Drought conditions continue to spread across Northern Plains, Upper Midwest

Drought conditions have worsened in much of the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest, with North Dakota taking the biggest hit. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum on Thursday, April 8, declared a statewide drought disaster.

The April 8 U.S. Drought Monitor report, reflecting conditions as of April 6, shows more than 70% of North Dakota in extreme drought, the worst showing in the region. (U.S. Drought Monitor)
We are part of The Trust Project.

As farmers across the region prepare to start planting , many are facing an unfortunate reality: It's really dry.

The newest report of the U.S. Drought Monitor , released Thursday, April 8, to reflect conditions on Tuesday, April 6, shows worsening drought conditions across the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest states. North Dakota appears to be in the worst shape, with more than 70% of the state now considered to be in extreme drought, the second most severe drought category.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum on Thursday declared a statewide drought disaster. In conjunction with the declaration, Burgum and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring announced the State Water Commission has reactivated the Drought Disaster Livestock Water Supply Project Assistance Program.

Burgum's declaration said the period from September 2020 to February 2021 exceeded the driest six-month period on record since 1895 in the state.

“For the second time in five years, North Dakota ranchers are facing widespread, extreme drought conditions that threaten their herds and livelihoods,” Burgum said in a statement. “As part of our whole-of-government approach to drought response, today’s action by the State Water Commission provides relief to help livestock producers manage these hardships and invests in infrastructure that allows them to remain resilient against future droughts.”


Created in 1991 and last reactivated in 2017 , the Drought Disaster Livestock Water Supply Project Assistance Program provides eligible livestock producers with 50% cost-share assistance of up to $4,500 per project, with a limit of three projects per applicant. Eligible projects include new water wells, rural water system connections, pipeline extensions, pasture taps and associated works, labor, materials, and equipment rentals to develop new water supply projects.

The 2017 program supported more than 500 projects with total cost-share of approximately $1.5 million. The State Water Commission's unanimous April 8 vote will utilize the remaining balance of $557,277 from the 2017 program to support this year’s program reactivation. Burgum chairs the commission and Goehring serves as a standing member.

“The Drought Disaster Livestock Water Supply Project Assistance Program has been invaluable in the past for livestock producers facing water shortages,” Goehring said in a statement. “Reopening the program will again help producers as we navigate this season of drought.”

Livestock producers in counties impacted by extreme drought (D3) intensity levels, and adjacent counties, will be eligible for the program. Details are available on the Water Commission’s website at . Eligible livestock producers also can contact the State Water Commission at 701-328-4989 or .

To view maps showing current burn ban restrictions and fire danger levels, and for information on how to prevent wildfires, visit .

U.S. Drought Monitor shows variation

u.s. drought monitor april 8.jpg
The U.S. Drought Monitor report released April 8 showed worsening drought conditions across much of the Northern Plains. (U.S. Drought Monitor)


Some parts of the region, including southeastern Minnesota, southeastern Nebraska and all but the northwest corner of Iowa, have little drought impacts. But the Dakotas, in particular, have seen deteriorating conditions in the past week.

The unusually early drought has many in agriculture concerned about what the growing season will look like. Grasses in pasture tend to do the lion's share of growing in the spring, which could lead to difficult conditions for livestock producers .

Here's a look at how states in the region have changed in the past week:

Iowa: Iowa's conditions remained unchanged from last week, with 1.89% in extreme drought, 6.08% in severe drought, 5.15% in moderate drought and 28.21% abnormally dry. The drought conditions are confined to northern and eastern portions of the state, and 58.67% of Iowa has no drought conditions.

Minnesota: Extreme drought crept into Minnesota this week, with 0.11% of the state entering that category, compared to 0% a week earlier. Severe drought covers 2.84% of the state this week, compared to 0.89% last week. Moderate drought now is at 30.63%, compared to 37.91% last week. The percentage of the state considered abnormally dry increased from 46.34% last week to 51.55%, while the portion of the state in no drought category changed very little, from 14.87% to 14.86%.

Montana: Montana's drought conditions worsened slightly from last week. Extreme drought has increased in the state from 0.44% to 5.6%. Severe drought now is at 12.46%, compared to 16.72% a week prior. Moderate drought is at 25.45%, compared to 24.81%. The state has 39.97% of land considered abnormally dry, compared to 41.42% a week earlier. The amount of land not in any drought category decreased slightly to 16.52%, from 16.61% a week earlier.

Nebraska: Nebraska's conditions remained identical to a week prior, with 7% severe drought, 16.43% moderate drought and 37.92% abnormally dry. That means 38.65% of the state has no drought.

North Dakota: North Dakota has gone from bad to worse in the past week. Extreme drought now covers 70.3% of the state, compared to 23.98% a week earlier. Severe drought is at 23.98%, compared to 37.6% a week earlier, and only 5.72% is in moderate drought, compared to 15.46% in the prior report. That means the entire state is considered to be in drought.


South Dakota: South Dakota has not fared quite as bad as its northerly neighbor, but conditions there also worsened from a week prior. Extreme drought now covers 14.8% of the state, compared to 8.37% a week earlier. Severe drought is at 24.94%, compared to 31.17% a week earlier. Moderate drought is at 38.97%, compared to 39.18%, while the portion of the state considered abnormally dry has remained at 21.28%.

Wisconsin: Wisconsin stepped into the drought this week, with 0.74% considered to be in moderate drought, compared to 0% the week prior. The state is considered 88.91% abnormally dry, compared to 89.66% last week. The area in no drought category increased slightly from 10.34% last week to 10.35%.

Jenny Schlecht is the editor of Agweek and Sugarbeet Grower Magazine. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at or 701-595-0425.
What to read next
The areas carrying a marginal risk for severe storms Monday portions of central and east-central Minnesota, generally south of a line from Pine River to Superior, Wisconsin.
Attention teachers: Don't forget to submit your students' weather drawing to the Brainerd Dispatch, P.O. Box 974, Brainerd, MN, 56401.
These trends are measurable, but subtle.
NOAA will use this computer upgrade to launch new model applications starting this fall.