Wyoming Drought conditions worsen


This year it’s easy to see how blessed we are to live in Laramie County. I have been talking about a severe drought that expected to occur in the west (including Wyoming) this year for the past two years. Well, folks, it’s here. I spoke to an older rancher a few weeks ago about the anticipated drought and the fact that even Laramie County was slightly under normal precipitation. He scoffed and didn’t believe a word of it. I freely admit that when looking at the county it doesn’t look like we have a problem. After the past week of moisture we’re actually above normal on precipitation. In fact, as a whole, Laramie County is 1.81 inches above normal now, as of July 4th.

But what is normal and is being below normal bad? If you listen to the weather forecasters on the TV you’ll get the impression that if we have below normal precipitation, even slightly, we’re going to have problems. At the same time they’ll complain about getting rain because it interrupts their recreational plans, at least to the “news” people on Channel 5. What they don’t do, at least since Jeff Matthews left Channel 5, is explain how the weather works and what the terms mean. Normal is another term for average and normal will change every year as another year is added. For example, in year 1 (the first year we measure) let’s assume we have 16” of precipitation. Remember, precipitation includes all forms of moisture. So our normal (average) would be assumed to be 16”. Now in year 2 we only have 14”. That’s two inches below normal from Year 1 but our new normal is now 15”, the average of the two years. In Year 3 we have 13” to change the normal to 14.3” for the next year. Just following this very simple example you can see that in Year 2 we were 2” below normal yet if we compare precipitation in Year 3 to our original normal of 16” we are 3” below “normal”. At this point we’ve had several decades of reporting so the numbers have evened out and we can get a pretty good idea of how much precipitation to expect each year. The average will change less and become more accurate with each passing year. The longer the graph is spread out, the flatter it becomes. So being slightly below normal isn’t necessarily bad. It just contributes to the next year’s normal. Yet we still have to remember those anomalies that crop up when we least expect them. There will always be years that are “outliers” on the graph.

We also have to consider that precipitation is measured in a single location yet reports for an entire area. That means that what reported for the county may not be what you’re experiencing. Just look at the drought map. Most of Laramie County is doing very well, 1.81” above normal precipitation. Now look at the northwest and northeast corners. They wouldn’t necessarily agree with that assessment.

As you travel outside of Laramie County the effects of the drought become more obvious. 97.6 percent of Wyoming is abnormally dry with 9 percent being in extreme drought. Travel just a few miles south of Carbon County and Sweetwater County into Colorado and they are in Exceptional Drought conditions according to the National Drought Mitigation Center. That’s close. Another term explanation is needed here. The National Drought Mitigation Center is a combined effort between the National Weather Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the US Department of Agriculture. Each play a role in determining the severity of drought conditions and the effects on agriculture which, in turn, affects the economy.

In the short term the NDMC expects Laramie County to be right at average with some parts, including the eastern portion from about Burns east to be slightly below normal. Remember that the normal is compared with the same period from past years. Most of the state is expected to be in below normal conditions with severe drought condition over much of the state. The short term calculation combines calculations for a one to three month period. The long term calculation combines the calculations of the 6-month, 1-year, 2-year, and 5-year periods. In the long term Laramie County, overall, is expected to be either at normal or slightly above normal while the rest of the state is expected to be below normal with declining severe drought area. The greatest area of severe drought for the long term is expected to be in southern Carbon County.

Now the question turns to how it will affect us. This is actually good news for Laramie County even if it isn’t good for the rest of Wyoming. Personally, I like rain because I don’t have to water the garden. But it’s really more than that. Rain keeps the pastures green and growing longer, especially if it comes at the right time. This year it’s come at the right time. We always have to consider the possibility of hail with our storms in the summer. The oval that runs from Carpenter to Burns has the highest incidence of large hail in the world. That’s not necessarily an honor in my opinion. The storm we had a couple of weeks ago didn’t do significant damage here but it destroyed the wheat crop in Dawes County, Nebraska. Our farmers and ranchers should do quite well but as you can see, moisture can be both a blessing and a curse. Pray for rain and pray it leaves the hard stuff behind.

Although we’re fortunate here not to be experiencing the drought conditions in the rest of the state and other states it will still affect us financially. Agriculture will be affected as crop yields are decreased and ranchers have to thin their herds as pasture becomes less available. In fact, I was approached yesterday by a person who wanted to lease my small pasture for her two horses. I don’t think they would last a month on it without doing damage. As the crops and animals for slaughter become less available the cost will go up. Basic supply and demand. Tack that onto the inflation caused by the current administration and you can expect your cost of living to skyrocket as food prices increase. It’s time to prepare for some tougher times because everybody will be affected even if you aren’t personally in a drought area. This is a national affect since about half the county, as of July 1st, is ranging from abnormally dry to experiencing exceptional drought conditions. Much of this area is the food-producing belt of the country.

Part of the problem can be alleviated by growing your own vegetables. I’ve written several articles in the past about growing a vegetable garden and this is one of the reasons I’m such an advocate of gardening. The vegetable shortage will have little impact on my family because I grow most of what we eat. By purchasing our beef whole and storing it we have a hedge against rising cattle prices. Yes, we have to have freezer space and that isn’t the right way to go for everyone, but it works for us and I’d encourage you to at least look into it and see if it works for you. There are a lot of ranchers in our area that will sell you a whole beef and at least one who will process it for you.

Being self-sufficient used to be considered a virtue in America but we seem to have lost a lot of that sentiment. Maybe it’s time to get back to doing things for ourselves rather than relying on someone else to do for us. If you have any questions, ask a Master Gardener. It’s what we do. By the way, count your blessings.


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