The outlook for drought conditions this spring is not very optimistic, according to a seasonal drought outlook released by NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.
"According to the March 19 outlook, much of eastern South Dakota is shown to be in an area that will likely have an expansion of drought at some point between now and the end of June," said Laura Edwards, SDSU Extension Climate Field Specialist.
This seasonal drought outlook comes at the same time as the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor map, which already depicted some expansion of moderate drought in the northeastern Counties of Brown, Day, Clark, Codington and Deuel.
"The nine-county area has experienced more than just abnormally dry conditions since last fall, as deficits in precipitation have grown over the last few months to about 50-70% of average," said Dennis Todey, SDSU Extension Climate Specialist & South Dakota State Climatologist.
Todey said drought impacts are being noted in the region, such as drier than average soil moisture, due to a lack of fall rains, and reductions in surface water supplies, especially in stock ponds for cattle because of limited snowfall and spring run-off.
He added that this year's shallow snowpack has already melted with the recent temperatures in the 70s and higher.
"The climate forecast for April is one factor that is considered in the seasonal drought outlook," Edwards said. "There is an increased probability that precipitation will be below average for the month in the eastern part of the state, increasing the potential for continued dryness.This is not helpful for reducing our current drought area, as ideally near average to above average precipitation would provide some relief.”
As for the temperature forecast, Edwards and Todey said there are equal chances that April will end up near average, below average or above average.
Edwards added, "During the spring season, our climatological rainfall increases quickly from month to month, with a maximum around May or early June in most eastern and central counties," she said. "This means that deficits can accumulate quickly with each passing dry day, week, and month."
For the three-month period ahead, April through June, the NOAA Climate Prediction Center's outlook continues to trend towards drier than average for the eastern edge of South Dakota.
"This is a change from earlier outlooks that projected equal chances of drier, wetter or near average rainfall for the later spring season," Todey said.
Additionally, he said the northern tier counties are slightly favored to be warmer than average through the late spring.
"The combination of these factors in the northeastern part of the state could contribute to expansion of drought and/or an increase in severity, through the early growing season," Todey said.
Dry conditions in the next month are not necessarily bad news for everyone, Edwards explained. "Dry conditions allow for more rapid planting of row crops to occur because of drier and warmer soils," she said. "However, these same conditions increase the risk of stress as crops need to get some rainfall at the right time for germination and early growth this spring season."