Drought continues to worsen in Southern Montana

Severe drought experienced across much of the United States is making itself known here in Montana as well. Milder temperatures and sporadic rain showers over the last week have not lowered overall fire danger in Montana.

The central and eastern parts of the state are getting drier.

National Resource Conservation Service Hydrologist Scott Oviatt says areas West of the Continental Divide are generally doing pretty good. They have received adequate moisture already with continued precipitation. But it’s a different story East of the divide.

“Our rain events and snow events ended essentially in Memorial Day,” Oviatt said. “So we’ve seen significant drying there and it’s continued now with dry, wet, windy conditions.”

It’s similar to a lot of parts of the country, though not as severe as states South and West of us like Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming.

“Wyoming actually experienced the driest conditions for the month of June in history right now,” Oviatt said.

Many parts of Southern Montana are not far behind Wyoming in drought severity. Maps released by the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation show drought alerts in 16 counties. Typical weather patterns indicate conditions will get worse before they get better. DNRC Water Resource and Climate Planner Jesse Aber says it’s affecting agriculture. He says there are currently shortfalls in hay production, grazing.”

Farmers and ranchers are looking for permits to use land they have set aside not to graze through the Conservation Reserve Program. Aber says the Department of Agriculture has just eased the permitting process for CRP lands.

“It was a great time to hear those rules relaxed, expedited, streamlined so we’re very encouraged by that,” Aber said.

This may allow ranchers to find extra grazing land for their livestock, or more land to hay. This will be a process ranchers will need to get used to for the rest of the season, and beyond.

Aber says a new El Nino event is currently forming out in the Pacific Ocean.

“So, for Montana that means warmer and dryer this winter so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a snowpack that was 25 to 30 percent below average and that’s gonna come on the heels of this drought so next year could be very interesting we’ll just see what winter brings,” Aber said.

First, we have to get through this year.

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