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Climatic and hydrologic aspects of the 1988-92 drought and the effect on people and resources of North Dakota

By  Tara Williams-Sether, Kathleen M. Macek-Rowland, and Douglas G. Emerson

 

North Dakota Water Commission
Water Resources Investigation 29

 

Prepared in cooperation with the North Dakota State Water Commission


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Abstract

The severity of the 1988-92 drought in North Dakota was described by documenting the drought as a climatic and hydrologic event, documenting the effect of the drought on people and resources, and comparing the drought to previous droughts.  Annual precipitation and average summer (June-August) temperatures for the nine climatic divisions in North Dakota were ranked for the 98-year period from 1895 through 1992.  A rank of one indicates the driest year or the warmest summer of the 98-year period, and a rank of 98 indicates the wettest year or the coolest summer.  During the more intense period (1988-90) of the 1988-92 drought, the rank of annual precipitation for all nine climatic division ranged from 2 to 54, and the rank of average summer temperatures ranged from 1 to 42.  Many streams in North Dakota had record low flows, and ground-water levels also were affected.  Municipal and rural water supplies were affected, the number of acres irrigated increased, crop yields decreased, the number of head of livestock generally decreased, the fire danger increased, recreation was affected, and fish and wildlife were affected.  Indices such as the Palmer Drought Severity Index, drought recurrence intervals, and Devils Lake water levels were used to compare the 1988-92 drought to previous droughts.  The number of months during the 1930's to early 1940's drought that were classified as extreme (Palmer Drought Severity Index values less than or equal to -4.0) ranged from 33 to 59, the number of months during the 1950's to early 1960's drought ranged from 1 to 32, the number of months during the mid- to late 1970's and early 1980's drought ranged from 7 to 18, and the number of months during the 1988-92 drought ranged from 14 to 48.  Recurrence intervals for the 1930's to early 1940s drought ranged from 25 to 74 years, recurrence intervals for the 1950's to early 1960's drought ranged from 26 to 50 years, recurrence intervals for the mid- to late 1970's and early 1980's drought ranged from 5 to 58 years, and recurrence intervals for the 1988-92 drought ranged from 19 to 54 years.  Precipitation records, streamflow records, the Palmer Drought Severity Index, and Devils Lake water levels indicate that the most severe droughts to have occurred in North Dakota for which records are available occurred during the 1930's to early 1940's, the 1950's to early 1960's, and 1988-92.  The severity of the late 1980's to early 1990's drought was greater than that of the 1950's to early 1960's drought.  The 1988-92 drought was the second most severe drought since 1930.

 

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Table of Contents

Abstract

Introduction

Definitions and ramifications of drought

Climatic and hydrologic aspects of the 1988-92 drought

Effect of the 1988-92 drought on people and resources

Municipal and rural water supplies

Irrigation and agriculture

Livestock

Fire

Recreation

Fish and wildlife

Comparison of the 1988-92 drought to previous droughts

Summary

Selected references

Appendix

 

Figures

 

1. Map showing location of climatic divisions, representative streamflow-gaging stations, and ground-water wells in North Dakota

2. Graphs showing departure from normal monthly precipitation during 1980-92 for each climatic division in North Dakota

3. Graphs showing departure from normal annual precipitation during 1986-92 for each climatic division in North Dakota

4. Graphs showing rank of 1986-92 annual precipitation from 1895 through 1992 for each climatic division in North Dakota (1 indicates driest year, 98 indicates wettest year)

5. Graphs showing departure from normal for average summer (June-August) temperatures from 1895 through 1992 for each climatic division in North Dakota

6. Graphs showing rank of 1986-92 average summer (June-August) temperatures from 1895 through 1992 for each climatic division in North Dakota (1 indicates warmest summer, 98 indicates coolest summer)

7. Box and whisker plots of streamflows at selected gaging stations in North Dakota

8. Graphs showing percentage of years in period of record in which consecutive days of no flow occurred at selected streamflow-gaging stations in North Dakota

9. Hydrographs showing ground-water levels in selected wells during 1970-92 for northwest, north-central, northeast, west-central, central, and east-central climatic divisions in North Dakota

10. Hydrographs showing ground-water levels in selected wells during 1970-92 for southwest and southeast climatic divisions in North Dakota

11. Schematic showing drought mitigation organizational chart. (Modified from North Dakota Division of Emergency Management, 1989a.)

12. Graph showing number of acres irrigated in North Dakota during 1977-92

13. Graph showing volume of water used for irrigation in North Dakota during 1977-92

14. Graphs showing accumulated departure from mean monthly precipitation for a 3-year period for each climatic division in North Dakota

15. Graphs showing Palmer Drought Severity Index for each climatic division in North Dakota

16. Graphs showing accumulated departure from mean monthly flow for six representative streamflow-gaging stations in North Dakota

17. Graphs showing average annual streamflows for selected gaging stations in North Dakota during water years of the 1930's and water years from 1988 through 1992

18. Hydrograph showing water levels of Devils Lake, North Dakota, 1867-1992

 

Tables

 

1. Percentage of time no flow occurred at selected streamflow-gaging stations in North Dakota during the 1988-92 drought

2. Maximum number of consecutive days no flow occurred at selected streamflow-gaging stations in North Dakota during the 1988-92 drought

3. Natural and man-induced effects of drought on ground-water levels in selected wells in North Dakota

4. Selected cities and towns in North Dakota where municipal water supplies were affected by the drought

5. Actions to be taken during normal, very high, and extreme fire danger index ratings

6. Number of North Dakota fishing licenses issued to residents and nonresidents from 1987 to 1992

7. The 10 driest years from 1895 through 1992 for each climatic division in North Dakota

8. The 10 warmest summers (June-August average) from 1895 through 1992 for each climatic division in North Dakota

9. Number of months during each major drought that were classified as extreme (Palmer Drought Severity Index less than or equal to -4.0) for each climatic division in North Dakota

10. Recurrence intervals for each major drought at six representative streamflow-gaging stations in North Dakota

 

 

 

 

 

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