This tree and lamp post in downtown Williston take on an abstract appearance when reflected in a puddle from Thursday's storm.

 Rain fell in Williston Thursday, but it will not be enough to substantially alter the drought conditions, which, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor map updated on Thursday, have worsened.

The National Weather Service in Bismarck reported 33 hundredths of an inch of rain recorded at the Williston Airport by 1 p.m., and about 3/4 of an inch at a weather station to the southwest of that.

“We would need many more days like this for anything to happen with the drought,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Adam Jones.

The long-range forecast does call for showers off and on in the afternoon hours through the rest of this week into the middle of next week, but these are likely to be spotty, Jones said, and not substantial enough to alter the present dry conditions.

Alex Edwards, also a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, added that there is a chance the numbers could come in above average, but with it coming at the end of July and harvest coming up, it’s not likely to improve outcomes for farmers.

“If you look at the impacts themselves, we are already over our heads with regards to the drought,” he said. “It’s going to be rain on some dry fields that should have been there three months ago.”

Farmers concurred that it was likely to be too little too late. Wade Fisher, trying to grow Williams County’s first hemp crop, said he had gotten .09 inches of rain, which was the most he’d had since June 17.

Hemp, he added, is a drought-tolerant weed, so it’s growing in spite of the lack of rain. But he wasn’t sure it was going to have a worthwhile yield.

Brian Kaae, who helps organize Williston’s Wheat Show every year and farms an area in northeastern Montana, said he had gotten .07 inches, which is his biggest rain for July. 

“The coolness feels nice, and it helps the grain fill a little as opposed to being hot and dry,” he said. “But I’m thinking this is just too little, too late.”

The rain came about thanks to a high pressure ridge that has helped push the jet stream further north than usual, allowing storms to slip into the Dakotas and bring with it welcome rain. 

A drought disaster has meanwhile been declared for nearly all of North Dakota, which will make possible additional response and assistance from state and federal agencies.

The U.S. Drought Monitor’s weekly report rated nearly 46 percent of the state in extreme or exceptional drought, up from 40 percent last week. About 16 percent of the state is in severe drought, and 18 percent is listed in moderate drought.

Gov. Doug Burgum signed an executive order late Wednesday declaring a drought disaster for those counties or tribal nations in severe drought, which is rated as D2 on the Drought Monitor map, or worse.

“These extreme drought conditions represent a serious economic hardship for our farmers, ranchers and the entire state, while also putting firefighters under considerable stress,” Burgum said. “This disaster declaration is another step toward providing relief where it’s most needed.”

The governor’s declaration authorizes the North Dakota National Guard to provide personnel, resources and equipment to support drought response efforts, and directs state officials to coordinate with federal agencies as appropriate.

A variety of emergency assistance is available to farmers and ranchers in the Upper Plains experiencing drought conditions at both state and national levels.

At the state level, fees for commercial vehicles engaged in hauling hay water or livestock supplies in drought-affected counties have been waived. A copy of the governor’s order related to that must be carried in the vehicle of drivers who are taking advantage of that. Hours of service and weight restrictions have also been eased, and the State Water Commission has been allowed to reactivate its Drought Disaster Livestock Water Supply Program. Information on that is at www.swc.nd.gov.

The program was awarded an additional $500,000 to allow it to fill a backlog of $223,000 in cost share requests and provide funding for additional requests.

At the federal level, emergency haying and grazing of CRP land is now being allowed for counties rated D2 or greater by the U.S. Drought Monitor. To apply, farmers may contact their county’s Farm Service Agency office, or meet with their local Natural REsources Conservation Service staff to obtain a modified conservation plan with emergency haying/grazing.

Appropriations measures making their way through the Legislature presently contain money for expanding the Emergency Assistance for Livestock Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program, which can assist with hauling livestock and hay to drought-stricken areas.

Among other resources recently made available:

• Ranchers in D3 or higher drought areas are now immediately eligible for payments under the Livestock Forage Disaster program. For D2 counties, eligibility will begin after eight consecutive weeks of drought. 

• Emergency loans through FSA are available to ranchers in counties that have been designated as natural disaster areas due to the drought. The producers have eight months from the date of the disaster declaration to apply.

• A 12-month exemption has been provided to producers with FSA loans requiring that they have physical control of livestock. This allows ranchers to move livestock to feedlots or other states that have grass before taking back physical control at a later date.

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