How Is The Drought Monitor Made?


One of the slowest moving hazards known to North Dakota is the drought. The losses from a drought can even equal those of other natural disasters like tornadoes and hurricanes.

Many of us rely on the drought monitor. But do you know how it’s made? It began in 1999 and is a combined effort from local, state and national entities.

County agents, our local national weather service hydrologists along with the state climatologist are constantly monitoring our conditions here in North Dakota. They use rain gauges, soil moisture, satellite imagery, crop conditions, and many more measurements to make their assessment of our current drought situation.

Their report gets passed on to the actual authors of the drought monitor. They’re always from one of these entities: the National Drought Mitigation Center, NOAA or the USDA.

They then take the recommendations from the local level and combine it with their own data to decide whether a drought has improved or is getting worse. They always have the final word.

The drought monitor isn’t just a map for us to show on tv to show or to show where we’re the driest. It’s used to understand the hardships of those impacted the most and when the drought gets bad, it starts triggers programs.

Once a certain drought status has been reached. The USDA will start disaster declarations and low-interest loans to farmers and ranchers.
The Farm Service Agency uses it to determine eligibility for their Livestock Forage Program. The IRS will use it to trigger tax deferments on forced livestock sales.

A common misconception is that the drought monitor is only showing the rainfall deficit. But it’s much more complicated than that.
From vegetation health, soil moisture, river levels, and even snowpack – there is a whole host of factors. Which is why It’s important to note that no drought is the same.

Let’s look at this year, for example. We were a few inches below normal for rainfall in Minot for the Spring. That hurt crop production. You probably noticed your lawn didn’t green up very fast. Then we got several inches of rain all at once. While that may help our deficit and your lawn, it may not be enough to spur crop growth… or mitigate the damage already done. So sometimes coming out of a drought status can take a bit longer.

The next drought monitor will be released tomorrow morning. Our state hydrologist, Alan Schlag, says based on his calculations, we should see an improvement with the next drought monitor. He said we’re in what’s called the recovery phase.

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