Drought has plagued South Dakota in 2021, and relief from dry conditions seems far off. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Seasonal Climate Outlook, released Aug. 19, projects drought conditions to continue through the fall season.
The climate outlook for September through November indicates odds leaning towards drier than average conditions. For the same three-month period, chances lean towards warmer than average temperatures also.
This combination would lead towards continuing drought conditions, with warm temperatures evaporating surface water or increasing water demand from the plants, crops or the environment.
As of Aug. 19, 94 percent of the state is in some level of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Impacts are being felt in crop and livestock agriculture, water supply, recreation and even electricity and energy demand.
It is possible that there will be some ups and downs in drought severity, as local rains could bring some short-term improvement in drought conditions, where other areas could get worse.
Overall, however, drought conditions are expected to linger through the rest of the year. Given that the wettest time of year is behind us, it is rare to have substantial improvement in drought in the fall and winter seasons. Typically, drought as severe as we have now will remain until the wet season returns in the spring.
Certainly, many of the impacts in agriculture for this growing season are already set in and cannot be improved this late in the season.
One recent example of drought carryover is the 2012 drought, which recovered in the spring of 2013. On the other hand, South Dakota has also experienced multi-year droughts, such as in the 2002-2008 period.
Farmers and ranchers should consider all options as they prepare for the winter season for bedding, feed, water and other ways to manage livestock in particular. It is wise to prepare for a cold period in late winter, as is being hinted at in the long-term outlooks.
If there is some precipitation this fall, that could help to establish the winter wheat crop and to replenish soil moisture. This could be one improvement in drought impacts that may not be realized until the spring. Soil moisture will be needed for when grass, forage and pastures return and when crops are seeded and utilizing soil moisture to germinate and emerge.
One other risk in fall drought seasons is an early frost, as dry air can cool rapidly and air temperature could drop quickly below freezing on a cool, clear night, and then temperatures warm up again.
Already this summer, we have seen days with swings in temperature of 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit between daytime and nighttime. It is very difficult to predict if or when an isolated early frosty night could occur.
Laura Edwards is a South Dakota State University state climatologist.