June 29, 2017

Today in Weather & Climate: North Dakota drought edition (Thursday, June 29th)

Hey everybody,

There's a quickly worsening drought right now in the upper Midwest. In just the last week, "extreme" drought expanded from 7.7 percent to 25.1 percent of North Dakota, the hardest-hit state. And next week, a multi-day heat wave is on the way. It's expected to reach as high as 107 degrees Fahrenheit in parts of the Dakotas, more than 20 degrees above normal.

Why does that matter? For one, it might seriously affect this year's wheat harvest there.

Wheat is humanity's most important grain food source, the United States is the world's largest wheat exporter, and the Dakotas and Montana are now the most important wheat growing region of the United States. Wheat prices have already gone up more than 10 percent in just the past few weeks in response to the drought. This year's American wheat crop is currently rated the worst in 29 years. In large parts of the Dakotas and eastern Montana, spring rains have been less than half of normal. Although this is a worrying development, it doesn't yet directly equate to a major food crisis, though—we won't know that until the harvest is completed in the comping weeks. According to one wheat analyst, "It’s pretty likely that we’ll get high-protein wheat at harvest -- there just won’t be that much of it."

As with every weather event in a world where human influence now entirely dominates the atmosphere, there's a climate change story here. For decades, Kansas has been America's wheat state. That title recently shifted to North Dakota, as better growing conditions have moved north due to warming temperatures. As this year shows, North Dakota isn't exactly immune to hot weather and droughts, either.

Thanks for reading,
Eric