Havre Daily News - News you can use

By Tim Leeds 

With drought over, Montana looks forward to a wet decade

 


Green, green, green — not only in the fields and hills of Montana over the summer and fall, but also on the state drought monitor map.

"We've never had one like that," said Jesse Aber of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, a member of the Montana Governor's Drought Advisory Committee.

Aber said this is the first time the drought monitoring map has had a large swath of green since it first was used in 2003.

A combination of increased moisture over the last seven years — especially the past three or four years — as well as high amounts of moisture from May through August of this year, have turned around the 10-year-old drought in the state.

"We had some really amazing signs of complete hydrologic recovery from nearly a decade of drought starting 1999," Aber said.

Long-range weather patterns could lead to a continuation of that pattern, Aber said, potentially leading to higher precipitation and lower temperatures for decades.

Higher precipitation

While the drought conditions in the state, updated by the drought committee each month, have been up and down over the last eight years, some part of the state always has shown dry to extreme drought conditions.

In September, for the first time since the maps were issued, no county in the state showed dry conditions, with all listed as no drought. The maps for July and August were almost as good for lack of drought conditions, with only Carbon County listed as slightly dry in the shrinking number of counties listed as in drought.

Continued precipitation is building the moisture level in the state, although it has dropped off in the last few months.

For the water year, which runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 31, the National Weather Service listing for the Havre area shows .34 inches of precipitation, slightly below the annual average of .77 inches. For the month of November, Havre had .14 inches listed, just below the average of .15 inches for this date.

But for the calendar year, the precipitation level is much higher. Havre was listed this morning as receiving 12.72 inches of precipitation, higher than the normal annual amount, and 2.07 inches above the average for this date.

Most of the state improved for the October map, with high levels of August precipitation — while delaying harvests and fall planting — bringing a swath of green across north-central and northeastern Montana.

Blaine County is the only county in that region not listed in a "moist" condition.

Aber said even Blaine County is not in bad condition — the reports coming from that county indicated it simply isn't as moist as the surrounding areas.

The dryer part of the state is west of the divide, although late spring storms helped with recovery as well. The moisture in many counties there has receded through the late summer and fall, Aber said.

No counties in that region are listed as in moist conditions, and Mineral County is colored light yellow, slightly dry.

Some regions east of the divide also saw lower moisture than the northern and eastern part of Montana, including the Yellowstone River area, Aber said.

Boon to agricultural production

The higher moisture led to record harvests in parts of the state, and the continued moisture and forecast could continue to help.

"It was a great year," Aber said. "I would just love to see this trend continue and see dryland farming in Montana have a banner stretch."

Joe Broesder, Hill County Extension agent, said he does not have precise current moisture conditions but that the conditions look to be good. He said he was told recently that the topsoil moisture was dropping a bit, at least in some areas.

"This recent rain probably gave a bump to that," he said.

Hill County U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency Executive Director Mike Zook said the moisture level certainly can't hurt, although the key to good crops is moisture in the spring and early summer.

"But we never look a gift horse in the mouth," Zook said.

Boon throughout the state

The moisture has helped other parts of the state on many levels, Aber said, including the fire season. Following the drought season from 1999 on, with heavy fires almost every summer and fall, the last two years have been relatively quiet.

The Associated Press reports that fire is estimated to have burned 55,000 acres in Montana this year, up slightly from almost 49,000 acres in 2009. That is compared to a 10-year average of 429,698 acres a year.

Aber said the wetter conditions also helped with bugs and weeds, allowing plants in Montana to better establish themselves, including helping with the pine beetle problem in Montana's forests.

"It touches everything, all flora and fauna and everything we do," he said.

Long-range

looks good

The conditions look to remain good.

Aber said the surface water supply indexes from Oct. 1, used by the drought committee in its last meeting, include a few river systems in the slightly dry condition, about 15 in the near average range, a half-dozen listed as slightly wet, eight or 10 in moderately wet conditions and a couple in the extremely wet condition. That listing was on the first day of the water year, when statisticians begin measuring the amount of water in the hydrological cycle.

"To see those conditions on Oct. 1 is really something," he said.

The recovery included Fort Peck, which had been down severely after the years of drought, filling up this year.

"It takes years to fill that up … ," Aber said. "All the way down the Missouri River drainage, this is good news for millions of people."

The same is true for other state and federal reservoirs.

"It's the best they have been in years," Aber said.

And the initial forecast should bode well for the continued moist conditions conditions and cooler weather in the winter.

"We could be walking into a challenging year and probably do OK at least into July," Aber said. "The forecast is so positive things can only get better."

Weather patterns in the world could lead to a very long-range trend, he said. A shift in the weather pattern in the northern Pacific, believed to impact the weather in the United States, could lead to cooler temperatures and higher moisture for decades.

The cycle of temperatures of the water in the northern Pacific, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, is part of what is attributed with the hotter dryer weather in Montana in recent years, Aber said. After a 30-year cycle of cooler water there, from 1947 to 1977, the water went into a warmer phase.

That is linked to weather impacted by the temperatures of the equatorial Pacific, Aber said, in the patterns known as El Niño and La Niña. During an El Niño, Montana typically has warmer, dryer winters with the opposite true during a La Niña. The pattern now in the northern Pacific historically has led to more La Niñas.

Aber said the change back could indicate a wetter, cooler future for Montana.

"It could be with us for 30 years," he said.

Green, green, green — not only in the fields and hills of Montana over the summer and fall, but also on the state drought monitor map.

"We've never had one like that," said Jesse Aber of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, a member of the Montana Governor's Drought Advisory Committee.

Aber said this is the first time the drought monitoring map has had a large swath of green since it first was used in 2003.

A combination of increased moisture over the last seven years — especially the past three or four years — as well as high amounts of moisture from May through August of this year, have turned around the 10-year-old drought in the state.

"We had some really amazing signs of complete hydrologic recovery from nearly a decade of drought starting 1999," Aber said.

Long-range weather patterns could lead to a continuation of that pattern, Aber said, potentially leading to higher precipitation and lower temperatures for decades.

Higher precipitation

While the drought conditions in the state, updated by the drought committee each month, have been up and down over the last eight years, some part of the state always has shown dry to extreme drought conditions.

In September, for the first time since the maps were issued, no county in the state showed dry conditions, with all listed as no drought. The maps for July and August were almost as good for lack of drought conditions, with only Carbon County listed as slightly dry in the shrinking number of counties listed as in drought.

Continued precipitation is building the moisture level in the state, although it has dropped off in the last few months.

For the water year, which runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 31, the National Weather Service listing for the Havre area shows .34 inches of precipitation, slightly below the annual average of .77 inches. For the month of November, Havre had .14 inches listed, just below the average of .15 inches for this date.

But for the calendar year, the precipitation level is much higher. Havre was listed this morning as receiving 12.72 inches of precipitation, higher than the normal annual amount, and 2.07 inches above the average for this date.

Most of the state improved for the October map, with high levels of August precipitation — while delaying harvests and fall planting — bringing a swath of green across north-central and northeastern Montana.

Blaine County is the only county in that region not listed in a "moist" condition.

Aber said even Blaine County is not in bad condition — the reports coming from that county indicated it simply isn't as moist as the surrounding areas.

The dryer part of the state is west of the divide, although late spring storms helped with recovery as well. The moisture in many counties there has receded through the late summer and fall, Aber said.

No counties in that region are listed as in moist conditions, and Mineral County is colored light yellow, slightly dry.

Some regions east of the divide also saw lower moisture than the northern and eastern part of Montana, including the Yellowstone River area, Aber said.

Boon to agricultural production

The higher moisture led to record harvests in parts of the state, and the continued moisture and forecast could continue to help.

"It was a great year," Aber said. "I would just love to see this trend continue and see dryland farming in Montana have a banner stretch."

Joe Broesder, Hill County Extension agent, said he does not have precise current moisture conditions but that the conditions look to be good. He said he was told recently that the topsoil moisture was dropping a bit, at least in some areas.

"This recent rain probably gave a bump to that," he said.

Hill County U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency Executive Director Mike Zook said the moisture level certainly can't hurt, although the key to good crops is moisture in the spring and early summer.

"But we never look a gift horse in the mouth," Zook said.

Boon throughout the state

The moisture has helped other parts of the state on many levels, Aber said, including the fire season. Following the drought season from 1999 on, with heavy fires almost every summer and fall, the last two years have been relatively quiet.

The Associated Press reports that fire is estimated to have burned 55,000 acres in Montana this year, up slightly from almost 49,000 acres in 2009. That is compared to a 10-year average of 429,698 acres a year.

Aber said the wetter conditions also helped with bugs and weeds, allowing plants in Montana to better establish themselves, including helping with the pine beetle problem in Montana's forests.

"It touches everything, all flora and fauna and everything we do," he said.

Long-range looks good

The conditions look to remain good.

Aber said the surface water supply indexes from Oct. 1, used by the drought committee in its last meeting, include a few river systems in the slightly dry condition, about 15 in the near average range, a half-dozen listed as slightly wet, eight or 10 in moderately wet conditions and a couple in the extremely wet condition. That listing was on the first day of the water year, when statisticians begin measuring the amount of water in the hydrological cycle.

"To see those conditions on Oct. 1 is really something," he said.

The recovery included Fort Peck, which had been down severely after the years of drought, filling up this year.

"It takes years to fill that up … ," Aber said. "All the way down the Missouri River drainage, this is good news for millions of people."

The same is true for other state and federal reservoirs.

"It's the best they have been in years," Aber said.

And the initial forecast should bode well for the continued moist conditions conditions and cooler weather in the winter.

"We could be walking into a challenging year and probably do OK at least into July," Aber said. "The forecast is so positive things can only get better."

Weather patterns in the world could lead to a very long-range trend, he said. A shift in the weather pattern in the northern Pacific, believed to impact the weather in the United States, could lead to cooler temperatures and higher moisture for decades.

The cycle of temperatures of the water in the northern Pacific, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, is part of what is attributed with the hotter dryer weather in Montana in recent years, Aber said. After a 30-year cycle of cooler water there, from 1947 to 1977, the water went into a warmer phase.

That is linked to weather impacted by the temperatures of the equatorial Pacific, Aber said, in the patterns known as El Niño and La Niña. During an El Niño, Montana typically has warmer, dryer winters with the opposite true during a La Niña. The pattern now in the northern Pacific historically has led to more La Niñas.

Aber said the change back could indicate a wetter, cooler future for Montana.

"It could be with us for 30 years," he said.

 

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