Drought update September 2021

 

October 7, 2021



The drought of 2021 is now in full force in Laramie County. As of July we were the only county in Wyoming that was not being affected by the drought. At least most of the county. There were two small pockets in the extreme northeast and northwest corners that were in “abnormally dry” conditions. But the rest of us were experiencing normal moisture and we even had some rain in June and July. We thought we were going to escape a drought. Fooled us!

By the end of July the tunnel of good moisture we had been experiencing began to shrink. First it was the eastern side of the county, including Pine Bluffs, that joined in the abnormally dry category. The slice was so thin, though, that it barely made it to the west side of town. Abnormally dry isn’t too bad. It’ll make you water your lawn a little more often and you’ll have to pay a little more attention to trees, especially newly-planted trees, but other than that it’s really just business as usual. And the rest of us just plugged merrily along thinking the weather forecasters were wrong once again. They weren’t. We had just been fortunate up to that point.


The tide turned in August with very little rain. In fact most parts of the county had no rain at all. There were several days when the clouds threatened to give us a good drenching but, at least for me, no such luck. Some people did get rain, though. I spoke with a rancher from north of Burns yesterday who that told me he’d had an inch of rain out of the last storm. It’s good that he got some rain because now he’s in the moderate drought area along with the bulk of the county. We still have a small sliver of the county that’s still only abnormally dry, pretty much just the area south of I-80. I don’t think that will last much longer. I’m in that area and I’m seeing a lot more dust than would be expected for simply being abnormally dry. It seems like everything is covered with a thin layer of dust (dirt) regardless of how often I clean it off. I see that scene portrayed mostly in the greenhouse. All of my tanks and pipes stay covered in dust even though I clean them every day.


Most of the county is in moderate drought conditions with the exception of a finger that sticks down through the center of the county about halfway down to the south. That area is in severe drought conditions. And that’s where the rest of us are headed I fear. The moisture evaporation demand drought index (EDDI) for the week of September 14 – 20 shows Laramie County in the 95 – 100% dryness category, ED4. The EDDI is used to predict drought conditions by measuring how “thirsty” the atmosphere is. In other words, how fast the air is drying out the soil. Just a month prior we were in ED2 – ED3, the 90 – 98 percentile, with most of the county in ED2, 90 – 95. That shows that we are drying out fast. ED4 is the highest category with no moisture coming in to replace the moisture in the ground as it evaporates.


That we’re in a drought has been established but the issue for us now concerns the impact of the drought. Abnormally dry conditions aren’t a serious concern in and of itself. The greatest historical impact is that fishing restrictions may be imposed because of lower water levels in streams and lakes. A bit inconvenient to be sure but not serious. Abnormally dry is categorized as D0, the start of a drought but not a serious concern yet. D1 is moderate drought. That’s where most of the county was as of September 21st when the most current information was released prior to this article being written.

Drought condition 1 is where the drought starts to impact our everyday lives. For ranchers it has a fairly severe financial impact because forage is diminished and hay yields decrease. With less feed they’ll have to purchase supplemental feed from areas in the country that haven’t been impacted. Between the cost of feed and transportation, their income margin will decrease and, in the long term, the cost of meat will increase for the rest of us. In the short term we may see a slight decrease in the cost at the grocery store as ranchers began to sell their herds to avoid feed costs but this only means fewer animals in the future. Decreased supply means higher prices. Forage comes in many forms, not just hay. When pressed wheat can be turned into forage for livestock which will diminish the amount of wheat available for baked products. Corn is often used to finish cattle in the feedlot but in a drought it may be the only forage available just to keep the livestock alive. Feedlots will be forced to decrease their numbers. In D1 fewer wildflowers will bloom. That’s what happened this spring. Although we weren’t in D1 yet, there were fewer wildflowers. Creeks and rivers have decreased flow so there’s less water for the lakes and less water for irrigation. I drove past the small lake west of me last week and it looked to be less than a third of its normal capacity. It won’t take much more to dry it up completely.

Drought condition 2 (D2), severe drought, is the next level and that’s the finger that’s starting to push down through the center of the county. D2 affects all of us. Catherine Wissner and I have been preaching WATER all summer. We’ve known this was coming and when we get to D2 trees and grass are stressed. All of you who have spent the summer mowing your pasture to make it pretty have added to the stress on the grass. The ground will dry faster. Overgrazing will become the norm if the cattle aren’t sold first. Water pressure will decrease and well levels will decline. We’re already seeing cattle being sold to reduce the pressure on pastures and it’s just going to get worse. I know a lot of people are complaining about the amount of dust created by oil traffic. I’m sorry but you’re just going to have to get over it. Dust is one of the problems in a drought and there isn’t enough water in the county to keep the dust down. I don’t know about you but I’d rather have water to drink than watch it evaporate just so I can reduce the dust for a few hours.

Extreme drought is category D3. Thirteen counties in Wyoming are currently in extreme drought. I’m afraid we’re headed in that direction if we don’t get moisture soon. In D3 surface water is inadequate for farming and ranching. Those are major industries in Laramie County. Any harm to them will affect us all. If you haven’t been watering your trees you need to start. They may not appear stressed but they will in about four years if you don’t take care of them now. Trees don’t show stress right away. It takes a while.

The drought will affect all of us including everyone in town. It doesn’t just affect those in agriculture. Look at it this way. If you buy groceries and like to eat, agriculture issues will affect you. Since the drought affects agriculture, we are all included. We will get through this but it’s going to take patience and cooperation from us all. If you have any questions ask a Master Gardener. It’s what we do.

 

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