Rain brings welcome relief to area
After many months of extremely dry conditions, it seems the Northern Plains are getting in one month all of the precipitation that was supposed to have fallen during the past year.
May has been a very wet month for many in South Dakota, including the section of the state that has been locked in drought conditions since the summer of 2012.
In north central South Dakota heavy rain across portions of the area in the past two weeks have eased some drought conditions. Overall, drought conditions have improved in recent weeks, easing some extreme and exceptional drought conditions that have gripped the state.
According to the National Weather Service, a dip in the Jet Stream is bringing wet weather from the Gulf of Mexico through the Plains states, carrying a chain of thunderstorms and severe weather with it. With this chain of thunderstorms came heavy rain, hail and wind.
In this area, rain totals for May are adding up and the forecast is for more rain and thunderstorms through June 1.
In Mobridge, with the 1.32 inches that fell through Monday, Mobridge has received 4.67 inches in May, according to the National Weather Service (NWS.) That is 1.97 inches above normal for the month.
In other areas, West River south of Highway 20 have received 6 to 8 inches of precipitation during the month (see accompanying precipitation map). In Dewey County there are areas that are pushing 10 inches, according to the map.
More widespread heavy rains this month in Corson County have added up to six to eight inches in a larger area, with most of the county receiving five or more inches during May.
Campbell County residents have seen heavier rain in the Missouri River valley, with most totals in the five- to six inch range. In northeast and eastern areas of the county, it is between three- and six-inches.
Scott Doering of the Aberdeen office of NWS said he expects the next Drought Monitor (to be released on Thursday, May 30) will show improved conditions for most of this area and for the state. He said it looks like there will be vast improvements in western South Dakota.
“I don’t believe we have completely erased the drought conditions, but hopefully with the precipitation expected in the next 36 hours, we will be out of the extreme drought conditions,” he said. “In the past two weeks or so, areas further west and north of Mobridge have also picked up good amounts of rain, some in the five and six-inch range.”
Warmer weather is accompanying these storms, which is both a blessing and a curse. According to the NWS, as the daytime temperatures rise, the cooling off in the evening is what can trigger the saturated air, and making thunderstorms more likely. Doering said the outlook for the next 36 hours is for more measurable precipitation in the area.
“It seems to me that we have transitioned into a wetter period,” he said. “It is starting to get the look and feel of not being a warmer summer.”
He said the long-range forecast from the Climate Prediction Center is showing normal temperatures and normal precipitation for June.
The Corps of Engineers had been predicting runoff that is lower than normal in the Upper Basin of the Missouri River system, but a cool, wet April across the area and the recent rains have improved stream flow predictions significantly from the March predictions, according to the latest report from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
April was a dramatic change from the warm and dry weather experienced during the latter half of March, with cool, wet weather dominating the month across most of Montana. Snowmelt at low to mid-elevations slowed in April, even adding snow water to seasonal snowpack.
The Gallatin River Basin (one of three areas where runoff flows into the Missouri River) benefitted from the spring conditions as the beginning of May snowpack was up 10 percent more than the previous month and five percent above average levels.
This will benefit the Missouri Basin watershed as a whole.
The level of Oahe Reservoir has risen about four feet in May, which is more than two feet above what was expected, due to the heavy rains in the Upper Basin region plus the snowpack runoff.
Recent rains have saturated top layers of the soil in many places, making the grass greener and getting crops to start growing.
The continued precipitation will reach the deeper levels of soil and replenish dry conditions that have been prevalent in the state and region.
The U.S. Drought Monitor report last week indicated that all of South Dakota was at least abnormally dry. About two-thirds of the state was rated in severe or extreme drought, but no part was in the highest category of exceptional drought. That’s an improvement from three months ago, when 87 percent of the state was in severe, extreme or exceptional drought.
– Katie Zerr –