HELENA – State officials say that drought conditions likely won’t be a problem this spring, despite an unusual winter.
In January this year’s snowpack levels across Montana were concerning for potential drought conditions, but then in February, record snow was locked up by bitter cold. Because of this experts say the state, in general, is in a pretty good place right now.
The comments on the drought were made at the first Governor’s Drought and Water Supply Advisory Committee. Officials did warn about potential drought issues in the upper northwest corner of the state as well as northeastern Montana.
Just like all weather in Montana, those outlooks can change.
“If we do get a really dry spring and we start to see a rapid melt in that snowpack that could cause most of the state to possibly go into drought conditions,” explained Megan Syner, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “So there’s still a lot of variability as we get into the spring months but we’ll be closely monitoring that and we’ll be providing updates as well.”
The Montana departments of Agriculture and Livestock are also closely monitoring the weekly outlooks this spring and recommend farmers and ranchers do the same.
“We’ve got a lot of water left to move so there could be a lot of flooding impacts, a very wet landscape to work with which could affect movement management of animals,” said Mike Honeycutt, Montana Department of Livestock executive officer.
Snowmelt in Montana isn’t the only run off ranchers should be paying attention to this year. Devastating flooding in the Midwest this winter may also have a big impact on Montana beef.
“I think another thing to watch is hopefully our partners in the Midwest which is where we market a lot of our cattle and hope that the concerns that they have with flooding this winter don’t have any potential to disrupt our movement of to the Midwest later in the year,” added Honeycutt.
The Montana Department of Agriculture is also actively working on improving the Montana Mesonet with the University of Montana.
The ultimate goal is to have a near real-time monitoring network for soil moisture, precipitation, and direction and speed, climate monitoring, water table and temperature most places in the state.
“We’re looking at tracking how close are we to wilting point in the soil so we will have an idea of how stressed the crops are in different areas and how are we walking that line with drought,” said Brett Heitshusen, Environmental Science Specialist.
The Montana DNRC offers online tools to monitor drought conditions and the impact on crops and livestock. Links to those resources can be found here.
-John Riley reporting for MTN News