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By Bob Valen 

Is drought development likely?


It’s looking like we may be starting a long dance with drought — maybe. It’s still a bit too early to call it a long-term drought. As we enter into fall and then early winter we should have a better understanding. Looking at the North America Drought Monitor, it shows our region currently in “abnormally dry conditions.” Something we all can attest to, I’d say. Looking to our east, Montana and the Dakotas are in much drier conditions than we are now experiencing. Montana is seeing well over a half million acres involved in wildland fires.

Had there been previous July and August data readings of zero precipitation? I checked our official weather station recorders; all previous July and August data show some level of precipitation. The exceptions were July 2017, no rain; and August 2016, no rain. Unfortunately, the August 2017 data was incomplete, therefore not considered valid.

The records go back to 1934 (some daily data collections are missing). We had rain in June, and we’ll see if September brings some moisture. Here at my home weather station, the last time I recorded rainfall was on June 16, with 0.20 inches. As of the writing of this column, it’s been 80 days and looking like we’ll see some more days without rain.

Since we are on the subject of drought, let’s take a look at how conditions are measured and classified. A fellow named Wayne Palmer developed a few methods to measures drought, including the Palmer Drought Index and the Palmer Crop Moisture Index. Some of you may have worked with one or both of these indices. The National Centers for Environmental Information explains drought: “Common to all types of drought is the fact that they originate from a deficiency of precipitation resulting from an unusual weather pattern. If the weather pattern lasts a short time (say, a few weeks or a couple months), the drought is considered short-term. But if the weather or atmospheric circulation pattern becomes entrenched and the precipitation deficits last for several months to several years, the drought is considered to be a long-term drought.”

From my home weather station, here’s the data for August. Temperatures ranged from a high of 102.5˚F (Aug. 11) to a low of 50.8˚ (Aug. 25). We had four days with triple-digit temperatures above 100˚, recorded at 101.5˚, 100.4˚, 101.7˚ and 102.5˚. All of these highs came before mid-month. As mentioned, no rainfall at all for August. The all-time mean temperature for August is 72.0˚. I recorded a mean for August 2017 of 75.8˚; that’s 3.8˚ higher.

I hope all of you had the chance to witness the Solar Eclipse. Though we didn’t see a total eclipse here in the Coulee, it was a wonderful astronomical event, nevertheless. Keeping your eyes to the night sky, here is what our friends at EarthSky are saying: “Two of the five bright planets, Jupiter and Saturn, appear in the evening sky in September 2017. Meanwhile, the other three bright planets — Venus, Mars and Mercury — all adorn the September morning sky. Bright Jupiter is the first “star” to pop into view at dusk, but follows the sun beneath the horizon at very early evening, especially as viewed from northerly latitudes. Saturn is highest up at nightfall and stays out until late night. Venus rises before the sun and helps to guide your eye to the two less-prominent morning planets, Mars and Mercury, with Mercury being the brighter of the two. Rather faint Mars is climbing out of the glare of sunrise all month long. It’ll likely become visible in the morning sky around mid-September.”

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