Meteorologist Daryl Ritchison had a mixed message Tuesday for North Dakota farmers and ranchers worried about the potential for another season of drought.
Ritchison predicts precipitation will be close to normal in 2018, but reminded producers that North Dakota is normally dry, and the state is low on soil moisture from 2017.
“We’re catching up to last year,” said Ritchison, interim director of the North Dakota Agriculture Weather Network. “If we have average precipitation this summer, and my forecast is right, 90 percent of you will think I stink.”
Ritchison, speaking in Bismarck at an event called Farming and Ranching for the Bottom Line, said the majority of the state will finish the meteorological winter, which is December through February, at near or slightly above average for moisture.
While many perceive that the state hasn’t had much snow this season, the figure that matters when forecasting potential drought conditions is the amount of liquid in the snow, Ritchison said.
“The snow is completely irrelevant,” he said. “It’s the moisture content.”
In Bismarck, the snowfall total is 19 inches below normal, but the amount of liquid precipitation is 0.21 inches below normal, said Bill Abeling, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Bismarck.
Some of this season’s snow fell when temperatures were warmer, resulting in a higher amount of liquid, Abeling said in an interview.
Ritchison told producers that one positive of last year’s dry conditions is it allowed a very high percentage of snow to be absorbed into the soil.
He projects a delayed spring this year due to colder than average temperatures and frost depth that he said is 4 to 5 feet in some areas of the state.
Ritchison predicts April and May will be cooler than average, and precipitation for those months will be near average, “which would be phenomenally more wet than it was last year.”
For June through August, Ritchison predicts precipitation will be 80 percent to 100 percent of normal, with the Bismarck area closer to normal.
Ritchison reminded producers to keep in mind that the state is low on soil moisture from last year.
“If we go to average, we still have to recoup what we lost from last year,” he said.
The National Weather Service’s drought outlook through May 31 predicts that drought will persist in north central and northwest North Dakota. The outlook forecasts enough precipitation to ease drought conditions somewhat in areas of southwest North Dakota.