No one can say a drought is over until months after the fact, when they can look back on the impact of weather patterns that return moisture to the ground, StormTRACKER Meteorologist John Wheeler said.
So while the 2021 drought is nowhere near over, recent changing weather patterns have created "a very modest modicum of improvement in terms of drought severity," Wheeler said.
"If it continues to rain throughout the fall, we'll be in much better shape going in to planting season next year," he said.
Soil moisture profiles have improved in much of the region, especially in comparison to late August. But northern Minnesota and western North Dakota remain particularly dry, Wheeler said.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor released Thursday, Sept. 16, improvements in topsoil moisture have led to some greening of drought-affected pastures and have encouraged winter wheat producers to begin planting.
"Still, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported on Sept. 12 that topsoil moisture was 64 to 71% very short to short in the Dakotas, while rangeland and pastures were rated 77 to 80% very poor to poor, reflecting the long road ahead regarding drought recovery," the report said.
The report also said Minnesota's pastures are 63% very poor to poor condition. Topsoil moisture in Montana was listed as 96% very short to short and rangeland and pasture conditions there were rated 88% very poor to poor.
Next week is expected to be cool and possibly rainy in much of the region, though Wheeler said the exact path of the heaviest rain remains to be seen.
"There's potential for a lot of rain, but we're not all going to get that," he explained.
Right now, forecast models are showing the heaviest precipitation could dip from Canada into northern and central Minnesota, but that could change.
Then the end of September and beginning of October are expected to be "not hot, but consistently warm," Wheeler said.
Here's a state-by-state look at this week's U.S. Drought Monitor:
Iowa: Moderate and severe drought percentages in Iowa remained the same as last week, with 41.8% of the state in one of those categories. However, more land was moved into the abnormally dry category, which rose from 28.01% to 35.62%.
Minnesota: Minnesota stayed relatively steady in the past week, with 85.62% of the state remaining in moderate drought or worse. The portion of the state in exceptional drought remains at 5.82%, but a small percentage of land was shifted from extreme to severe drought.
Montana: The entirety of Montana remains in moderate drought or worse. More land was added this week to the exceptional drought category, which went from 20.32% to 20.37%, and to the extreme drought category, which went from 68.34% to 68.46%
Nebraska: Nebraska got a little drier in the past week, with the portion of the state in no drought conditions decreasing from 18.36% to 15.53%. While less than 1% of the state is in extreme drought, the portion in severe drought increased from 13.22% to 15.09%, and more land was added to the abnormally dry category.
North Dakota: While 99.64% of North Dakota remains in moderate drought or worse, drought conditions have continued a slow improvement. The percentage of the state in exceptional drought was cut more than in half this week, from 3.84% to 1.86%.
South Dakota: The portion of South Dakota in extreme drought shrunk from 22.11% to 14.06% this week. The overall percentage of the state in moderate drought or worse continues to slowly trend downward.
Wisconsin: Drought conditions improved slightly in Wisconsin, with moderate drought going from 17.04% to 14.11%. The state has 62.87% considered not in any drought condition, up from 61.51% last week.