Forecast Sees Increased PrecipWritten by Windy Kelley
Wyoming experienced its 37th warmest September in the 122 years data have been collected. Higher nighttime temperatures drove the overall warmth for the month instead of daytime temperatures. The state also experienced its 15th wettest September in the last 122 years. On a more local scale, Sheridan, Johnson, and northern Campbell counties experienced their fourth wettest September on record.
The U.S. Drought Monitor map, released on Oct. 20, shows conditions have continued to improve in areas of Wyoming. However, moderate drought persists throughout parts of Crook, Weston, Campbell, Niobrara and Park counties. Some areas of Campbell, Crook and Weston counties are still experiencing severe drought.
Many other counties in Wyoming continue to experience abnormally dry conditions, which has expanded in Carbon County.
To view the latest U.S. Drought Monitor map, which is updated weekly, visit weather.gov/riw/drought.
The Seasonal Drought Outlook for Oct. 20 to Jan. 31, 2017 shows drought conditions are expected to improve everywhere except in areas of Crook, Weston and Campbell counties, which are currently experiencing severe drought. Conditions in these areas are likely to remain but improve.
Monthly and seasonal forecasts
As of Oct. 20, all of Wyoming has a greater probability – greater than 30 percent – to experience above normal temperatures in November. The precipitation signal for the northern half of the state indicates above normal precipitation, with a probability of 33 percent, for November. The precipitation signal for the southern half of Wyoming is less clear, with equal chances of above, below or normal.
The seasonal November through January outlook for Wyoming shows a 40 to 50 percent probability of above normal temperatures throughout Wyoming, except for the northern quarter to half of the state, where there is an equal chance for above, below or normal temperatures.
The seasonal precipitation outlook for Wyoming shows a 40 percent probability of above normal precipitation for the entire state, except for the southeast and southwest corners of the state, where there is an equal chance of above, below or normal precipitation.
Several fires are still considered to be active in Wyoming. However, their activity is now minimal, and the recent precipitation, both snow and rain, has been a great help.
As mentioned before, the seasonal forecast for November through January shows a 40 percent probability that much of the state could receive above normal precipitation. This information could help you assess available feed when making decisions about when to cull cows.
Should you sell them now, when prices tend to be low, or carry them over to a later date, when prices might be higher? Keep in mind that Wyoming receives most of its snow later in the winter. If winter precipitation is above normal, will you have enough feed to get those culls through the winter, and will they be in acceptable shape? Or will you spend so much on extra feed that it completely offsets the higher cull price you receive?
This article was written by UW Extension and USDA Northern Plains Climate Hub Regional Extension Program Coordinator Windy Kelley and reviewed by Wyoming Water Resources Data System Deputy Director Tony Bergantino and Justin Derner of USDA Agricultural Research Service.
Drought Forecast Continues largely PositiveWritten by Windy Kelley
Wyoming experienced its 112th warmest and seventh driest June to August in the 122 years data have been collected. However, temperatures and precipitation were near average throughout the state in August.
The Sept. 13 U.S. Drought Monitor map shows drought conditions have lessened in areas of Wyoming. However, moderate to severe drought persists throughout Crook, Weston, Campbell and Big Horn counties. Drought conditions have intensified in Park and Teton counties, from abnormally dry to severe, and moderate drought conditions have evolved in northern Lincoln, Sublette and Fremont counties. Abnormally dry conditions have expanded throughout Lincoln, Uinta, Sublette, Sweetwater, Carbon and Niobrara counties. Abnormally dry conditions persist throughout other counties in Wyoming.
To view the latest U.S. Drought Monitor map, which is updated weekly, visit weather.gov/riw/drought.
The Seasonal Drought Outlook for Sept. 15 to Dec. 31 shows conditions are expected to improve everywhere except northern Teton County, where drought is expected to persist. Drought conditions are expected to continue but improve in areas of Crook, Weston and Campbell counties.
Monthly and seasonal forecasts
As of Sept. 15, all of Wyoming has a greater probability – 40 percent – to experience above normal temperatures in October. The precipitation signals for October are less clear with equal chances of above, below or normal.
The seasonal temperature outlook for October through December in Wyoming shows a 33 to 50 percent probability that the state will experience above normal temperatures – with the lowest probability in the northeast corner. The seasonal precipitation outlook for Wyoming shows an equal chance of above, below or normal precipitation, with the exception of the very northern swath of the state, where there’s a 33 percent probability of above normal precipitation.
There are fewer active fires now compared to a month ago. However, similar to last month, the fire potential remains high for much of the state. We should remain vigilant and prepared for the potential of continued fires throughout the state considering current conditions and the October outlook.
The La Niña watch has been cancelled for the fall and winter. However, it’s anticipated Wyoming will experience patterns more associated with La Niña but to a lower degree and with less confidence. Time will tell for the fall and winter conditions, so stay tuned next month for an update.
We want to highlight the most recent issue of Rangelands – Drought on Rangelands: Effects and Solutions. Rangelands is a scientific, non-technical journal written for a wide-range of audiences ranging from educators, rangeland managers and owners to policy leaders.
The current issue is open or free access, which means anyone can view the publication. The drought-focused issue includes 11 articles. The following are titles of several of the articles:
Where Do Seasonal Climate Predictions Belong in the Drought Management Toolbox?
New Tools for Assessing Drought Conditions for Rangeland Management
Rangeland Responses to Predicted Increases in Drought Extremity
Drought Mitigation for Grazing Operations: Matching the Animal to the Environment
Adaptive Management on Rangelands
“In Every Rancher’s Mind:” Effects of Drought on Ranch Planning and Practice
The issue is available at sciencedirect.com/science/journal/01900528/38/4.
NDMC celebrates 20 yearsWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Lincoln, Neb. – The National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, hosting a reception on Dec. 8 in Lincoln, Neb.
“There has been such a strong focus here, working with groups throughout the U.S. and internationally on drought management issues – everything from monitoring through preparedness and policy issues. It was time to celebrate the successes of this group and the ongoing program,” remarks Don Wilhite, former director and founder of NDMC.
NDMC was established in 1995 after Wilhite recommended a national drought mitigation program to USDA.
“There really was no group inside or outside the federal government that focused exclusively on drought. We were, as a nation, doing such a poor job of responding to drought. It was very reactive, responding to crisis instead of being more proactive and working on preparedness planning,” he explains.
The program was initially funded by Congress and has received a diverse funding base over the years, supporting projects focused on improving drought monitoring and creating early warning systems throughout the country.
“We’ve been involved in organizing a number of national conferences. We’ve worked over the years with a wide variety of states in the U.S., also getting engaged with groups like the Western Governors Association (WGA),” he comments.
Water issues remain critical in western states, and WGA has been pushing for improvements in both state and federal responses to drought, as well as planning for drought in the future.
“Drought is a very different hazard than things like floods, earthquakes and tornadoes. There are so many different variables that need to be monitored on a regular basis and integrated to really understand what the current status of water conditions is in particular regions,” Wilhite continues.
Rainfall, temperatures, snowpack, reservoir levels, stream flow, groundwater levels and soil moisture are examples of factors that can impact the drought status in a given region.
“Drought is an issue that cuts across many different government agencies at the state level and also at the federal level. To be effective in terms of preparing for drought, we have to get various agencies to collaborate with one another, to share data and to share responsibility,” he adds.
Along with states and federal government agencies, NDMC also works with non-governmental agencies and Native American tribal groups to foster the concept of preparedness and improved monitoring.
“This involves working with communities, livestock producers, farmers, municipalities and a wide range of stakeholders out there,” Wilhite says.
Collaboration is also necessary across economic sectors such as agriculture, energy, transportation, recreation and tourism.
“Drought impacts cause conflict between those sectors because we are all trying to utilize the same water source. It’s important for those sectors to think about longer-term strategies and how they are going to work together to reduce conflicts and impacts in the future,” he notes.
NDMC encourages people to assess the vulnerabilities of their businesses and operations by looking at impacts from previous droughts and developing strategies to reduce those impacts moving forward.
“The challenge has been getting people to think about drought in a different way and to think about drought as something we can prepare for,” Wilhite explains.
One of the tools developed by NDMC, in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) and USDA, is the U.S. Drought Monitor map.
“That’s become a staple of the federal government now. That product is used for essentially all policy decisions related to drought by the federal government. It is also used by many states,” Wilhite says.
The program has also encouraged the development of state drought plans throughout the country.
“When I first started working on the drought management issue back in the early 80s, prior to NMDC being formed, we only had three states in the U.S. with drought plans. Now we have 47 states with drought plans,” he adds.
Collaborative efforts have been expanded internationally as well.
“This is a challenge for all countries. Now, it’s becoming even more of an important issue because, with climate change, the expectation is that the dry climates of the world are likely to get drier, and droughts are likely to become more frequent, of longer duration and more severe,” he explains.
Moving forward, NDMC will continue to improve monitoring and management throughout the U.S. and the world.
“Many projects are underway at the NDMC. In fact, NOAA has just chosen the NDMC for a new center that is being formed, called the Drought Risk Management Center,” says Wilhite.
The program is part of NOAA’s National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), and it will emphasize early warning systems and vulnerability assessment related to drought risk.
“There are also some projects being funded through USDA because agriculture remains a very vulnerable sector within the country and around the world,” he adds.
Wilhite explains that weather patterns have always included periods of drought, and people can be more proactive toward future events.
“It’s imperative, as we move toward the future, to really focus on drought and the implications of drought for people, the environment and sustainability in general,” remarks Wilhite.
Record rains bring flooding to Fremont CountyWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Fremont County – Flooding in Fremont County last week was due to record rainfall in the area, and more flooding is possible this spring.
The two-day rainfall in Lander on May 6-7 was the third wettest consecutive two-day period on record. The second wettest was recorded in May of 1924, and the most precipitation in Lander over a two-day period occurred in April of 1895.
“Lander also set the daily record for rainfall on May 7,” adds Charles Baker, National Weather Service meteorologist in Riverton.
The area above Fort Washakie on the North Fork of the Little Wind River received 6.88 inches of precipitation over two days, and although there are no long-term records for that area, it is likely a record volume.
“This event was interesting in the fact that it significantly flooded the Little Popo Agie and its tributary Twin Creek. The Middle Fork of the Popo Agie that goes through Sinks Canyon and Lander, while it rose, did not do any significant flooding in the city of Lander,” Baker explains.
The majority of flooding in the Lander area occurred on the northwest side of town where the North Fork of the Popo Agie, Baldwin and Squaw Creek waters merge.
“We had flooding on the Little Wind River and on the Little Popo Agie going through Hudson. Also, the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie and the Little Popo Agie meet on the northwest side of Hudson and flow into the Little Wind, so that also helped increase the flooding at Arapaho, through southern Riverton,” he continues.
The Big Wind River coming out of Togwotee Pass, through Dubois and Crowheart didn’t experience flooding on May 7-8, however the soils in those drainages have become saturated and could be potential flood zones if precipitation continues in the coming weeks.
“We haven’t even seen the high point of our flooding. This flood was almost all rain-caused, and we haven’t even hit the snowmelt runoff yet,” comments Alex Malcolm of University of Wyoming Extension in Fremont County.
The snowline for last week’s storm was at about 8,000 feet of elevation, and snowpack increased over the two days of precipitation.
“On the east slope of the Wind River Range, the snowpack is similar to this time of year in 2010 when we had significant flooding due to snowmelt,” remarks Baker, adding that snowpack in the Wind River Basin is currently at about 140 to 150 percent of normal for this time of year.
Snowmelt runoff usually occurs through the first half of June, and additional precipitation is forecast before that time this year.
“If people had flooding in 2010 or flooding in the Wind River Basin over the last decade, they should look and see what’s changed. Have conditions improved? If they are the same, people should take action,” he comments.
Planning for more water
Building large structures or levees to barricade waters is not likely possible in time for this spring’s runoff, but residents in low-lying areas should take what precautions they can to mitigate potential damage.
“If we know we’re in a low-lying area, we should move our livestock to a higher area and locate some of those areas, such a neighbor’s place that is out of the floodplain,” Malcolm suggests.
Baker also reminds producers that equipment can be heavily damaged if it is submerged in water and recommends moving it out of potential flood zones.
“When our farm equipment is parked all winter, it doesn’t really matter where it is, but we should move our tractors, trucks and cultivating equipment to the highest places we can park them,” he says.
Issues related to standing water may also pose a challenge this season, and Malcolm comments there could potentially be in increase in mosquitos, diseases and funguses related to recent damp conditions.
“There’s no way for the water to dissipate, other than through evaporation, which will cause more concern with salinity in those low-lying areas, especially in Fremont County. We might have to do some remedial work in terms of reseeding or growing those crops,” he says.
Other areas in Wyoming saw flooding last week, as well, though precipitation levels are variable throughout the state.
“On the Laramie River, there has been flooding, and the North Platte above Seminoe Reservoir is very high. There are also areas of concern through the Saratoga, Encampment and Riverside area, and there is high water and potential flooding on the Little Snake River in Baggs,” Baker remarks.
The Upper Green River Basin and areas above Fontenelle Reservoir have seen significant precipitation, as well, along with areas along the Big Sandy River.
However, looking at snowpack levels, Baker also states, “A lot of the western part of the state is below normal and significantly below normal in Yellowstone and Teton County. Conditions in the Big Horns are slightly below normal.”
In Fremont County, the Extension office has been working with the fairgrounds and emergency management services to secure facilities for livestock and residents affected by flooding.
Malcolm reminds residents, “We have resources at our Extension offices to help with ideas for remediation, where to go for emergency disasters and how to work with other federal agencies. We have a lot of resources available.”
Climate data Regional centers collaborate for data sharing, educationWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Cheyenne – “Climate hubs are regional structures created within USDA to address issues related to weather, climate, weather variability and extreme weather events related to agriculture and agricultural resiliency,” remarks Associate Dean and Director of University of Wyoming Extension Glen Whipple.
The climate hubs, established in February 2014, rely on a collaboration of organizations such as the Department of Interior’s North Central Climate Science Center, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments program – specifically the Western Water Assessment, Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, National Integrated Drought Information System, National Drought Mitigation Center, High Plains Regional Climate Center and more.
“The USDA Northern Plains Regional Climate Hub is contracted with University of Wyoming (UW) Extension to provide coordination for Extension programs,” Whipple adds.
By partnering with land-grant universities and other organizations throughout the country, the seven regional hubs gather and disseminate current information relevant to producers and natural resources professionals.
“Many of the programs we already offer through UW Extension will begin to contain more content related to weather variability, responsiveness to changes in weather and the resilience of agriculture,” he says.
UW Extension’s Windy Kelley, regional Extension program coordinator for the USDA Northern Plains Climate Hub, was hired to coordinate efforts between the climate hubs and Extension programs in the Northern Plains.
“The purpose of the hubs is to take research coming out of universities, as well as from other groups, such as USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and make it more useable and accessible for ag producers,” mentions Kelley.
Extension and other associations are working together to share information and determine what information producers and other resources managers are looking for. They want to be able to develop and improve tools for making decisions related to variation in weather and extreme weather events.
“The USDA Northern Plains Regional Climate Hub just met with Extension leadership across the six states – including North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana – for the first time in June of this year, so we are still formulating part of our plan,” Kelley notes.
Educators, for example, will receive training to be more involved in meteorology and climate science so they can integrate it into some of their other programs.
“We will also be working on identifying early adopters, or those ag producers who adopt adaptation strategies for their ranches or farms, to work with them to find out what’s working and what’s not. We want to know what the challenges are so we can better reach and communicate with other ag producers,” she explains.
Collaboration with Wyoming Ag in the Classroom is also in the planning stages, with the hope of developing climate science curriculum for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
USDA ARS Supervisory Research Rangeland Management Specialist Justin Derner comments that the USDA Northern Plains Climate Hub has hosted a series of workshops throughout its six-state region.
“We will be trying to bring together current information related to climate science tools, as well as adaptation strategies and practices to weather and climatic variability. Hopefully, that can then be synthesized and put into public popular press articles, news releases, blogs and social media platforms to get out information that’s relevant to stakeholders,” he says.
For example, scientists have been analyzing data about the influences of seasonal temperature and precipitation on livestock gains and performance.
“Some of the new efforts that we will be embarking on with additional resources include evaluating on-the-farm or ranch adaptation practices that producers are using on their places to reduce risk and enhance the resiliency of their working landscape to changing climate,” Derner notes.
Working with producers
Kelley comments, “We definitely want to hear from farmers and ranchers. We are here for them, as well as the greater population, because farmers and ranchers are the main provider of food. They take care of our natural resources.”
Producers who reach out to the hubs may find that research they are interested in has already been done or that scientists can tackle issues that concern them.
“If there are tools that would be of interest to producers, we would love to hear about that,” she remarks.
In Nebraska, for example, a drought tool is being developed to assist in better rangeland management and scientists are hoping to expand its reach throughout the Northern Plains region.
“I really encourage producers to be proactive in terms of contacting us about success stories on their operations and what they are doing to decrease risk and improve resiliency related to weather variability and extreme events,” mentions Derner.
“One of the efforts we have worked on is a vulnerability assessment. The full assessment is on our website,” states Kelley.
Although the full assessment is nearly 60 pages long, some pages are specific to certain crops or agricultural enterprises, and there is also a short assessment available online.
“We created a one-page document for the vulnerability assessment which has more of the highlights. It might be of interest for some people to think about what ag resources are in the Northern Plains and what climate-related hazards and vulnerabilities producers potentially face,” she continues.
The assessment includes a brief list of adaptation and mitigation strategies to the identified risks.
Derner also says that hub experts are happy to answer questions from individuals or organizations that would like to know more about current projects or information regarding weather and climate.
“We will be at Stock Growers in December, so I encourage folks to stop by and talk to us there as well,” says Kelley.