HELENA - A statewide committee reports that despite this week’s snow, Montana’s drought isn’t over yet.
The Governor’s Drought and Water Supply Advisory Committee held its final meeting of the year Thursday at the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation’s headquarters in Helena.
Lieutenant Governor Mike Cooney, DNRC Director John Tubbs, and other leaders were on hand to talk about this year’s conditions and how they can improve their response to future droughts.
According to Megan Syner, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Great Falls, the period from October 2016 to September 2017 was unusually dry but also one of the warmest years on record.
Syner said the National Weather Service expects Montana’s drought to improve through the winter. They are predicting higher than average precipitation in most of the state due to the La Niña weather pattern.
However, she said more of that weather is expected to go to western Montana rather than the areas in eastern Montana that suffered the most severe drought.
Troy Blandford of the Montana State Library’s Water Information System said the drought status has already improved noticeably in the last month, especially in northern Montana. Still, a number of counties in northeastern Montana remain extremely dry.
Tubbs said parts of Montana have a deficit of nearly a year’s worth of moisture, "it’s not going to come back in a single event, or even a series of events."
State leaders are still getting reports from people affected by the drought especially in agriculture. Just last week, ranchers in Sanders County reported calves coming in under their usual weight due to poor food quality during the summer.
That report and others have come in through the committee’s online Drought Impacts Reporter. Officials are encouraging people from around the state to share the conditions they’re seeing.
“If we just get one report from one place, that doesn’t tell us a lot, and it’s relatively anecdotal,” Michael Downey, DNRC’s water planning section supervisor, said. “When we start seeing many reports in a given area, especially when they’re specific, then that gives us a better idea of, ‘Wow, there’s something going on there that we need to pay attention to.’”
Downey said the data from the Drought Impact Reporter helps leaders better understand the conditions on the ground. They will also take that information and share it with the agencies that put together federal drought monitors.
Those reports often determine what kind of federal aid is available for drought-affected areas. You can find information on the reported impacts from the drought and make a submission of your own on the DNRC website.
The advisory committee will hold its next meeting in March. Leaders say that meeting will likely focus more on the possibility of flooding than on drought.