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Montana Drought May Continue Without Wet, Cool Weather

Danny Hahn

Montana officials say the current drought may continue if we don’t see wetter, cooler months soon.

Troy Blandford, a water system information manager for the state, presented to the Montana Governor’s Drought and Water Supply Advisory Committee on Wednesday.

“I think the question of the day is what did this pleasant August mean for us?” he says.

Not much, Blandford says. Above normal precipitation and lower temperatures in August greened up vegetation in the Bozeman and Helena areas. But it wasn’t enough to repair regions with depleted soil water content.

“We’re starting off this September with less water content than we did last year, and of course last year what really set up this drought was September and October and how dry it was,” he says.

Blandford told the committee that to really improve drought conditions we’d need to have a wet fall, along with sustained improvements in soil moisture and streamflow.

Looking ahead, Arin Peters, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service, says there is a strong probability of a La Niña climate pattern in the coming months. La Niña could mean a wetter, cooler winter, but Peters cautioned that this isn’t always the case.

“Most of you probably know that we had a La Niña last winter that didn’t really pan out as far as precipitation sometimes does with La Niña,” he says.

Understanding past drought conditions and improving monitoring are going to be key elements of the state’s updated drought management plan, says Valerie Kurth with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. The drought plan was last updated in 1995.

Kurth told YPR that a draft of the new plan is anticipated by the end of 2022.

Olivia Weitz covers Bozeman and surrounding communities in Southwest Montana for Yellowstone Public Radio. She has reported for Northwest News Network and Boise State Public Radio and previously worked at a daily print newspaper. She is a graduate of the University of Puget Sound and the Transom Story Workshop.