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Montana Drought

National Climatic Data Center, 14 May 2002

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Statewide Conditions / North Central Montana Conditions / North Central Montana Pictures


Click here to go to Top of Page Montana Statewide Conditions

Much of Montana has been in drought for at least the last three years. On a statewide basis, August 2001-April 2002 ranked as the second driest August-April in the 108-year record, and the last 12 months ranked as the 14th driest May-April.
Click here for map showing Statewide Precipitation Ranks for May 2001-April 2002
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Click here for map showing Montana Statewide Precipitation, August-April, 1895-2002
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After an early May evaluation of several drought indicators, the Montana Drought Committee determined that about 40 out of the state's 56 counties were still suffering from some stage of drought. The team examined the Palmer Drought Index, Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI), Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI), Water Year precipitation received from October through April, April 2002 precipitation, and May 2002 precipitation received through the date of the evaluation.

Click here for map showing April 2002 Palmer Hydrological Drought Index
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Click here for map showing April 30, 2002 Drought Monitor
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Click here to go to Top of Page North Central Montana Conditions

The western and central parts of the state have been hardest hit (see bottom left PHDI map above). The end-of-April Drought Monitor weekly map depicted the highest level of drought (D4 - Exceptional Drought) for the north central portion of the state (see bottom right Drought Monitor map above).

Although near to above normal precipitation fell across North Central Montana during February and March (see top right graph below), thus giving the year-to-date precipitation middle of the road ranks (see table below), the longer-term ranks were in the top ten driest category (as seen in the table). The last three years have been very dry, and five of the last six years have been drier than average for this area. This cumulative precipitation deficit is reflected in the Palmer indices. Based on the Palmer Hydrological Drought Index (PHDI), the current drought in North Central Montana started in December 1997 with some wet interruptions in 1998 and 1999. The PHDI has been in mild drought or worse since January 2000, and had reached record levels by early 2002 (see bottom right graph below).

Precipitation Ranks for
North Central Montana, 2001-2002
Period Rank
Apr 17th driest
Mar-Apr 28th driest
Feb-Apr 52nd driest
Jan-Apr 42nd driest
Dec-Apr 24th driest
Nov-Apr 20th driest
Oct-Apr 15th driest
Sep-Apr 8th driest
Aug-Apr 5th driest
Jul-Apr 8th driest
Jun-Apr 11th driest
May-Apr 4th driest
Click here for graphic showing North Central Montana precipitation departures, January 1998 - April 2002
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Click here for graphic showing North Central Montana Palmer Hydrological Drought Index, January 1900 - April 2002
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Click here to go to Top of Page North Central Montana Pictures

This long-term moisture deficit has had significant impacts on the area. Local impacts in North Central Montana included reports of severe blowing dust with visibility in some areas one tenth of a mile or less for several hours during March and April, and dust drifting to several feet deep along fence lines in Liberty County. According to newspaper reports, the dust storms caused two fatalities in the state. An MSU extension office survey of agricultural producers in Liberty County revealed considerable concern over the devastating effect of the drought on crop production. For the week ending May 5, the USDA reported that 54% of Montana ranges and pastures were ranked as very poor to poor.

The following pictures provided by Jesse Aber, of the Montana Governor's DNRC Drought Committee, illustrate the conditions in North Central Montana. These pictures were taken by Mike Waite, staff member of U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg from the Great Falls office, and show conditions along the high line, which is located in the Cut Bank and Havre area. As noted by Mr. Waite, "Remember, as you look at these, that this is native rangeland you are looking at and the results of the drought on them. There are a few selected sites that have some growing winter wheat in them but for the most part they are all dry."

Additional pictures of drought impacts in Liberty County are available at http://nris.state.mt.us/drought/Photos/LibertyCounty.html

Click here for picture showing drought conditions in North Central Montana
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Click here for picture showing drought conditions in North Central Montana
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Click here for picture showing drought conditions in North Central Montana
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Click here for picture showing drought conditions in North Central Montana
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Click here for picture showing drought conditions in North Central Montana
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Click here for picture showing drought conditions in North Central Montana
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Click here for picture showing drought conditions in North Central Montana
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Click here for picture showing drought conditions in North Central Montana
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Click here for picture showing drought conditions in North Central Montana Click here for picture showing drought conditions in North Central Montana

Click here for picture showing drought conditions in North Central Montana Click here for picture showing drought conditions in North Central Montana

Click here for picture showing drought conditions in North Central Montana Click here for picture showing drought conditions in North Central Montana

Click here for picture showing drought conditions in North Central Montana Click here for picture showing drought conditions in North Central Montana

Click here for picture showing drought conditions in North Central Montana Click here for picture showing drought conditions in North Central Montana

Click here for picture showing drought conditions in North Central Montana Click here for picture showing drought conditions in North Central Montana


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