It may come as a surprise to many that the state received near normal precipitation during meteorological summer (June, July and August). The statewide average for meteorological summer was 5.67 inches, a meager tenth of an inch below the 20-year average. However, that moisture was not distributed evenly and the drought has continued to worsen in some areas.
Montana's drought task force met on Wednesday morning at the DNRC Headquarters in Helena to discuss the drought situation and potential modifications to the Montana Drought Management Plan. The consensus of the Task Force members is that the Treasure State would be in a better position if it weren't for the severity of last year's drought.
Around 12% of the state is experiencing severe drought as of Thursday's (September 29th) update. A stark comparison to this time last year where nearly two-thirds of the state was experiencing severe drought.
Montana has some of the driest topsoil in the nation, with over 87% of the state recording "very dry" soil. Arin Peters, the senior service hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Great Falls, explains, "The soils are dry throughout the entire soil column. It takes a lot to fill that with water. The deficits we've seen the last couple of years have really dried out that soil column. We're going to need multiple events like we saw recently in central Montana to really replenish those deeper soils." The beneficial precipitation is welcome, but not always effective in boosting soil moisture.
Water supply is not an immediate concern throughout the state. Many reservoirs that were several feet below normal a few months ago were brought closer to normal after the Yellowstone flooding event.
While there have been improvements since last year, it is important to keep in mind that many locations were running on 4-6 inch deficits. The mounting impacts of consecutive years of severe drought throughout the state are going to continue to be felt.