Drought spreads and intensifies across US Northern Plains


The drought plaguing eastern Montana and much of North and South Dakota came on quickly and is intensifying, leading ranchers to sell their cattle and farmers to harvest early whatever crops that have grown so far this summer.

Just three months ago, no areas of moderate drought were recorded in the Northern Plains region by the U.S. Drought Monitor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. But July's soaring temperatures and lack of rain quickly parched the soil and dried up waterways, creating what climatologists call a "flash drought."

Now, 62 percent of North Dakota, more than half of South Dakota and 40 percent of Montana are in severe, extreme or exceptional drought, according to the drought monitor's weekly report released Thursday. There are also pockets of drought in the Southern Plain states of Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma and Texas.

In Montana, 12 percent of the state's land is experiencing "exceptional drought," meaning widespread crop and pasture losses and water-shortage emergencies, mainly in the northeastern part of the state.

"We would expect to see conditions that bad once or twice in 100 years," said Deborah Bathke, a climatologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's National Drought Mitigation Center and a co-author of the drought monitor.

The effect has been devastating on farmers and ranchers. Farmers are harvesting beans, peas and lentils two or three weeks earlier than normal, with a yield of about half of what they see in a normal year, said Lola Raska of the Montana Grain Growers Association.

Wheat crop yields are even worse, coming in at about a third of normal, she said.

"A lot of wheat prices are still very low," Raska said. "That, in addition to low yields, is going to have a ripple effect throughout the entire economy."

Jay Bodner of the Montana Stockgrowers Association said the extreme drought means ranchers are running out of pasture and water. They are reducing their herds by selling older cows and weaning and shipping young calves early.

It could take years for ranchers to build their herds back up, meaning extended economic losses, Bodner said.

"These high temperatures in July deteriorated things really quickly," he said. "We typically don't see those severe conditions."

The region saw more than 20 days in July with temperatures exceeded 90 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. Rainfall for the month ranged from trace amounts in eastern Montana's Miles City to 1.68 inches (4.27 centimeters) in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Half of Montana's 1.5 million head of cattle are in drought areas, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. U.S. government officials have opened more federal land to grazing and water is being trucked in, but those are temporary fixes, Bodner said.

The drought also made the land more vulnerable to wildfires. Montana's largest fire devastated more than 420 square miles of farm and ranchland in eastern Montana, compounding the problems for growers in the region.

The outlook is grim with the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center's predicting the drought will last into the fall, with higher-than-normal temperatures and low precipitation expected.

That could force farmers to delay fall planting and ranchers to make more cattle reductions.

"If these conditions persist well into the fall, it will have ramifications of some more magnitude," Bodner said.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Nation & World

Why did the chicken wear a reflective vest? To cross the road of course
Why did the chicken wear a reflective vest? To cross the road of course

The old joke has gotten a rewrite. So why did the chicken wear a reflective vest? A flock of chickens, which roost at a Scottish bed and breakfast, have been outfitted with the reflective safety vests so they don’t get tenderized by a car as the fowl cross the road, Inside Edition reported. >> Read more trending news Owners of Glenshieling...
Johnny Depp's 18-year-old daughter talks modeling, acting
Johnny Depp's 18-year-old daughter talks modeling, acting

The daughter of Johnny Depp and model Vanessa Paradis recently turned 18 and is already on the fast track to being a top model in the fashion industry. >> Read more trending news Lily-Rose Depp is the face of Chanel No. 5 fragrance and stars in their new campaign for Fall/Winter 2017, and most recently, she bared all in a new spread for Carine...
Man gets woman's number at mall, gets robbed by her and 3 friends when they meet up
Man gets woman's number at mall, gets robbed by her and 3 friends when they meet up

Police in Memphis, Tennessee, are investigating after a man was carjacked by four women on Sunday.  >> Read more trending news The victim had previously met a woman, identified only as “Kee Kee,” at Wolfchase Galeria mall in Memphis. The two exchanged phone numbers and began to communicate.  On Sunday, Kee Kee asked...
UPDATE: Girl, 17, to be tried as adult after killing sisters while high, speeding 
UPDATE: Girl, 17, to be tried as adult after killing sisters while high, speeding 

The 17-year-old girl who authorities say was high on opiates and speeding when she killed two sisters watching television was charged as an adult on Friday.  Alia Sierra, of Indiana, was charged with 10 criminal counts, including reckless homicide and causing death while operating a motor vehicle with a controlled substance in the blood...
Apple owners beware: Scammers are targeting you for identity theft 
Apple owners beware: Scammers are targeting you for identity theft 

The Better Business Bureau has issued a warning about a scam that’s targeting Apple customers. Con artists are calling people across the United States and Canada and claiming that their iCloud accounts have been hacked, the BBB says. Some targets have said they’ve received 10 or more calls a day. The scam starts when people get...
More Stories