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December begins with record heat in western North Dakota; significant snow possible this weekend

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Ray Friedig has a yard full of snowmen but not a snowflake anywhere near his south Bismarck home. He said he bought the first snowman in 1971. "And I've been adding them ever since, and today they don't make them any more," he said of the 17 snowmen that were a favorite Christmas decoration of his late wife. There's a 50% chance of snow in Bismarck on Saturday.

Contrary to the popular holiday song, it's not beginning to look a lot like Christmas in North Dakota.

Bismarck and Dickinson on Wednesday set record high temperatures for Dec. 1 and also tied their records for the warmest temp ever recorded in the month of December -- 68 in Dickinson and 66 in the capital city, according to the National Weather Service.

The previous December records both were set in 1939, on Dec. 5 in Dickinson and Dec. 6 in Bismarck.

Minot on Wednesday also set a city record for the date of 58 degrees, besting its Dec. 1, 1969, record of 54 degrees.

"It sure didn't feel like the start of meteorological winter today!" the weather service quipped on its Facebook page.

Meteorological winter is December, January and February, based on temperature and weather patterns, as opposed to astronomical winter, which is based on the position of Earth relative to the sun.

Wednesday's record heat resulting from warm Pacific Northwest air flowing into the Plains shouldn't be all that surprising -- the 2021 fall season was the warmest on record for Bismarck, according to the weather service. Data go back nearly a century and a half, to 1875.

The average temperature in Bismarck this fall season was 50.4 degrees. That beat the 1963 record of 49.7 degrees. 

A cooldown is on the way, with the potential for as much as 6 inches of snow in northern North Dakota this weekend. The track of the narrow band of moderate to heavy snow was still uncertain Thursday afternoon, but the potential for significant snow from Bismarck to Washburn was listed by the weather service as being low. The higher amounts were anticipated from Washburn north.

The forecast for Bismarck-Mandan calls for a 50% chance of snow on Saturday, with highs in the 30s.

Drought update

The record-warm fall has contributed to prolonged drought in North Dakota, though conditions have stabilized in recent weeks.

The U.S. Drought Monitor map, which is updated every Thursday, continues to show much of central and western North Dakota remaining in severe or extreme drought, and much of the east no longer listed in any of the four drought categories. Both regions show a marked improvement from last summer, when three-fourths of the state was in either extreme or exceptional drought, the two worst categories.

"But water levels in ponds and dugouts remained low in spite of late summer to early fall rains, thus prompting expansion of severe drought in ... parts of central North Dakota," National Centers for Environmental Information Meteorologist Richard Heim wrote this week. "Above-average temperatures and no precipitation for the last 2 weeks resulted in expansion of moderate drought in southern parts of North Dakota and adjacent South Dakota."

The U.S. Drought Monitor is a partnership of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Harvest update

This week's North Dakota crop update from the National Agricultural Statistics Service rates stock water supplies as being 71% short or very short, and 73% of pasture and range land being poor or very poor, relatively unchanged from a week ago.

Topsoil moisture supplies are rated 47% short or very short statewide, and subsoil moisture is 60% in those categories, also relatively stable.

The harvest is wrapping up, with just 4% of the sunflower crop left in the field. About three-fourths of the winter wheat crop, which was planted this fall and will be harvested next summer, is rated in fair to good condition.

This week's crop report is the last of the season. The updates will resume the week of April 4, for the 2022 crop season.

Drought resources

U.S. Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., have signed on to a bipartisan letter urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to address a gap in coverage under the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program.

Senators say the federal program provides aid for the cost of transporting feed to livestock during the drought, but not for transporting livestock to feed sources.

North Dakota has its own $2.5 million program to reimburse a portion of feed-hauling expenses for drought-stricken ranchers. The state Agriculture Department says the Emergency Feed Transportation Assistance Program will aid producers who don't qualify for the federal program. The state program assists producers who have transportation costs for feed hauled less than 25 miles, for silage hauled any distance, and for moving breeding livestock to a feed source.

For a complete list of state program eligibility requirements and details, go to www.nd.gov/ndda/eftap. Producers with further questions can email haytransport@nd.gov or call 1-844-642-4752. Applications are available on the Agriculture Department website at and will close Dec. 15.

The state and federal governments have implemented numerous programs to help drought-stricken farmers and ranchers. Details on available drought resources in North Dakota can be found at https://www.nd.gov/ndda/drought-resources. Producers can access the federal Agriculture Department's Disaster Assistance Discovery Tool or Disaster-at-a-Glance fact sheet at www.farmers.gov

NDSU Extension is holding an irrigation workshop in conjunction with the North Dakota Irrigation Association annual convention next Thursday, Dec. 9, in the Grand Pacific Room at the Best Western Ramkota Hotel in Bismarck. Registration begins at 7:30 a.m.; workshop presentations start an hour later. The fee is $50, payable at the door. It includes lunch. For more details, go to https://bit.ly/3cTqrmN.

Burning restrictions remain in place in many western and central counties including Morton, but not Burleigh. The fire risk on Thursday was rated low across the entire state. Information on current fire danger indexes and county burn bans is available at https://ndresponse.gov/burn-ban-restrictions-fire-danger-maps. Fire restrictions on the Dakota Prairie Grasslands are at https://www.fs.usda.gov/alerts/dpg/alerts-notices.

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