By Anna Jauhola
Kittson County has steadily been listed in moderate drought since last fall. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 53 percent of the county is in severe drought and the whole county is abnormally dry.
The U.S. Drought Monitor classifies severe drought by the following conditions: hard ground, expensive feed, low crop yields, high fire danger, burn permits required, low river flow, significantly lower snowpack and decreased well levels.
Greg Gust, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, said Kittson County’s dry conditions over the last eight months are the driest on record since 1885. The same goes for Polk, Red Lake and Norman counties in the northwest corner.
Temperatures have also been some of the highest in the last 126 years with Kittson County recording its seventh-highest above normal temperatures from September 2020 to April 2021. It would have been the highest if the county hadn’t experienced the extreme cold snap in February, Gust said.
When factoring in the between 1.22 and 3.74 inches of rain Kittson County received May 19-21, the period between Sept. 1 and May 27 is the third driest on record, Gust said.
The driest the county has been in that eight-month period was in 1900, the second driest in 1952 and the fourth driest was in 1988.
“The amount you’re missing from the fall plus the amount you’re missing from the winter snowpack doesn’t necessarily equate to the moisture you would have in the spring for the growing season,” Gust said. “More of that snowpack is going to melt and run off. That fall precipitation, some of that is going to evaporate. We’re still a healthy 2 to 3 inches less than we would need to get our soil moisture to where we need it.”
The normal amount of rainfall for the Hallock area at this point in the year is 2.44 inches. So far, the area has only received 2.14. Lake Bronson reported 3.74 inches two weeks ago, which lead to a slight opening of the spillway at the dam, Gust said.
The heavy rain event that plagued the Stephen and Argyle area over May 19-21 didn’t reach so far north, but helped somewhat refill the South Branch Two Rivers.
Heading west into North Dakota, all of Pembina County is experiencing severe drought, with 65.77 percent being in extreme drought. Gust said much of the same conditions persist in Pembina County as they do in Kittson. Pembina reported only 1.22 inches of rain in the last major event, but reports from around the area show the groundwater is there, but a little further below the surface, Gust said.
For comparison, only 54.6 percent of Minnesota is experiencing abnormally dry conditions, 21.6 percent in moderate drought and 0.8 percent in severe drought. Almost 98 percent of North Dakota is in moderate drought, 93 percent in severe drought, 85 percent in extreme drought and 16.7 percent in exceptional drought.
Although rain is in the forecast, Gust said it’s not promising much more than a tenth to a quarter inch of moisture. To get soil moisture back up to where it needs to be for a decent growing season, Gust said the area needs consistent half-inch to 1-inch weekly rains. Instead, forecasts are currently showing the temperatures will be above normal and precipitation will be below normal.
“I’m, of course, optimistic and hope that we can get the precipitation. But the reality is, there’s nothing in the pattern that suggests we’ll get to a wetter period,” Gust said. “With that being said, you can just look into places south of here … and it’s certainly possible where we’ll see those heavier precipitation events come through and affect us. So it’s not impossible.”
By Anna Jauhola