Despite some recent gentle and timely rain, drought conditions appear to be deepening and expanding in northwestern North Dakota, according to the latest United States Drought Monitor map.
The map shows Williams County lying in a band of moderate drought, surrounded by areas that are abnormally dry. The footprint of the dry area has grown since last week.
Williston did pick up 17 hundredths of an inch of rain Thursday with rain in the morning, bringing the year to date precipitation to 2.94 inches. That is 61 hundredths of an inch behind the normal of 3.55 inches.
More rain was in the forecast for overnight, up to a half an inch or so.
Temperatures are forecast to be above normal in the six to 10-day forecast, and about average or a little below average for precipitation, suggesting the area may continue to stay in an area that is at least abnormally dry. The long-range forecast, from May 25 to May 31, meanwhile, shows above average temperatures and equal chances of above or below average precipitation.
Alan Schlag, hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Bismarck, said soil moisture has continued to be dry across most of the state, and rain to date hasn’t been enough to cure that.
“In the latter part of winter and early spring we got some snow and it melted off about as reasonably as we could expect it to,” he said. “We saw some go into the rivers and streams, but clearly not all of it. We did see a fair amount go into the soil. But even though we believe we saw a fair amount of snowmelt runoff go into the ground, the reality is the soils are still pretty dry, especially from Williston on over through Bottineau County. That northern tier of counties in North Dakota hasn’t seen a lot of moisture over the last three to four weeks.”
Rain is helping green things up a little bit, Schlag conceded, but things don’t appear to be growing much from what observers in the area have told him.
“That suggests the native vegetation and pastures are still starving for moisture,” he said.
Thursday’s rainfall is helpful, but not enough to cure things, Schlag added.
While the soil in the region continues to be dry, there is a flood watch in effect for the Missouri River, thanks to all the snowpack in Montana.
“The countryside may be drier than normal, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at the river,” Schlag said.
The culprit is more robust snowpack than usual in Montana, which is pushing lots of water down through the Yellowstone and on into the Missouri River.
The flood warning should persist at least through the end of May, on into some portion of June. Garrison Dam is also likely to have above normal flows for the rest of the summer into Lake Sakakawea.