The Beaverhead County Drought Task Force held its monthly meeting on Monday July 13th at the Beaverhead County Courthouse. Gina Loss of the National Weather Service in Great Falls provided an update on moisture conditions in Beaverhead County and the rest of Montana. After a wet May in southwest Montana, the month of June brought hot temperatures and little precipitation due to a persistent high pressure center over the western U.S. Unfortunately for folks in northwest Montana, that portion of the state suffered from hot and dry conditions in both May and June. Those conditions have prompted the U.S. Drought Monitor to elevate the drought status of much of northwest Montana to “D3 Extreme Drought”. Beaverhead County is in it’s thirteenth consecutive week of “D1 Moderate Drought” conditions, and “D2 Severe Drought” conditions have even started to creep into the northern tip of the county because of low stream flows and warm stream temperatures on the Big Hole River, as well as wildfire danger.
The hot and dry conditions have prompted hoot owl fishing restrictions (no fishing from 2pm to midnight) on most major rivers in western Montana, including on the Beaverhead River downstream of Anderson Lane, and on the entire Big Hole River with the exception of the reach between Dickey Bridge and Maiden Rock. Several local drought plans have been triggered, including on the Big Hole River and the Blackfoot River. These drought plans involve voluntary irrigation reductions and fishing restrictions. These impacts are due largely to the below average winter snowpack in much of western Montana, which has caused spring runoff flows to peak early, or not peak at all.
Producers in many areas are also cutting hay weeks earlier than normal, and other crops may end up being harvested earlier as well. If there is any good news to report, it is that there has been healthy grass production in many areas of Beaverhead and Madison counties due to the spring rains.
The August-October forecast gives a 40% to 50% chance that temperatures will average above normal over southwest Montana, and equal chances that precipitation will be above, below, or near normal. The El Nino pattern of sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean has a 90% chance to persist through the winter. These conditions could make for another dry winter in western Montana.
The National Weather Service has launched a new webpage with comprehensive information on drought conditions and impacts in Montana. The next meeting of the Beaverhead County Drought Task Force will be at 11am on Monday August 10th at the Beaverhead County Courthouse.