May 9th 2012. Courtesy High Plains Regional Climate Center.

North Dakota and Minnesota Drought Monitor as of May 8th 2012. Courtesy USDM.

Precipitation summary from June 1 2011 through May 8th 2012 (blue line) for Fargo ND. Note how the total precipitation (blue line) was above the average (red line) until the fall, and has been below the average since November 2011. Comparison with the normal (red line) during the same period, as well as the wettest (green line) and driest (tan line) on record. Courtesy of the Acis Program, HPCC Lincoln Nebraska.

Precipitation summary from June 1 2011 through May 8th 2012 (blue line) for the UND/NWS Climate Station. Note how the total precipitation (blue line) was above the average (red line) until the fall, and had been below the average from November 2011 to April 2012, and is near normal now. Comparison with the normal (red line) during the same period, as well as the wettest (green line) and driest (tan line) on record. Courtesy of the Acis Program, HPCC Lincoln Nebraska.

 

Precipitation summary from June 1 2011 through May 8th 2012 (blue line) for Devils Lake NWS Cooperative Weather Station. Note the prolonged period of sub-median precipitation, since the fall of 2011 through early May 2012. Comparison with the normal (red line) during the same period, as well as the wettest (green line) and driest (tan line) on record. Courtesy of the Acis Program, HPCC Lincoln Nebraska.

Precipitation summary from June 1 2011 through May 8th 2012 (blue line) for NDSU Experimental Station / NWS Cooperative Weather Station. Similar to Devils Lake, see the prolonged period of sub-median precipitation, since the fall of 2011. It has been consistently dry in northeast North Dakota. Comparison with the normal (red line) during the same period, as well as the wettest (green line) and driest (tan line) on record. Courtesy of the Acis Program, HPCC Lincoln Nebraska. 

Precipitation summary from June 1 2011 through May 8th 2012 (blue line) for Wadena 3 South NWS Cooperative Weather Station. Until recently it had been the driest for this period in the Wadena area; while still dry recent rainfalls have eased conditions somewhat. Comparison with the normal (red line) during the same period, as well as the wettest (green line) and driest (tan line) on record. Courtesy of the Acis Program, HPCC Lincoln Nebraska.

Precipitation summary from June 1 2011 through May 8th 2012 (blue line) for U.M. Itasca Research / NWS Cooperative Weather Station. The cumulative precipitation departure is over 6 inches, leading to an increased risk of wildfires. Comparison with the normal (red line) during the same period, as well as the wettest (green line) and driest (tan line) on record. Courtesy of the Acis Program, HPCC Lincoln Nebraska.

Precipitation summary from June 1 2011 through May 8th 2012 (blue line) for Warroad MN NWS Cooperative Weather Station. Comparison with the normal (red line) during the same period, as well as the wettest (green line) and driest (tan line) on record. Courtesy of the Acis Program, HPCC Lincoln Nebraska.

For more information please contact the National Weather Service in Grand Forks at 701.795.5198 or contact Mark Ewens, Climate Services Focal Point.

 



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