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Missouri River Basin Drought Update & Outlook – Tribal Webinar Series: May 24, 2022

Event Date
May 24, 2022
Event Time
1:00 pm - 2:00 pm

This webinar provided a summary of winter and spring climate conditions in the Missouri Basin that have led to the current depiction of drought. It also included an outlook on what to expect this summer. Also, we discussed the current state of fire conditions in the Plains and the outlook for the summer.  

This webinar was organized in partnership with NOAA’s National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), North Central Climate Adaptation Science Center (North Central CASC), NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) Regional Climate Services, and the USDA Northern Plains Climate Hub. NOAA, USDA, and the North Central CASC partnered to host this drought webinar series throughout the summer and fall last year to provide resources to tribal resource managers in the Northern Plains. Given ongoing drought conditions in portions of the Northern Plains, as well as drought development and intensification in central and southern portions of the Missouri Basin, we intend to continue these webinars in 2022. Our goal is to provide relevant information on the drought and its impacts to assist with near and long term preparation and planning.


Welcome to the Missouri River Basin Drought Update and Outlook Tribal Webinar

Speaker: Stefan Tangen, North Central Climate Adaptation Science Center (CASC)

  • The goal of this webinar series is to provide information about the current drought and its regional and local impacts, resources for addressing drought, and information about what various tribal nations are doing both in the short and long term regarding drought.
  • There is $46 million available for tribal climate resilience work, and drought falls under this category. This funding is coming from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that Congress passed, so it’s a great opportunity for tribal nations to take action on climate change work.



Climate & Drought Conditions in the Missouri River Basin

Speaker: Crystal Stiles, NOAA's National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES)

  • Heavy snows, especially during the late spring, improved drought conditions across upper portions of the Missouri Basin. Examples of tribal lands that experienced improvement in drought conditions include the Ft. Belknap and Ft. Berthold Reservations.
  • Warm and dry/less snowy conditions during the winter and spring caused drought to develop and intensify in lower portions of the Basin. Examples of tribal lands that experienced degradation in drought conditions include the Rosebud and Omaha Reservations.
  • We have entered the growing season with depleted soil moisture across vast portions of the Basin. Pasture and range conditions vary across the Basin, although they are generally not in very good condition.
  • Warm and dry conditions are expected across much of the Missouri Basin during the summer months, and drought is expected to persist across portions of the Basin that are currently experiencing drought.
  • Further drought development is expected this summer across portions of Colorado and Wyoming, as well as eastern areas of South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas.
  • Wildfires will be a concern across drought-stricken areas this summer.
  • On, you can overlay tribal boundaries with the U.S. Drought Monitor information.
  • The National Drought Mitigation Center provides weekly U.S. Drought Monitor maps for tribal areas. Go to the Map Archive page, click on Tribal Areas for Area type, and choose the desired tribal area for reservation-specific U.S. Drought Monitor maps. 



Current/Recent Fire Conditions and Outlook

Speaker: David Martin, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Great Plains Region Office

  • Fire weather is favorable when temperatures are above freezing, relative humidity is 30% or less, wind speed is at least 25 mph, and dry lightning occurs.
  • Fires can burn deep into the ground if there is a lack of adequate soil moisture.
  • The summer of 2012 was the most active wildfire season for the BIA Great Plains Regional Office, exacerbated by drought conditions. Their biggest fire was the Longhorn Complex, which burned 43,516 acres on the Rosebud Reservation.
  • The 2021 fire season in the Dakotas was the second most active. The biggest fire was the Little Swallow Fire at Ft. Berthold, destroying 10,300 acres in May. Drought was present.
  • In late April 2022, 14 counties in Nebraska were dealing with wildfires. Drought was present.
  • When the Energy Release Component and Burning Index reach the 90th percentile, it is considered to be critical fire conditions. This corresponds well with D3 (extreme) drought on the U.S. Drought Monitor.
  • All of this information is available from David through his weekly emails, or you can contact him directly at or 605-216-3418.
  • State/county-level fire danger indexes to monitor and follow:
  • Lessons learned:
    • Chances for large fires (defined as at least 1,000 acres in size) are much higher with the presence of drought.
    • The largest and most dangerous fires that the BIA Great Plains Regional Office have managed were caused by dry lightning strikes. These typically occur in mid to late summer. Two of the largest occurred on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations, and drought was present in both cases.
    • Large fires can still occur well outside the typical fire season, even in winter.
  • It is critical to monitor old fires for rekindling.
  • Increasing widespread communication through email messages, phone calls, and webinars has assisted them with giving advanced warning to people at the community, county, state, tribal, federal, and national levels so that people can prepare for these critical fire conditions accordingly.




Speaker: Stefan Tangen, North Central CASC


Key Partners

This webinar is organized in partnership with NOAA’s National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), the North Central CASC, NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information Regional Climate Services, and the USDA Northern Plains Climate Hub.