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Environment & Science

Droughts In Montana Could Be Linked To Climate Change

Eric Gross / Flickr

A drought last year in Eastern Montana and the Dakotas may not have been caused by climate change, but climate change may make such extreme events more likely. That’s what NOAA’s Andy Hoell and his fellow researchers wrote in a paper included in this month’s Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

May to July 2017 was an especially dry time for eastern Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota.  

Hoell said they posed a question: what’s the likelihood of drought when the season is drier than usual, and then you throw climate change into the mix?

For example, when there’s less rain in a given season, but not a lot less?

“What this means here is that it takes more precipitation to be able to stave off drought than it did previously,” said Hoell. “So, let’s say you’re on the borderline and in a past climate you may not have necessarily gone into drought. Now, in this current climate, you have an increased risk of going into drought because you need a little bit more precipitation to overcome the long-term drying of the soils.”

He said the study is aimed at helping people like water managers who need to better understand the risk of drought moving forward.