BISMARCK — A dry autumn combined with little winter snowfall means North Dakota will head into spring with the driest conditions on record in recent memory.
Nearly the entire state is in some form of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor map released Thursday, March 4, and the majority of North Dakota is experiencing "severe drought." The southeast corner of the state, including Cass County, is considered "abnormally dry" but isn't in a drought, the map shows.
These dry conditions are likely to worsen as temperatures rise this spring and more water evaporates from the ground into the atmosphere, said state climatologist Adnan Akyuz.
"(Snow) melts and trickles down into the soil and makes up the spring moisture for spring planting, and we are lacking that," Akyuz said.
Ninety-two percent of the state, where more than 560,000 residents live, is experiencing a drought. A greater-than-average amount of precipitation is needed to balance out the unusually dry conditions, and a small amount of precipitation could actually worsen the drought as more evaporation could occur, Akyuz said.
Spring planting could be very difficult because seeds need moisture to germinate, he said.
North Dakota's current conditions are similar to 2017 and 2018, when an extreme drought occurred and cost the U.S. billions of dollars in lost revenue, Akyuz said.
Many North Dakota counties have burn bans due to the dry conditions, including Morton County and the Oahe Wildlife Management Area south of Bismarck. The state says even campfires are banned in the Oahe area because vegetation there could easily catch fire.
To better understand how severe the drought is, North Dakota State University Extension is looking for more volunteer weather observers to report precipitation amounts around the state. Different parts of the state can have varying degrees of precipitation, so it's important the state has data to aid citizens in those areas in the best way possible, Akyuz said.
Some remote areas of the state currently have no volunteers reporting precipitation, including Mountrail, Towner, Slope and Logan counties, he said.
One upside of the extreme dryness is that residents of the Red River Valley likely won't be anxious about spring flooding, Akyuz said.
"It maybe will be one of the rare times that they don't have to worry about it," he said.
Readers can reach reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at firstname.lastname@example.org.