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Drought conditions worsen in SE Montana

BILLINGS (AP) — Drought conditions in southeastern Montana have worsened due to an unusually dry March, with extreme conditions reported for most of Yellowstone and Treasure counties.

Billings is at the center of the drought, with the first three months of 2013 the seventh-driest since tracking began at Billings Logan International Airport 79 years ago.

Precipitation in March was just a quarter of the average amount, just .26 of an inch compared to a 1.06-inch average, the Billings Gazette reported Tuesday.

“Once we get into March we should start to see trends changing to get moisture in the ground for spring,” said Tom Frieders, warning coordination meteorologist that National Weather Service Office in Billings. “That’s what people are concerned about.”

Conditions are extreme in much of Yellowstone and Treasure counties, and severe across most of southeastern Montana, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor map produced by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The map labels conditions in much of southwestern and central Montana as abnormally dry.
The weak moisture patterns are not good signs for the Yellowstone River region’s wettest months — April, May and June.

“We’ll really be watching for some kind of pattern change,” Frieders said. “Usually we get 6 inches of moisture, which is typically 44 percent of our annual precipitation, in those three months.”
Adding to the concerns is below-normal snowpack at about 85 percent of average for the mountains that feed the upper and lower stretches of the Yellowstone.

But most of that snowpack hasn’t started melting much, said Brian Domonkos, water supply specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service,

In a typical season, snowpack doesn’t peak in most places until the middle of April, so there is still potential for more accumulation, he said.
“But there is a possibility that snowpack has already peaked in some areas,” he said.

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