Drought drying North Dakota out
FARGO -- The drought gripping much of the area is diminishing river levels, with some tributaries in the northern Red River Valley slowing to a trickle.
The Red River in Fargo, with a level of 13.77 feet as of Tuesday afternoon, is flowing at 32 percent of normal and most rivers in the region continue to see low to very low flows.
Downstream, in the northern valley, tributaries and streams in northeastern North Dakota are running at 10 percent to 25 percent.
The impact on streams is greatest in northwest Minnesota, where some small rivers are running at 10 percent of normal or less, said Mark Ewens of the National Weather Service in Grand Forks.
The Minnesota Wild Rice River at Hendrum, for instance, is running at 9 percent of normal, while the Red Lake River at Crookston is running at 8 percent of normal.
In Mayville, the Goose River, a large tributary of the Red in the Grand Forks area, is low enough to walk across, according to a report the weather service has received.
The driest areas in the valley run in a band including Traill, Griggs, Steel and southern Grand Forks counties in North Dakota and Polk County in Minnesota, Ewens said.
Also, groundwater data suggest the water table continues to drop across the region, according to the weather service.
The Drought Monitor map shows most of the Red River Valley in moderate to severe drought, while all of North Dakota is in some stage of drought, except for a sliver in the center that is abnormally dry.
Conditions would be much worse if the area hadn't been abnormally wet for so long before the drought struck, said Adnan Akyuz, the state climatologist for North Dakota.
In the Red River Valley, dry weather conditions now have prevailed for at least a year, Ewens said.
"It does surprise us all," he said of the abrupt swing from very wet to very dry conditions. "But it's been a year or more in the making. It kind of crept up on us."
So far, crops in many areas are doing surprisingly well, thanks to subsoil moisture and timely rains, Ewens said. If the drought conditions persist, however, next year's growing conditions could be challenging, Akyuz said.
Given weather patterns, he expects the dry conditions to linger, at least in the short term, he added.
"One can expect a worsening of the drought conditions," Akyuz said. "I think that's a pretty safe prediction."
One reason: above-normal temperatures are likely to continue, according to the one-month and three-month outlooks issued by the Climate Prediction Center.
Also, Akyuz said, most of the area's moisture comes up from the Gulf of Mexico. Because the drought is even more severe in the central and southern plains, much of the moisture is lost before it reaches the north.
On the other hand, forecasters say there is no "definitive climatic signal" to predict precipitation for fall and early winter.
Both Akyuz and Ewens said it is too early to declare an end to the predominantly wet period that dates back to 1993.
The wet phase was interrupted by what Ewens called a "flash drought" in 2006, and was preceded by a dry period that lasted from 1987 to 1992, with a severe drought from 1988-89.
"This is just a little bump in the road," Akyuz said, a way of saying he thinks the predominantly wet phase hasn't ended yet, despite the current drought.
But, he added, it probably will take at least another two years to tell.