Montanans everywhere are beyond grateful for the moisture we’ve received across the state over the last couple of weeks.  Finally, some reprieve for human and animal alike from the smoke and extreme heat.  However, we aren’t out of the woods yet.  Earlier in September, Governor Bullock’s Drought & Water Supply Advisory Committee met in Helena to discuss how far we’ve come and how far we’ve still to go.

Likely the largest take away from the meetings is that 5-6 inches of extra precipitation are needed to end the drought. Average levels of precipitation, alone, will not get us out of the drought.

It seems we still have an uphill climb to recover the precipitation deficit most of the state experienced this year, but during the meeting the weather outlook provided a glimmer of hope. The rest of the year has been forecast to receive warmer temperatures with less precipitation.  However, days before the meeting, a La Niña watch was issued for the fall and winter of 2017-2018.  A La Niña winter could drastically affect temperatures and seasonal snowfall by shifting the jet stream northward, making for a colder and more precipitous winter for the majority of the northern Rockies and the Pacific Northwest. The likelihood La Niña conditions will prevail this winter are only at about 60%, but we’ll take those odds!

Other reports from the meeting include:

Ag Report:

  • Topsoil moisture conditions are 65% short.  This is a dramatic drop in moisture when compared to 2016 number of just 36%.
  • Subsoil moisture conditions are 46% short
  • Range & pasture feed is in very poor condition
  • Sugar beet harvest is reporting down
  • Durum wheat harvest was way ahead of last year
  • The Small Grains Summary and September Grain Stocks reports will be released Sep. 29th

Fire Update:

  • Just under 1.2 million acres have burned
  • $300+ million in expenditures
  • Lodgepole Complex Fire  was the largest fire this year
  • $16 million worth of fencing lost
  • Lower percent of human-caused fires than last year
  • 1000s of fire responses, but only 61 “named” fires of significance
  • DNRC is working with FEMA & other federal agencies on fire relief and NRCS has a brochure on how to handle donated hay and invasive species.

It’s important to remember that, just as the drought is not over, fire season is not over despite the recent levels of precipitation.  The reports from this meeting reflect the rather grim experiences of the last several months across our state.  However, we know farmers and ranchers are a resilient bunch who will take heart in the recent moisture.

The next meeting of the Governor’s Drought & Water Supply Advisory Committee will likely be scheduled for late October or early November.  At that time, the committee will be interested in hearing more from affected producers.

In the meantime—everyone keep your finger’s crossed for La Niña!