How Dry? Individuals can report moisture or lack of, to help develop accurate Drought Monitor
Spring is officially “here” but much of Tri-State Livestock News region doesn’t look it. With much of the area coming off their second snow-less winter, carryover grass is limited and runoff water is nonexistent in many areas.
The national drought monitor is a compilation of data and on-the-ground observations. The drought monitor helps determine eligibility for several federal government assistance programs including ELAP (Emergency Livestock Assistance Program), LFP (Livestock Forage Program) and haying and grazing of CRP.
The drought monitor can be found at https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/ .
According to the drought monitor, the eastern part of North Dakota and the extreme eastern part of South Dakota are no longer in drought conditions. The severity of the drought in the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska varies drastically depending on which part of the state you look at.
Corey Hart farms, ranches and feeds cattle near Chasely, North Dakota. He said subsoil moisture in his region is limited and that the snow they have received over the winter has been deceiving.
“Every time there is a snow event, they consider it as moisture but this winter it has blown away and we are quickly back to bare ground. And what snow has melted, has mostly run off, which is helpful for filling dams, but with the ground frozen, most of the moisture doesn’t soak into the fields.”
Hart believes North Dakota is suffering from a much more severe drought than is reflected by the Drought Monitor. He’s concerned, for example, about the lack of hay available as winter winds down. “There is not much hay around. I went looking, and I found some 100 miles away for $250 per bale,” he said.
If the drought persists, producers will once again be forced to buy more hay than usual, even after selling down their herds, he said. High priced hay with added freight expense due to high fuel prices all makes ranchers input costs even higher.
Making CRP available for haying and/or grazing as soon as possible is another option to potentially provide some relief, he said. These dates are determined in part by the Drought Monitor.
Dr. Adnan Akyuz, the North Dakota state climatologist, helps develop the drought monitor. He takes data such as actual snow fall and rain fall, and combines that with local reports from county extension agents and others, to make a recommendation as to the drought situation in North Dakota.
He also consults counterparts in South Dakota, Montana and Minnesota, to be sure they are on the same page.
He said because county agents tend to be in contact with local producers, as well as traveling throughout their counties, they make good references.
Producers can submit reports about moisture conditions in their area here: https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/ – scroll all the way to the bottom of the page to find the “Submit Report” button, then click the URL for “Condition Monitoring Observer Reports” and then click “submit a report.”
Producers can report whether or not their particular area received moisture in a recent storm that travelled through, what their moisture conditions have been recently, explain how it is affecting their operation, and even submit photos. All of this information helps the decision-makers determine where to draw lines and how to make drought designations.
Akyuz said the 2021 drought was “significant” in Western North Dakota, and impacts continue to be felt. “The 2021 drought broke records in longevity and severity. It will take above normal precipitation including snowfall to reverse these conditions,” he said.
Akyuz said he and his counterparts try to be as accurate as possible and if producers observe that moisture is running off rather than soaking into the soil, they can report that. “When that happens, we call that a ‘departure from normal soil moisture,’” he said.
Adam Hartman, a climatologist with the NOAA/NWS/NCEP Climate Prediction Center also encouraged individuals to file reports on the drought monitor website.
“These reports allow you to upload pictures. They are a big help. The data can show us the “soil condition” but it doesn’t show us what’s happening on the ground – maybe the wind is literally blowing the topsoil away and now our seeds we just planted are no longer in the soil. Pictures are really beneficial.”
Hartman encouraged those filing reports to include contextual information such as “we received .5 inch of rain on June 10, but the temperate the next day was 95 degrees and the wind blew 30 mph, so the moisture didn’t last.”
Hartman reminded people that accumulation of data helps paint a more accurate picture, so often drought conditions aren’t reflected on the drought monitor “immediately.”
“The data might be accumulated over 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, you might see a lag. But this is a weekly process and we want to keep up as much as possible,” he said.
Melissa Smith with the National Weather Service said that there is another way producers can report their weather situation. The “CoCoRahS” or Community Colloborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, is used by the National Weather Service to understand moisture and other weather events locally. This information is also taken into account by the Drought Monitor authors.
Anyone can report their moisture on the https://www.cocorahs.org/ website, but Smith, who is based in Rapid City, South Dakota, recommends they do it on a regular basis – daily is best but weekly reports work too. Observers should use a standard 4 inch rain gauge. Those choosing to report should realize that reports of “no rain” are just as important if not more important than reports of rain. “Reporting your ‘zeroes’ is just as important as reporting your rainfall amounts,” she said. Smith’s Rapid City office produces the weather predictions for weather.gov for the three counties in Northeastern Wyoming as well as most of Western South Dakota. They collaborate with offices in Aberdeen and Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Grand Forks and Bismarck, North Dakota, as well as Nebraska and Wyoming offices.
“We have to use whatever data we have available,” she said. Currently, reporting in northwestern South Dakota and southwestern North Dakota, for example, is sparse. “In the last seven days, between Plevna, Montana and southwest of Bison, South Dakota, or from southern Harding County to Dickinson, there haven’t been many reports. That’s a huge area where the weather can vary drastically.”
“We tend to get a lot of observers right in Rapid City but any of those rural areas, it’s so important to get that information. It helps delineate those lines for the drought monitor and other information out there.”
Smith said that if an individual can’t report every day, they can report “multi day events” so they would report that “in the last 3-4 days” they have received x amount of moisture – or none at all.
“It’s preferable to do it year-round but, really, starting in March, when the grasses should be growing – that makes a big difference,” she said
“We really need people to report every day, even if there isn’t precipitation because the lack of precipitation is just as important as too much. And if you’re unable to report every day, there are ways to still be an observer and your information can still be used,” she said.
1.Regular reporting (daily or weekly) go to https://www.cocorahs.org/ click on “Join the CoCoRahs Network”
2.In depth reports (don’t have to do it daily. Can include photos) Go to https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/ – scroll all the way to the bottom of the page to find the “Submit Report” button, then click the URL for “Condition Monitoring Observer Reports” and then click “submit a report.”
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