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Wildfire, fire management and air quality news for western Montana and the Northern Rockies.

Montana's March Drought Conditions Are Unprecedented, DNRC Says

Montana Drought Monitor Map as of March 23, 2021.
Brad Pugh
Montana Drought Monitor Map as of March 23, 2021.

Experts on the Governor’s Drought and Water Supply Advisory Committee are concerned about moisture levels in the state. They outlined the state's "worrisome" March drought conditions during a status briefing Thursday.

Last fall was fairly dry in Montana. Outside of a few scattered, but significant snow storms this past winter, the state’s drought status hasn’t changed much since then. 

The U.S. Drought Monitor’s new drought status map shows a sandstone-colored stripe, illustrating moderate drought conditions, swooping from northcentral Montana to the southeast. 

Eastern Montana is painted mostly orange, signifying "severe drought."

Roosevelt and Richland Counties each share a dollop of bright red for "extreme drought."

Michael Downey with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation coordinates the state's drought monitoring and reporting efforts.

Downey says, "I don’t know that we’ve had a end of March and had the map look like this — maybe ever. So, yeah, it’s pretty worrisome."

Central and southwest Montana is awash in yellow, signalling "abnormally dry" conditions.

Vince Mattson is a north-central Montana farmer.

"We’re hanging in there. We’re ok," he says.

Mattson told the Governor’s Drought and Water Supply Advisory Committee that he’s hoping for the best, but can’t ignore the obvious.

"Boy, if we don’t get something here in the next two to three weeks – something significant, I mean a half inch to an inch of rain – it’s gonna get ugly really, really fast."

DNRC’s Fire Protection Bureau Chief Mike DeGrosky pointed out the state’s most significant fire season over the past 30 years all shared one thing in common.

"Those were all drought years."

DeGrosky says Montana’s current drought map concerns him.

"In today’s climate environment, and when we’re entering into a fire season with conditions looking like this, we are one flash-drought away from disaster."

Weather forecasters say Montana has equal chances for above, below or normal precipitation heading into late spring and early summer.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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