Published: July 20,2017
The country's worst current drought continues to intensify in the northern Plains where exceptional drought conditions have returned to parts of North Dakota and Montana for the first time in more than a decade.
Exceptional drought is the worst category on the U.S. Drought Monitor, which is updated weekly in a joint effort by multiple agencies.
About 6 percent of North Dakota and 1.5 percent of Montana are now in the exceptional category as of Tuesday. The last time exceptional drought was analyzed in North Dakota and Montana was August 2006 and May 2005, respectively. Much larger portions of North Dakota and Montana, along with South Dakota, are also in severe to extreme drought.
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Drought expansion in the northern Plains from early May into the middle of July. The worst drought is in eastern Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. (NDMC/NOAA/USDA)The so-called flash drought has grown rapidly in the northern Plains since late spring, as the animation above shows.
Hot temperatures have baked the region in recent weeks, exacerbating the drought. Bismarck, North Dakota, saw high temperatures 90 degrees or hotter on 11 of the first 18 days in July, and three of those days topped the century mark.
For farmers and ranchers, the hot, dry conditions have had several consequences.
Large amounts of the spring wheat crop are in poor to very poor condition in South Dakota (74 percent), Montana (61 percent) and North Dakota (40 percent), according to the latest national drought summary.
The drought summary also said livestock water holes are drying up and cattle have lost weight due to a lack of grazing land.
In this July 13, 2017, photo, farmer John Weinand surveys a wheat field near Beulah, North Dakota, that should be twice as tall as it is. (AP Photo/Blake Nicholson)Some counties in the Dakotas have been declared disaster areas, which will allow them to receive federal aid, the Associated Press reported.
In Montana, the Ft. Peck and Ft. Belknap Tribes have declared emergencies because of the drought. The Rocky Boy's reservation in north-central Montana is being affected by water shortages.
As you would expect, precipitation has been paltry in the northern Plains during 2017. Glasgow, Montana, Dickinson, North Dakota, and Minot, North Dakota, are seeing driest year-to-date numbers as of July 18, according to ACIS data. Numerous other cities are in the midst of a top-five driest start to the year.
Through Tuesday, Minot has seen less than three inches of total precipitation in this year – just 27 percent of the average for Jan. 1 through July 18.
A quick end to the drought is not expected in the next few months. An outlook issued by NOAA's Climate Prediction Center on Thursday said drought is likely to persist in much of the region into fall.
MORE: Photos of Drought Landscapes
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