Western Canada and the United States are drier this spring than in decades, raising the spectre of severe and widespread drought devastating crops.
Data from NASA shows that millions of acres of farmland stretching from Manitoba and Saskatchewan south and west through the Dakotas to California is much drier than normal and in some cases is breaking records.
“If I was looking at the soil moisture for 100 years and rank it from driest to wettest, the current conditions right now would lie between one and two (for driest),” said Adnan Akyuz, North Dakota state climatologist.
As of the middle of May, 85 percent of North Dakota is in extreme drought, he added.
“The dryness is unprecedented, right now…. It is the driest nine-month period on record, since 1895.”
The drought, though, is broader than a lack of rain last fall and minimal snowfall this winter. Many parts of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and North Dakota have received less than normal precipitation for nearly two years. That’s why soils, at depth, are abnormally dry.
Akyuz relied on NASA data, from the Short-term Prediction Research and Transition Center, to reach his conclusion that it’s the first or second driest spring in 100 years.
Trevor Hadwen, agro-climate specialist at Agriculture Canada in Regina, said out of 100 years, it’s one of the top-five driest years.”
Looking across North Dakota, it’s hard to exaggerate the severity of the drought, Akyuz said.
In Saskatchewan, soil moisture in early May ranked 45 percent short and 23 percent very short on cropland. For forage land, it was 45 percent short and 32 percent very short.
As for winter snow,“we looked at that with the Drought Monitor and decided, nope, that amount of moisture didn’t solve anything,” Hadwen said. “We didn’t (change) the drought classification even though we got an inch of moisture.”
In the top layer of soil, there is more moisture and seeds will likely germinate in the drought-affected region. But the shortage of moisture in the subsoil is troubling. It will require timely rains, perhaps once every 10 days, to get crops through the growing season, but that has seldom happened.
The U.S. Climate Prediction Centre is forecasting a warmer than usual June, July and August for the northern plains. That means any rain that does fall is more likely to evaporate.
It’s normal to get predictions of troubles during the growing season and nearing harvest, but hardly ever a prediction of disaster before seeds are even planted.