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Unseasonably Warm, Dry Conditions Push N.D. Into Extreme Drought

Prolonged dry and unseasonably warm conditions worsened the ongoing drought into the extreme category in North Dakota.

The U.S. Drought Monitor places nearly 7% of the state under the extreme drought category, or D3, based on the scale from DO (abnormally dry) to D4 (exceptional drought).

“This is the first time North Dakota experienced D3 since Oct. 10, 2017,” says Adnan Akyuz, state climatologist and professor of climatological practices at North Dakota State University. “It also is the first December D3 since 2006.



“Compared historically, the state’s drought conditions being elevated to extreme drought conditions in December is very rare but not unprecedented,” he adds.

Extreme drought conditions crept into the southwestern parts of the state on Dec. 10, 2002.




“The current drought of 2020 and soon to become the drought of 2020-2021 being compared to 2002, 2006 and 2017 is very concerning,” Akyuz warns.

The 2002 drought was the longest drought since the inception of the U.S. Drought Monitor in 2000. It lasted 162 consecutive weeks, from June 2002 to July 5, 2005.

The 2006 drought was the most extreme for North Dakota, with the highest drought severity and coverage index.

The 2017 drought was the second time the state experienced exceptional drought conditions, or D4 (the worst rating). This drought impacted the Dakotas, Montana and Manitoba, causing $2.6 billion in economic impacts.

Warm conditions increase the air’s evaporative demand, depleting what little water is left in the soil and plants. Combined with the ongoing drought in Eddy, Foster, Wells, Stutsman, Kidder, Burleigh, Logan and Emmons counties, conditions worsened into the extreme drought category.

North Dakota’s average winter temperatures increased by 4.5 degrees during the last century. It is the highest rate in the U.S. The average winter precipitation, on the other hand, did not increase along with the temperature trend.

“I am afraid it means we will observe more of a similar situation more frequently,” Akyuz says.

If winter and spring do not bring additional precipitation, the state’s agricultural conditions will be worse than they were in 2017, he notes. However, other industries, including ice fishing, snowmobiling and cross-county skiing, will be directly and imminently impacted by a winter drought.

NDSU Extension is coordinating biweekly meetings to discuss current conditions and potential mitigation measures if the conditions do not change. Meeting participants include representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency, state departments of Agriculture and Emergency Services, commodity groups and congressional offices.

“These biweekly meetings enable agencies and organizations across the state to coordinate response efforts and respond more effectively to the needs of farmers and ranchers impacted by drought,” says Miranda Meehan, NDSU Extension disaster coordinator and livestock environmental stewardship specialist.

“It is highly encouraging,” Akyuz says.

–NDSU Extension