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Drought deepens in North Dakota; little relief in sight in August

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old Highway 281.png

Old Highway 281 has resurfaced from Devils Lake amid this summer's drought, which has lowered water levels around the state.

Drought in North Dakota deepened again over the past week, with little relief in sight this month.

The conditions continue to hurt crops as the harvest begins, and many areas of the state could soon also see elevated wildfire risks.

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor map, released Thursday, shows that nearly 14% of the state is in exceptional drought, the worst of four categories, up more than 3% from last week. Extreme drought, the second-worst category, is up about 4.5%, impacting about 46.5% of North Dakota. All of the state remains in some form of drought, with most areas at least in severe drought.

"Deteriorating conditions were ... noted across North Dakota, where drought has been evident since at least spring. Exceptional drought ... expanded substantially to cover much of the state’s interior," wrote Richard Tinker, a meteorologist and drought expert with several agencies including the Climate Prediction Center.

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.

Lack of rainfall and an abundance of excessive heat have plagued North Dakota this summer. New climate statistics from the National Weather Service show that last month was the second-warmest July in Bismarck since 1874 -- a span of nearly 150 years.

The short-term forecast calls for chances of thunderstorms in the state Friday and Saturday, but the latest drought briefing from the weather service indicates little long-term precipitation help. 

"August is favored for above-average temperatures across all of North Dakota, with below-normal precipitation favored across the western half of the state," the report said.

Ag in peril

Soils continue to dry out around the state. The weekly crop report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service shows 91% of topsoil and 86% of subsoil in North Dakota as being short or very short of moisture -- slight increases again over the week.

Nearly two-thirds of the staple spring wheat crop is rated as poor or very poor, and nearly half of the corn and soybean crops are in those categories. Many other crops are in a similar condition.

Pasture and range conditions across the state are rated 79% poor or very poor, and 72% of the alfalfa hay crop is in those categories.

Stock water supplies are rated 89% short or very short.

"Small lakes and reservoirs continue to experience water level declines along with climbing water temperatures. Harmful algal blooms are being reported in many lakes, along with water quality problems in stock dams and dugouts," the weather service said in its drought briefing. "Overall, there appears to be little reason to believe these problems will go away anytime soon."

The state Agriculture Department on Thursday also reported North Dakota's first case of anthrax this year, in a Kidder County beef herd.

Anthrax is caused by bacterial spores that can lie dormant in the ground for decades and become active under ideal conditions, such as drought. A few anthrax cases are reported in the state almost every year; there were two cases in 2020. But some years there have been outbreaks, such as 2005, when total livestock losses were estimated at more than 1,000.

“Producers in past known affected areas and counties should consult with their veterinarians to make sure the vaccination schedule for their animals is current," State Veterinarian Ethan Andress said. "Producers in Kidder County and surrounding areas should confer with their veterinarians to determine if initiating first-time vaccinations against anthrax is warranted for their cattle at this time.”

For more information, go to

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

U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., announced this week that the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee approved a fiscal year 2022 funding bill that includes more than $7 billion in disaster assistance for farmers and ranchers. The legislation now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Wildfire threat

The hot, dry conditions this summer have led to 1,979 wildfires burning 118,182 acres, according to Beth Hill, acting outreach and education manager for the North Dakota Forest Service. The number of fires is more than double last year's total, and the blackened acres are about 10 times what burned in all of 2020.

State officials recently created a new task force to augment firefighting efforts. The program initiated by the North Dakota Forest Service and the state Department of Emergency Services gives local fire departments the ability to respond outside their jurisdictions, if needed.

North Dakota typically has two wildfire seasons -- before spring green-up, and in late-summer and fall when new-season grasses dry out.

Some curing of grasses has begun, primarily in the southwest, according to the National Weather Service drought briefing.

"Elsewhere, most locations are green, but hot and dry conditions will hasten the curing process," the agency said, adding that some areas "may become quickly prone to fire once the curing process starts for this year's new growth."

Reach Blake Nicholson at 701-250-8266 or


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