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Forum staff reports, Published July 16 2012

Drought intensifies in central Red River Valley; year is hottest on record so far in Fargo area

FARGO – Severe drought conditions now exist in several counties in east-central North Dakota, depriving crops of moisture at their peak time for water consumption, the National Weather Service says.

And there’s more bad news: The climate outlook for the rest of July is for above-normal temperatures and below-median precipitation, according to a drought statement Friday from the weather service office in Grand Forks.

“Most areas will likely not see enough rainfall to mitigate the current long-term drought,” the weather service said.

As of Wednesday, this has been the warmest calendar year on record so far for the Fargo area, the weather service said. The previous warmest year for Fargo was 1987.

Severe drought conditions now exist in portions of Barnes, Cass, Grand Forks, Griggs, Nelson, Steele and Traill counties.

Despite recent rains across parts of the Red River Valley, generally dry weather continues in portions of the region, with precipitation most lacking in the central valley on the North Dakota side of the river, the weather service said.

On average, precipitation is 40 percent of normal for east-central North Dakota, with some areas approaching 25 percent of normal. Isolated areas have been deluged by thunderstorms, but in general, less than 1.5 inches of rain has fallen in the past month.

Since July 1, many areas across eastern North Dakota and northwest Minnesota have received less than 50 percent of normal rainfall, with some areas seeing l0 percent or less. Thunderstorms over the July 4th period alleviated drought conditions a bit closer to the international border.

Rainfall hasn’t been meeting the demand of agricultural crops, as soil moisture in the top 3 feet is 50 percent to 75 percent below normal in severe drought areas, the weather service said, citing information from state and federal agencies. Subsurface water levels are down 2 to 4 feet since May 1.

Some crops are showing significant stress. Sugar beets, soybeans, potatoes and dry edible beans have all seen an increase in the poor to very poor crop condition categories.

Stream flows on smaller creeks and tributaries are generally in the lower 25 percent of the long-term mean, with some below 10 percent for this time of year, the weather service said.

Larger rivers, including the Red and Sheyenne, are showing a drop in flows but aren’t near critical levels yet, it said.