ASk A Researcher

June 2014

Extreme Weather Patterns - North Dakota Has It All

Michael Noone was born in Melbourne, Australia, and grew up in Alaska. In North Dakota, he received his B.S. and M.S. in Ecology, and eventually gainful employment.  Since 2002, he has worked for the North Dakota State Water Commission as a Planner and Natural Resource Economist. He has also served as an adjunct professor of Geographic Information Systems at Bismarck State College since 2009. In this article, he discusses North Dakota’s climate today and historical trends.

 

Q: What is North Dakota’s climate like?

Since settlement days, North Dakota has experienced extreme weather patterns such as during the “Dirty Thirties,” the extended wet cycle that led to the rise of Devils Lake, and the disastrous Red River Valley flood of 1997. In the last five years, the state has experienced record floods in 2009 and 2011, and an exceedingly dry year in 2012. Prior to European settlement, geological records indicate that the region saw periods of wet and dry that may have been more intense and lasted longer than those experienced in the last 130 years.

It is not uncommon for the state to experience extreme drought in one place, and severe flooding in another, sometimes on the same day. North Dakota is located in a region of central North America that bridges the divide between “too wet” and “too dry.” The 100th Meridian line of longitude roughly splits the state in half. East of this line, there is generally more precipitation in the form of snow and rain than there is the uptake of water by plants and evaporation. West of the 100th Meridian, water loss generally exceeds precipitation. Recent fluctuations in climate have shown that this artificial boundary between wet and dry shifts slightly east or west depending upon larger climatic patterns. Geological evidence indicates that this boundary can shift even more dramatically. This range of climates varies not only geographically, east to west, but over time as well.

Q: What are the extremes and statistics for North Dakota’s climate?

• Highest temperature: 121 degrees, Steele on July 6, 1936.
• Lowest temperature: 60 degrees below zero, Parshall, February 15, 1936.
• The average first day of frost occurs in mid-September in northern parts of the state.
• The average last day of frost occurs in mid to late May.
• North Dakota receives a higher percentage of possible sunshine and more hours of sunshine annually than any other state along the Canadian border. On an annual basis, the state receives 58 to 62 percent of total possible sunshine.
• July is the sunniest month, when approximately three-quarters of possible sunshine is recorded. July and August will record about twice as many sunshine days, than during any other month of the year.
• Average yearly rainfall ranges from 24 inches in the southeastern portion of the state, to 14 inches in the far west.
• The largest rainfall event in a nearly 24-hour period was 10.05 inches, recorded in June 2000 in Gilby.
• When compared to the period from 1907-1992, average annual precipitation has increased during the “wet cycle” period (1993-2011) by approximately 29% in Fargo, 28% in Bismarck, and 11% in Dickinson.

Q: Describe drought in North Dakota

Drought has often been a defining aspect of climate in North Dakota since settlement days, from the many problems caused by the drought in the 1930s, through several shorter dry cycles experienced as recently as 2011. Drought can cause crops to fail, stress municipal water supplies, impact recreation, and make life generally miserable for anyone who makes their living from the land.

Drought certainly is not new to the region since the settlement era, with the most severe dry periods recorded in the 1930s, and more recently, the 1980s. Studies of isolated lakebeds in several places in North Dakota show that extreme fluctuations in the pattern of excessive precipitation and drought are normal. The studies found that in the case of the lakes, a variation between wet cycles and dry cycles have existed for thousands of years. Lakebed records indicate that since the glaciers receded, droughts and wet cycles lasting more than 100 years have occurred.

Although in an “average” year, there is often sufficient precipitation for the various uses that rely upon it, historical and paleoclimatological records indicate that there will be periods of time when there is not nearly enough moisture.

picture

Image is of a lake elevation marker that no longer exists (where it stood, is now under more than 20 feet of water).  The date on the picture is unsure, but can be dated prior to 1965 (likely 1940s).  For reference, as of today, Devils Lake is at approximately an elevation of 1,452’ msl.  Credit for this image goes to Chance Nolan, State Water Commission.

Q: Describe flooding in North Dakota
While droughts are common in the northern Great Plains, it is also true that this region experiences wet cycles. Climatologists believe that North Dakota is currently in a wet cycle that began in 1993, which has led to flooding throughout the state. It is useful to note that although we are believed to be in a long-term wet cycle on the eastern half of the state, mini-droughts can be experienced within that cycle. This has been the case in recent years, with drought afflicting western, and increasingly, eastern North Dakota.

Flooding in the Red River Valley in 1997 was the most severe in recorded history, when parts of the Red River Valley experienced a record-breaking 12 inches of snow, followed by a severe ice storm in the spring, and rapid spring melt. These factors, along with ice jams in several key areas, led to the catastrophic flooding that most visibly impacted the city of Grand Forks. It is worth noting that partial records indicate a flood more severe than the 1997 event occurred prior to European settlement.

With regard to the Devils Lake basin, in 1992, many in the state were concerned that the fishery was in imminent danger of dying off due to high salinity related to low lake levels caused by the late 1980s drought. In 1993, all of that changed, and with significant rainfall and snow runoff, the lake began to rise. The rise of Devils Lake has been relentless, with only the drought of 2011 and the operations of the Devils Lake Outlets causing significant reductions in lake levels.

Q: What climate trends has North Dakota experienced?
Several studies of lake sediment in North Dakota have demonstrated that the state is subject to long-term climatic variation, alternating between extended wet and dry cycles. Evidence has shown that the state does not really have a “normal” climate.

In recent years, climate change and global warming have gained greater attention. While the root causes of climate change, be they natural or human-induced, are still very much under debate, recent data does indicate that global temperatures have increased slightly. If warming trends continue, it is uncertain what effects North Dakota will experience. Climatological data inferred from lake core samples that provide a picture of climate in the region since the termination of the last ice age indicate that when global temperatures are warmer, North Dakota’s climate may not react in a predictable manner. With a wet cycle that has lasted for more than two decades, and models indicating a likelihood that current patterns could persist for decades more, regular flooding may become the new normal for much of the state.

map
The image was generated using data collected by a statewide network of weather observers that work with the Atmospheric Resource Board (ARB) Division of the State Water Commission, for the growing season.  Credit for this image goes to Chance Nolan, State Water Commission.

Ask a researcher archive

Mariel Lopez-Valentin and Grace Njau. North Dakota Title X, Family Planning Needs Assessment
January 2022

Nancy Hodur and Dean Bangsund. North Dakota Lignite Energy Industry Workforce
December 2021

Ina Cernusca. Vaccine Acceptance and Hesitancy in North Dakota
October 2021

Nancy Hodur and Karen Olson. Rural Communities Will Benefit from a New Cooperative in Walsh County
September 2021

Matt Schmidt and Grace Njau. COVID-19 Trends Among North Dakota Children, March 2020 – March 2021
August 2021

Kendra Erickson-Dockter and Ina Cernusca. COVID Hardship on North Dakota Households: New study on the impacts on North Dakota households that lost employment income during the pandemic
July 2021

Chelsey Hukriede and Kendra Erickson-Dockter. NEW! PRAMS Points – A Brief Infographic using North Dakota PRAMS Survey Data
May 2021

North Dakota Compass: A look inside the 2021 Compass Points
April 2021

Ina Cernusca: Households with children are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic
March 2021

Ina Cernusca: Differences in COVID-19 Risk Factors at District Level
February 2021

Kendra Erickson-Dockter, Chelsey Hukriede, and Grace Njau: An Introduction to the North Dakota Study of Associated Risks of Stillbirth (SOARS)
October 2020

Karen Ehrens: North Dakota Families are Facing Food and Other Hardships in the Wake of COVID-19 Pandemic, and Helpers Respond
September 2020

Ina Cernusca: Taking the pulse of North Dakota households during the COVID-19 pandemic.
July 2020

Nancy Hodur:Challenges of Grocery Stores in Rural North Dakota
May 2020

North Dakota Compass:2020 Compass Points: Measuring progress. Inspiring action.
March 2020

Amy Tichy:Student Veterans in the College Classroom.
February 2020

North Dakota Compass:North Dakota Compass launches the 2020 State Legislative District Profiles
January 2020

Grace Njau, Nancy Hodur:&Chelsey Hukriede: Risk Behaviors among Women with a Recent Live Birth in North Dakota: Findings from the 2017 North Dakota Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS)
November 2019

Ina Cernusca:& Karen Olson: Behind the scenes – The story of the North Dakota State Legislative District Profiles
October 2019

Ina Cernusca: Key demographic trends in North Dakota.
August 2019

Karen Olson: The 30th edition of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT® Data Book finds that 175,772 children will shape the future of a more diverse North Dakota.
July 2019

Shweta Arpit Srivastava & Dr. Ann Burnett: “Giving rope and pulling it back”: Parental dilemmas to prevent adolescent substance use
June 2019

Ina Cernusca: 2019 Compass Points: Setting direction for improving the quality of life in North Dakota
May 2019

Joshua Marineau and Onnolee Nordstrom: Learning from Fargo -- An Exploration of the Fargo-Moorhead Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
March 2019

Nancy Hodur: Improving Oral Health for Older Adults in North Dakota
November 2018

Rachelle Vettern: Engaging Volunteers across Generations
October 2018

Karen Olson: The 2018 KIDS COUNT® Data Book reveals strengths and challenges for children in North Dakota – and emphasizes that an inaccurate census in 2020 threatens to worsen existing challenges for North Dakota youth
July 2018

Lori Capouch: Is food access a concern in rural North Dakota?
May 2018

Deb Nelson: Williston Basin 2016: Employment, Population, and Housing Forecasts – An Overview
January 2018

Karen Olson: North Dakota among Top 10 States in Country for Child Well-Being
July 2017

Nancy Hodur: SEAL!North Dakota: A School Dental Sealant Program
June 2017

Grace Njau: A Brief Introduction to the North Dakota Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS)
April 2017

Ina Cernusca: North Dakota’s Women study: A brief overview
March 2017

Dean Bangsund: Effects of Fargo-Moorhead Area Diversion on Spring Planting for Producers
February 2017

Deb Nelson: Vision West: Leading, Educating, and Collaborating to Mobilize the 19 Western North Dakota Counties Towards Resilience and Prosperity
December 2016

Nancy Hodur: North Dakota Statewide Housing Needs Assessment: A Brief Overview of the Population and Housing Forecast component
November 2016

Social Isolation: Experiential Narratives of African Refugee Women in the Fargo-Moorhead Community
September 2016

Sean Brotherson: Father Involvement and the Future of Children and Families
July 2016

Carol Cwiak: Bakken Oil: What Have We Learned and What Will We Do Differently Next Time
June 2016

Jessica Creuzer: The Changing Face of Western North Dakota: What are the Effects of Increased Travel from Energy Development
April 2016

ND Compass: City Profiles
February 2016

ND Department of Health: Making Change Happen
January 2016

Jennifer Weber: A Bold New Direction for the North Dakota University System - The NDUS Edge Dashboards
December 2015

Wendy Troop-Gordon: What Has Science Taught Us About Bullying?
November 2015

ND Compass: A Look at the Youngest North Dakotans
October 2015

Kendra Erickson-Dockter: Growing Older in North Dakota
September 2015

Michael Ziesch: Data You Can Trust: The Labor Market Information Center
August 2015

Malini Srivastava and Troy Raisanen: efargo: City Scale Sustainability
July 2015

Kevin Iverson: The State Repository of Census Information- The North Dakota Census
June 2015

Wonwoo Byun: Reducing Sedentary Behavior is a Key for Obesity Prevention in Children
May 2015

Kathryn Gordon: The Science of Suicide Prevention
April 2015

ND Compass: Tell a Story with Data! The Importance of Crade-to-Career Success
March 2015

Abby Gold: Community Food Systems: Food Charters and More
February 2015

Heather Fuller-Iglesias: The Importance of Recognizing the Role of Social Support in Human Development Across the Lifespan
January 2015

Michael Carbone: Using Data to End Homelessness
December 2014

Randal Coon: Tribal Colleges Contribute to the State's Economy
November 2014

Deb White: Women's Representation in Elected Office
October 2014

Randal Coon: Pull Factors Measure Retail Trade Performance
September 2014

Karen Olson: North Dakota ranks Well Nationally with Regard to Overall Child Well-Being; However, Substantial Opportunities for Improvement Exist
August 2014

Julie Garden-Robinson: Guard Against Grilling Gaffes: Healthy Grilling and Food Safety Tips
July 2014

Michael Noone: Extreme Weather Patterns- North Dakota Has It All
June 2014

Kathleen Tweeten: Why All Community Development Decisions Should Use the Community Capitals Framework
May 2014

Clayton Hilmert: Stress effects on pregnancy: The impact of the 2009 Red River flood on birth weight
April 2014

Karen Ehrens: Food Deserts and how they impact North Dakota
March 2014

Gretchen Dobervich and Kendra Erickson-Dockter: New Geographic Profiles: How they can work for you
February 2014

Compass Staff: "New Compass Team Brings Changes in 2014"
January 2014

Donna Grandbois: "Fargo-Moorhead American Indian Community-Sponsored Health Needs Assessment"
November 2013

Karen Olson: "North Dakota KIDS COUNT - why it counts for you
October 2013

Nancy Hodur: "Western North Dakota School Administrators Face Challenges"
August 2013

Megan Chmielewski: "Annual population estimates tell interesting stories about North Dakota's growth patterns"
July 2013

Ramona Danielson: "Learn how to make the ND Compass website work for you"
May 2013

Karen Olson: "About the American Community Survey (ACS)"
February 2013

North Dakota Compass

Center for Social Research
North Dakota State University

Compass created by:
Wilder Research

© 2022. All rights reserved.