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Northern Plains Drought Update & Outlook – Tribal Webinar: December 2, 2021

Event Date
December 2, 2021
Event Time
1:00 pm - 2:00 pm

This webinar provided a current overview of drought conditions in the Northern Great Plains, as well as an outlook on what to expect this winter and going into the spring. Also, we discussed the Mesonet station program run by South Dakota State University and opportunities to gather the best available data on tribal lands. 

NOAA, USDA, and the North Central Climate Adaptation Science Center partnered to host this drought webinar series throughout the summer and fall to provide resources to tribal resource managers in the Northern Plains. 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 Northern Plains Drought Update and Outlook Tribal Webinar

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



Current and Recent Drought Conditions

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

  • The fall in the Northern Plains was warm with a mix of above- and below-normal precipitation. 
  • While wet regions made up some of the precipitation deficit and replenished water sources and the soil, it was too late to help with agriculture and livestock issues.
  • Warmth and recent dryness have led to a slow start to the snowpack season and mostly kept soils from freezing, so soil moisture is not yet locked in for the winter.
  • Although drought conditions have improved across the vast majority of tribal lands in the Northern Plains, impacts are still evident and concern remains for the winter and next growing season.
  • 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, click on "Tribal Areas" for Area Type, and choose the desired tribal area for reservation-specific U.S. Drought Monitor maps. 



Climate and Drought Outlook

Speaker: Doug Kluck, NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information

  • Fall and winter are recharge seasons for the Northern Plains. Frozen soils prevent infiltration of water, but currently soils are very warm. Since soils are dry, runoff will very likely be lower in the spring. 
  • La Niña conditions are present, which means there could be some improvement in drought conditions in some areas (Montana) due to the possibility for above-normal winter precipitation. 
  • It is not likely that average snowpack or average precipitation will end the drought. The amount of precipitation needed to end the drought varies greatly, and will depend on when and how the precipitation falls.



Data Gathering and Mesonet Stations

Speaker: Nathan Edwards, South Dakota State University

  • Mesonet is short for “mesoscale network”—looking at weather on a finer scale, which means more stations and more frequent observations.
  • The Oglala Sioux Tribe will now have their own mesonet station on the Pine Ridge reservation.
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is funding the addition and/or upgrade of hundreds of stations within the Missouri River Basin, including many more within the South Dakota Mesonet. In a few years, they will have 153 stations—currently, they have 34 stations.
  • South Dakota State University recently received a grant to make all of their weather data from the Mesonet available in Lakota.
  • Even if you are not in South Dakota, reach out to Nathan (, and he can put you in contact with correct people in other stations in the basin.


Key Partners

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