Expanding drought covers over half of MontanaSource: Great Falls Tribune
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More than half of Montana and a quarter million residents are now experiencing drought — with 12 percent of the state in “exceptional” drought that occurs once in a century.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Tuesday released data on July temperature and precipitation, which showed that drought had deepened and expanded across Big Sky Country.
For the month, Montana was among the driest and warmest states in the country, compared to its own weather history, NOAA said.
“Dry summers tend to go hand-in-hand with warm summers, and those two things also tend to make drought worse,” said Jake Crouch, a NOAA climate scientist.
At the end of June, 42.11 percent of Montana was in a drought — either moderate, severe or extreme.
By the end of July, drought had expanded by 11 percent to 53.39 percent of the state.
The nation’s drought is affecting the northern plains to the northern Rockies.
“Eastern Montana is definitely in the epicenter of the drought and dealing with some of the worst impacts,” Crouch said.
More specifically, either moderate, severe, extreme or exceptional drought now covers central Montana beginning at Fergus County’s Lewistown and stretching east to the North Dakota border.
Drought also has settled on all or portions of six counties in Montana’s northwestern corner.
More: U.S. drought reaches record low as rain reigns
The estimated population in Montana’s drought-stricken areas is 294,638, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
At the end of June, no part of the West was in D-4 or exceptional drought. That’s the worst category of drought.
Now, following the extreme July conditions, 11.87 percent of Montana is in D-4. That exceptional drought is occurring in northeastern Montana’s Phillips, Valley, Daniels, Roosevelt, Sheridan, Garfield and Petroleum counties.
“And all of the D-4 in the West is in Montana,” Crouch said.
“Abnormally dry” conditions cover large portions of central and western Montana, including Great Falls.
When drought and abnormally dry areas are combined, 86 percent of Montana is either abnormally dry or in a drought.
NOAA figures show that the 75.7-degree July average temperature in the Lower 48 was the 10th warmest in 123 years of record-keeping and 2 degrees above the 20th century average.
To date, 2017 has been the country’s second warmest year on record. The warmest year was 2012.“
2012 was an incredibly warm year, and I don’t think we’re going to surpass that this year,” Crouch said.
Much of the warmth in July nationally was driven by warmth in the western United States with Montana leading the way.
Big Sky County’s average temperature of 71.7 degrees in July was 6 degrees above normal.
And it was the state’s third warmest on record.
Other states, such as Florida and Texas, obviously had higher temperatures than Montana, Crouch said.
But compared to its own temperature history, Montana, with its 3rd-warmest July, was the warmest state in the country for the month, Crouch said. Idaho was the fourth warmest, followed by California and Utah.
“Those were the states ranked in the top five of their own history,” Crouch said.
Montana led the way with its lack of rainfall, too.
For the month, average rainfall in Montana was 0.46 inches, less than a half inch, which was the second driest on record and 1.13 inches below he monthly average. No other state in the country experienced a top five driest month.
“So in terms of heat and lack of precipitation, Montana was either the winner or the loser depending on which way you want to look at it,” Crouch said.
The July precipitation total of 2.74 inches for the country was .04 inches below the 20th century average.
It’s worth remembering the late winter and early spring precipitation in western Montana because both helped with water availability now, Crouch said.
“There’s definitely some massive impacts on the ground, but it’s not as bad as it could be,” he said.
Hay lottery announced
The Montana Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday that producers in Montana affected by drought and fire are now eligible to participate in a first ever “hay lottery” organized by Ag Community Relief, a not-for-profit formed to assist farmers and ranchers that experience devastation.
That group is organizing a large-scale hay donation convoy to Fargo to aid producers in North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana.
Livestock producers living in drought areas can submit applications at https://www.nd.gov/ndda/montana-hay-lottery. Each state will conduct its own lottery.
Individuals or organizations willing to donate hay or trucking for the hay lottery should call the North Dakota Department of Agriculture’s Drought Hotline at 701-425-8454.